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Ken Borland

The Currie Cup has fallen from its perch 2

Posted on August 22, 2017 by Ken


There can now be no doubt that the Currie Cup has fallen from its perch as one of the most respected domestic rugby competitions in the world to an afterthought, something that seems to have become a burden for SA Rugby rather than a jewel in the crown.

While rugby romantics who grew up on the grand old tales of the Currie Cup and its great provincial rivalry will just have to get used to the fact that most of SA Rugby’s resources will now be poured into SuperRugby and the Springboks (and even the Pro14 seems to have jumped the queue in importance), there is one important factor that needs to be dealt with – SuperRugby franchises still get their players from the Currie Cup.

The Currie Cup is still a vital stepping stone from which so many players graduate into the next year’s SuperRugby competition, and most of the franchises will tell you they have half-an-eye on the Sanzaar tournament throughout all their Currie Cup activities.

And, as Jake White has pointed out, what happens now in the Currie Cup affects the Springboks in five years’ time.

“If you look at the kind of players who are playing Currie Cup now, with the Springboks and internationals away, we are saying that the Currie Cup is not what it used to be, and my fear is that we’re accepting mediocrity. When I was a youngster, the likes of Hennie Bekker, Schalk Burger Snr and Henning van Aswegen were playing for Western Province. How many 19-year-olds played then? None. And how many of the youngsters playing today would make that Western Province team? None.

“That’s a worrying sign because whatever is happening now, there’s no doubt it will impact where we will be in the next five years. There are a lot of factors – overseas players, spreading the talent base – but I don’t think people want to admit that the consequences are going to come back to bite us,” White told All Out Rugby.

The downgrading of the Currie Cup is a serious concern that is reflected in attendance figures, but how are people meant to get excited about a tournament that started while SuperRugby’s exciting climax was hogging all the attention? Watching second and third-string teams play is really only going to excite the family members and close friends of the players involved.

One of the biggest questions the current Currie Cup breeding ground is not answering is “Where are we going to get all our future props from?”

It is a disgrace that the Currie Cup is practically the only premier rugby tournament in the world that is still using 22-man squads, which forces most teams to choose only one prop replacement. When it happened last year it was almost forgiven because of the chaotic preparation for the 2016 Currie Cup [], but making the same mistake again has drawn fully justified criticism from Sharks coach Robert du Preez and Nollis Marais of the Blue Bulls.

The reason for not moving with the times and having 23 players – which allows a full front row of replacements – is apparently financial. But given that it costs probably R6000 per player per match (and only the visiting team needs a flight and hotel), so with three games per weekend, that’s an extra R18 000 for the 23rd player.

With the Currie Cup being played over 14 weeks, that’s an extra cost of about R252 000. Surely SA Rugby can get that money from cost-cutting other areas that aren’t so vital for the welfare of the game?

It also avoids the unsavoury sight of uncontested scrums, which are open to abuse whenever a side is under pressure in that set-piece. The scrums are such a vital platform these days for front-foot ball and earning penalties and uncontested scrums are clearly unfair on the dominant team.

Speaking about the welfare of the game, women’s rugby in this country has taken a knock by it not being involved in the ongoing Women’s Rugby World Cup which has reached the semi-final stage in Ireland. The decision was made by SA Rugby to rather invest in the grassroots of women’s rugby, the U16 and U18 championships, to try and broaden the base, rather than sending a team to the World Cup to finish 10th.

While the reasoning is understandable, the enormous strides made by our national women’s cricket team shows that investing heavily at the elite level can also bring rewards.

SA Rugby needs to weigh up the merits of providing opportunities with the harsh economic realities of our time, but at the moment it seems the money men are calling all the shots.

What to do with our bunch of U19 losers? 0

Posted on February 15, 2016 by Ken



Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula will no doubt call them “a bunch of losers”, while many cricket followers, judging by the comments I’ve seen, would want even harsher punishment meted out to the South African U19 team after their dismal display in the ICC junior world cup.

I would normally feel sorry for a group of young men with such expectation heaped on their shoulders to go and perform in a strange land like Bangladesh, especially since their predecessors, the special team led by Ray Jennings, Aiden Markram and Kagiso Rabada, claimed the title in the last tournament two years ago.

But when any South African team loses to Namibia and someone close to the squad slams them for their arrogance and lack of discipline and accuses some of them of just wanting to bolster their CVs before heading overseas, then I begin to wonder whether being charitable is the right response or should they face the music?

Coach Lawrence Mahatlane has come in for brutal criticism, but then he is an easy target. Being Black African, his appointment was immediately greeted with a chorus of “quota appointment”; having not played first-class cricket also counted against him.

I have had many private discussions about cricket with Mahatlane and, in fact, I have played in teams coached by him. Although the level of play and the pressures were obviously vastly different, I can assure sceptics that Mahatlane is as passionate about the game as anyone, including Jennings, and is immensely knowledgeable.

From what I have heard in private from people surrounding the squad, Mahatlane may have been on a hiding to nothing. The health of our U19 cricket always fluctuates, there has been a cycle of great sides and more mediocre ones for decades.

But while one can forgive players for maybe not having as much talent as some of their predecessors, there is absolutely no excuse for a lack of work ethic nor for an attitude that suggests “we have already made it”.

I would describe Mahatlane as someone who cares for his players, but perhaps, behind the scenes, they did not have the necessary respect for their coach, for whatever reason, be it his skin colour or his lack of a playing record.

Jennings was a master of getting such destructive attitudes out in the open and removing them from the set-up, but he also boasted healthy experience as a coach.

With the shocking results of the U19 team coming at the same time as the senior side were struggling against England, alarming questions bordering on panic were asked about the health of the game in South Africa in general.

We should take care not to lose sight of the bigger picture and the context in which these results have occurred. There is an awful amount of negativity feeding into cricket at the moment and this was undoubtedly partly to blame for the disaster in Bangladesh. If players already have it in their heads to emigrate and play for another country, how is the team going to perform, no matter how inspiring the management was?

For those blaming quotas, there was only a pair of Black African players in the loss to Namibia.

To counter-balance that, Namibia played in the CocaCola Khaya Majola Week – the U19 interprovincial – and their performance was underwhelming. They beat Limpopo and North-West on first innings, but lost to Western Province and Northern Cape and were thrashed by 192 runs by Easterns.

Those results perhaps show that there was something seriously wrong with the selection of the national U19 team.

Mahatlane’s position is probably untenable but I hope a place is found for him somewhere else in the pipeline because he has a lot to offer. In the meantime, South Africa have lost a top-class coach in Pierre de Bruyn, who would have been an ideal fit for the Junior Proteas, but is off to take up a lucrative contract in county cricket.

As Mahatlane pointed out, though, one of the key facets of U19 cricket is learning and improving as players, and hopefully the current South African squad has learnt some brutal lessons.






Mowat ready for date with destiny 0

Posted on September 22, 2015 by Ken


Rising South African star Callum Mowat no doubt has a date with destiny waiting for him on the Sunshine Tour and the 23-year-old is confident that if it comes this week in the Africa Open at East London Golf Club, he will be ready.

Mowat, a leading amateur golfer, turned pro in 2014 and finished a highly-creditable 62nd on the Order of Merit. He has built on that solid start to his professional career with impressive recent form that saw him finish in a tie for third at the Dimension Data Pro-Am and then tied-13th at last week’s Joburg Open, earning himself over R400 000 for the fortnight and lifting him to ninth in this year’s money-list.

“I’m in good form at the moment and I’m getting used to playing alongside some top golfers, playing with my role-models, just putting that aside. I feel like I’m finding my comfort zone and if I get towards the top of the leaderboard on Sunday, I’m ready to take my chances, I’ll definitely go for it. You never know what might happen,” Mowat said on Tuesday at East London Golf Club.

Mowat was pleased with his efforts at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club in the Joburg Open, which was just the fourth co-sanctioned European Tour event he has played in. An opening round of 71 on the West Course was his undoing, but rounds of 65, 71 and 68 on the tough East Course showed what he is capable of.

“I had a good finish in the Joburg Open, but it was a pity about my start – to shoot level-par on the West Course when most of the golfers were going more deep under-par there,” Mowat said.

A tied-29th finish at last year’s Tshwane Open was his previous best finish in a co-sanctioned event, and Mowat is looking forward to competing with the best in windy coastal conditions now.

There is reportedly a gale brewing and heading towards East London in time for the Africa Open, but the Central Gauteng-based Mowat is unconcerned.

“I’ve done well in windy conditions previously and if it blows this week then I could have a look in,” the winner of the 2013 Southern Cape Amateur Championship said. “I played an SA Amateur here in East London and it’s a good course, you can do well if you keep the ball in play. I think that’s the key because there’s a lot of bush around.

“My ball-flight is lower, not like most Gauteng golfers, which helps in the wind. I’m more of a ‘feel’ golfer, I think I can manipulate the ball quite well and I enjoy playing different shots. I enjoy the challenge, you have to really think about where to hit the ball and then ‘feel’ it in there, it becomes a fun game,” Mowat said.

The shortness of the East London Golf Club course – it measures just 6051 metres but is hilly – also suits the talented all-round sportsman from King Edward VII High School.

“Pitching is my strength and on the shorter courses I’ve done better because of that. It all depends on the wind though, because if it blows the wrong way then it can make the course very long,” Mowat said.

The value of experience at the old-style course, one of the oldest in South Africa, that mixes aspects of parkland and links golf, is shown by the list of previous winners – Thomas Aiken, Darren Fichardt, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Retief Goosen – but Mowat is confident he can carry the confidence from winning at amateur level into the paid ranks.

“I think it will be the same feeling at the top of the leaderboard, there will obviously be nerves. The fact that you’re playing for money makes it a bit bigger, but it’s still the trophy you’re playing for at the end.

“You just have to try and keep it together down the stretch, it’s just a bigger event. It’s about coping with pressure and I just need to think about how I’ve done it before,” Mowat said.


Daunting task as Proteas face Sri Lankan big guns again 0

Posted on July 01, 2014 by Ken

AB de Villiers & Hashim Amla – South Africa’s two captains in Sri Lanka

South Africa have been gunned down in 13 of their 16 ODIs in Sri Lanka so their brains trust were in no doubt about the daunting task lying ahead of them as they set off for the sub-continental island yesterday.

The Proteas’ tour of Sri Lanka starts with three ODIs from next Sunday, followed by two Tests in Galle and Colombo. South Africa have won two and lost four of the 10 Tests they have played there, so it’s a tough place to tour across the board.

“Sri Lanka know their conditions well and they’re very dangerous at home, especially in the short formats. They’ve done very well in ODIs and T20s in the last five years,” ODI captain AB de Villiers acknowledged yesterday.

“The heat is stifling so even though a place like Hambantota offers more pace and bounce, your fast bowlers have to bowl shorter spells. At Colombo, Galle and Kandy, spin comes into play so that suits their attack.

“And batting in Sri Lanka is anything but easy. There’s turn and the pitches are abrasive so there’s also reverse-swing. And sometimes there’s a bit of movement with the new ball as well, especially at night,” coach Russell Domingo said.

“It’s a tough place to tour because of the conditions and Sri Lanka are playing pretty well at the moment,” Test captain Hashim Amla acknowledged.

Notwithstanding those dire warnings, Domingo said the results at the end of their previous trip to Sri Lanka, when the newly-appointed coach steered them to a 2-1 triumph in the T20 series last August, encouraged him.

“The way we finished last year – we won the T20s which was the first time we had won a shorter-format series over there – showed us what we could achieve over there. It was a strange tour last year, there were a lot of disruptions and injuries. There was no Dale Steyn nor Jacques Kallis and Hashim missed a couple of games as well.”

The return of Kallis will please De Villiers as it will give him much more solidity in the batting line-up, as well as another experienced, proven seam bowler in testing conditions for pacemen.

A top six of Amla, De Kock, Kallis, De Villiers, Duminy and Miller engenders confidence and South Africa will also be taking a better attack to Sri Lanka than last year. Steyn, Morkel, Philander, Kallis, McLaren, Parnell and Hendricks provide a better mix of consistency and striking ability, while Imran Tahir, always a factor on the sub-continent, is likely to be the first-choice spinner.

“Imran had a wonderful 2011 World Cup in similar conditions. He’s an attacking bowler and I’d like to see him get game time and get his confidence going ahead of the Tests,” De Villiers said.

Sri Lanka is the heartland of attacking spinners, however, and Amla said the Proteas will be particularly wary of the unassuming, orthodox left-armer Rangana Herath, fresh from a wonderful tour of England.

“We’ve always viewed Herath as a very good bowler, especially if the pitches are turning. He has a lot of experience and, no disrespect to their seamers, he will be Sri Lanka’s key bowler,” Amla said.

In little more than seven-and-a-half months, South Africa will be involved in another World Cup campaign and Domingo said it is crucial he starts to build confidence within the squad.

“There are still 26 ODIs before the World Cup, so it’s quite a lot of cricket, but we want to get to Australasia with confidence, we want to be one of the teams to beat. We want to get ourselves higher on the rankings. This group is pretty close to what we’ll take to the World Cup,” Domingo said.

The coach said South Africa are likely to play one specialist spinner and JP Duminy in the Tests, leaving the number seven position open for a frontline batsman like Stiaan van Zyl or Quinton de Kock, or another pace bowler with Vernon Philander capable of moving up the order.

“It’s a tough decision and we’ll have to see what conditions are like. But we will always play one frontline spinner and JP, who I see as a frontline spinner anyway. So we have both bases covered – the extra seamer as well as an orthodox off-spinner [Duminy], a young, exciting offie who can bowl the doosra [Dane Piedt] and a leg-spinner [Tahir]. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll play all three of those,” Domingo explained.


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