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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column: Impressive Boks now launch assault on Salta 0

Posted on August 25, 2017 by Ken

 

The Springboks, having won impressively last weekend in Port Elizabeth, will now travel to Salta to play Argentina on Saturday and my recollection of this north-western city is that it was blindingly hot and at altitude.

We were there in 2014 and we won right at the back end of the game in temperatures greater than 30⁰ and at more than a thousand metres above sea-level. The heat was the main thing and at kick-off it was still really hot and the guys took time to get into their stride.

But the Springboks have had a nice recovery since Port Elizabeth and are using the best travel plan, I think it works having had experience of that when we won in Argentina in 2015. With this way of travel, you basically keep the players on South African time and it really helps them.

They have had two good days of prep this week and Salta is quite remote, being nearly 1500 kilometres from Buenos Aires, and it involves a lot of flying, probably three flights, to get there, including one of about three hours from the capital.

They would have spent the whole of Wednesday flying, but it’s obviously in business class so they can sleep and relax. Doing that so close to the game means the players will have better focus on doing the right things to make sure they are 100%, like hydrating or taking sleeping pills. Then once they arrive they can have a stretch and a swim to get their bodies right for the big Test on Saturday. So they will basically arrive, have the captain’s run and play.

The biggest positive with this schedule is that they would have had quality training in Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg, with extra bodies available from the local unions so they could practise 15 versus 15 and put the needed miles into their legs. When you’re travelling, you generally have only 28 players so that isn’t possible.

Last weekend the Springboks just continued in a similar vein to the French series – they had similar energy and enthusiasm and were full of bounce.

The first half was obviously more of a contest, but it laid the platform for the second half because the Springboks really moved the big Argentine forwards around.

What’s really pleasing to me is that they are really developing a good all-round game. They’re scoring four tries per game and only conceding 1.5 per match; you’ll win a lot of Test matches doing that.

It was also significant that both wings scored tries. Courtnall Skosan produced a great finish from an inside ball from a set play, although maybe he was held in the tackle. That needed to be checked by the referee and it is a rule that needs to be looked at as well. Raymond Rhule then scored off a good run off Jesse Kriel.

The real strength of the Springboks, though, was their scrum.

Coenie Oosthuizen has had a rollercoaster ride for the last four years, but he is a really quality player when he is on-song because he brings so much to the game – impact carries, crashingly brutal defence and his work-rate. He is definitely an international-class tighthead and he, Beast Mtawarira and Malcolm Marx were all fantastic. The front row really destroyed the Argentine scrum, which nobody has really done for the last few years. So you have to credit the whole pack and coach Matt Proudfoot.

It is really significant to have the scrum as a weapon of mass destruction because the whole mindset of the tight five in rugby is to go forward. If your props are putting them under pressure in a primary phase then it really affects their whole game and the easy penalty and yardage gains you can get are also a primary priority for teams.

The All Blacks versus Australia game was effectively over as a contest before halftime and it’s really worrying that that happened to a Wallabies team that was ranked fourth before the game and were 54-6 down early in the second half. The All Blacks were obviously keen to send a message to the rest of the world that they are back on track after drawing with the British and Irish Lions.

But the Springboks were also able to get a good win, that lifted them into fourth in the rankings in place of Australia, and now an away bonus point would be like gold, although home bonus points are important too.

Hopefully the Springboks will get another good win in Salta that will set them up for the Australians in Perth.

 

 

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012 through to the 2015 World Cup, where they conceded the least line-breaks in the tournament and an average of just one try per game. Before that, McFarland won three SuperRugby titles (2007, 09, 10) with the Bulls and five Currie Cup crowns with the Blue Bulls. In all, he won 28 trophies during his 12 years at Loftus Versfeld.

 

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 [http://kenborland.com/2016/08/6043/], 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.

Relax people, Hashim Amla is back to his best 0

Posted on May 15, 2017 by Ken

 

Proteas batting coach Neil McKenzie said on Monday that people were justified in feeling some concern over Hashim Amla’s batting form, but that they can all relax now because the Bearded Wonder has shown he is back to his best with two centuries in the Indian Premier League.

Amla slammed an aggressive 104 off just 60 balls for the Punjab Kings XI against the Gujarat Lions at the weekend, having two weeks earlier made the same score off the same number of deliveries in an unbeaten knock against the Mumbai Indians. Amazingly, Amla ended on the losing side in both games, the first player to suffer this fate twice in IPL history, while he is only the third batsman after Chris Gayle (2011) and Virat Kohli (3 in 2016) to score multiple centuries in an IPL season.

“Hashim’s form had dipped, he was only averaging 30 in ODIs and Tests over the last 18 months, his form was a little erratic and people aren’t used to that. But you can’t keep a player of his quality down for long. He sets such high standards for himself but this happens in cricket and his returns have not been what he would have expected and it went on for longer than he would have liked. But to score two hundreds in an IPL season is a serious feat,” McKenzie told The Citizen on Monday.

The Highveld Lions and Proteas stalwart disputed the theory that Amla’s dip in form had anything to do with any weakening of the eyes, but put it down to slight changes in the batsman’s approach.

“I don’t buy that business about the eyes going, Hashim’s only 34. But if you look at how he’s been working on being ultra-positive, his power-hitting and the areas he’s hitting the ball, then it’s like a golfer who changes his swing: you sometimes need to go through that little dip, you just need time to work it all out.

“There hasn’t been any drastic change in Hashim’s batting and it’s just a matter of finding the right balance. In 20/20 cricket he’s looking to play some shots, to take it on, and it’s freed him up. Previously he’s just batted normally and he’s been really good for us in 50-over cricket as our banker, batting aggressively but playing his own game and taking us through 30 or 40 overs. That’s worked well and when he scores hundreds for the Proteas, we normally win,” McKenzie, who was still scoring plenty of first-class runs in his 40s, said.

Most pleasingly, it means Amla will now take great form into the Champions Trophy, which starts in England on June 1.

“He’ll be really happy to be taking runs into the Champions Trophy and you want your huge players like him going into tournaments with a lot of confidence, and it gives the team confidence as well. We have a lot of matchwinners and we just need one or two of them to find some serious form. We know we’ve got the players, and now it’s just a matter of timing, form and some luck,” McKenzie said.

 

 

 

John McFarland Column – Stormers’ turn to show they can bounce back 0

Posted on April 25, 2017 by Ken

 

SuperRugby is such a tough competition that every team at some stage will experience a crisis and it’s now the Stormers’ turn to face a test of character as to how they bounce back from their heavy defeat at the hands of the Crusaders in Christchurch.

The Stormers were fortunate to get out of jail a bit in their previous games with things like intercept tries from their own goal-line, but their luck ran out in Christchurch. Things they got away with in the first few weeks were punished by the Crusaders, who have a much more accurate passing game than most teams, and that exposed the Stormers. They struggled to deal with the width of the Crusaders’ game, they were up against a two-four-two set-up and the likes of Codie Taylor and Kieran Read in the tramlines proved too much for them.

The Stormers’ wings were continually being pressured by the poor defensive spacing on the inside; the main Stormers problem was their spacing around the ruck, there were too many players close to the breakdown inside their own 22. They need to get more players out wide, they were much too compressed in defence at the ruck. They were caught cold by the width of the Crusaders attack.

But for a lot of the Stormers players it was their first time in New Zealand and it takes some time to adjust. Plus the Crusaders are obviously on fire at the moment under new coach Scott Robertson and they were just too good for the Stormers.

I spent time with the Stormers in pre-season and coach Robbie Fleck is determined to play a hugely exciting brand of rugby, which has been successful, but now they’ve just hit a blip.

But the Stormers played quite well in the second half, with two of the Crusaders’ tries coming from intercepts, and they will draw some positivity from that. They obviously need to regroup against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday and having the roof closed will suit their game.

It was encouraging the way they came back against the Crusaders and now they are in Queenstown in a very pleasant part of the world where they can walk to training, so hopefully they will be in a better frame of mind come Friday.

It was a weekend of contrasting emotions with the excitement coming from the Southern Kings. For them to come through the way they did, for their forwards to play so well as they came back from 17-0 down after half-an-hour, and to win so convincingly really takes some doing. Plus any away win is super, so it really was a sensational result in Sydney, to win there without any Springboks (Waylon Murray being injured) was truly remarkable.

The Kings forwards certainly outmauled the Waratahs and the visitors took their chances, a charge-down try getting them back into the game. It was certainly a comprehensive win with the Waratahs scoring on the final hooter and one of their tries was also from an intercept.

The win shows that South Africa still has forwards that are well-drilled and marshalled and you have to credit coach Deon Davids. Sometimes on the third game on tour the players are thinking of going home, especially since you have to leave Sydney very early the next morning so you’re packing and getting ready for the game all at the same time!

You could tell how much it meant to the Kings players at the end of the game and it was the sort of win to resurrect some careers. Someone like Lionel Cronje has played at practically every union and although there is respect for his play, he hasn’t really fulfilled the promise of his SA U20 days. But time out of the game forced him to re-evaluate his priorities and he has come back a renewed guy.

The Lions against the Jaguares was a good game with Harold Vorster once again shining, the try he scored, running the same line as he did against the Stormers, got the home side back in the game.

The variety of plays the Lions have from five metres away from the tryline is impressive and it shows they want seven-pointers instead of three – they have front-peels, back-peels, shift-drives and normal drives.

It was also pleasing to see Elton Jantjies kicking a pressure goal. He’s certainly in the running to be the Springboks’ starting flyhalf, especially with both Handre Pollard and Pat Lambie injured at the moment, and it’s good to see him so composed.

Lionel Mapoe is also hitting some form and his dummy-and-go and finish for his try was first-class and he also put away Andries Coetzee for the final try.

So it will please Allister Coetzee to see those two coming back into form.

Two of the Tests against France will be on the Highveld so they will be quick games, with the Springboks also surely trying to up the pace because the matches are at the end of the French season and there will obviously be some tiredness. For that Allister should choose quick, Lions-type players – those Tests should really suit guys like Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe, Warren Whiteley and Jaco Kriel.

At the end of the day, the Lions are our flagship franchise and that should be reflected in selection.

The SuperRugby quarterfinals will probably be contested by four New Zealand teams, three from South Africa and one from Australia, so the likelihood is that the Lions will play a New Zealand side in the quarterfinal. So it’s important that they keep winning and now that they are overseas, they need to get on a roll. So it was good for them to come through the Jaguares game with a win.

The Hurricanes have still got to tour and the Crusaders are now in South Africa, so let’s hope the Cheetahs and Bulls can do something against them.

 

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012 through to the 2015 World Cup, where they conceded the least line-breaks in the tournament and an average of just one try per game. Before that, McFarland won three SuperRugby titles (2007, 09, 10) with the Bulls and five Currie Cup crowns with the Blue Bulls. In all, he won 28 trophies during his 12 years at Loftus Versfeld.



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