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Ken Borland



Win or lose, some coaches just can’t win 0

Posted on February 06, 2017 by Ken

 

There is an unfortunate tendency in South African sport that a coach sometimes cannot win whether his team are losing or winning. We’ve seen it before with former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers and now with current Proteas coach Russell Domingo.

It’s the unfortunate attitude that if a team is losing – as the Proteas were for 2015 and the first half of 2016 – then it must be the coach’s fault, but if they are winning, as Domingo’s charges are currently and the Springboks did under De Villiers in 2009, then it must have nothing to do with the coach and be all the players’ doing!

If people are going to blame and criticise the coach during the lean times then they have to credit and praise the coach when things are going well. His influence cannot just extend in the one direction.

Domingo gets to be seen way less on television than the Springbok rugby coach, so perhaps he has less opportunity to convey his knowledge of the game, but it was disturbing last weekend when Cricket South Africa dropped what can only be termed a bombshell. They were going to be taking applications for his position and he would need to reapply himself. It’s like being in a relationship and being told “it’s time we see other people”.

I have been a critic of Domingo in the past, believing he was no longer able to get the best out of the Proteas, but their form in the last six months has been superb and clearly the coach has them all pulling in the same direction.

A 5-0 limited-overs whitewash of Australia and a Test series win Down Under, without AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn, rank amongst some of the finest achievements in South African cricket history, and so far Sri Lanka have been dealt with ruthlessly, save for the T20s when some experimentation took place.

But CSA believe now is the time to say we need to start looking for another coach!

I agree, depending on how results go in the Champions Trophy and the Tests in England, that August may be time for a change given that Domingo will have been in the job for four years, but what if he wins the ICC event and then beats the Poms on their home turf? If he wants to continue, surely he would be the obvious choice?

Sure, you have to plan ahead and put out some feelers to see who Domingo’s successor will be, particularly if things go badly in England. But you don’t have to announce to the whole world that you are no longer sure about the guy who is currently doing a great job with the team.

Having been told quite clearly that uncertainty about the future was a major reason for players and coaches leaving South Africa, you would have thought CSA would be doing everything in their power to reassure a Proteas team and management that they have security, given how well they have been doing.

The talk from official sources has been that CSA don’t want to create the impression that Domingo will automatically just keep getting contract extensions – it’s all to do with the fine print of the labour regulations apparently – but the gap between the end of the trip to England (the last Test ends on August 8) and the start of the new summer with the first Test against Bangladesh starting on September 28 is surely long enough to sort out whatever the decision is.

Of course the list of possible replacements needs to be sussed out, but why does the post of Proteas head coach need to be advertised? Surely the successor to Domingo should be headhunted?

Particularly since the obvious next coach is working just across the road from the CSA offices at the Wanderers.

 

 

 

John McFarland Column – What the Boks need is money & leadership 0

Posted on December 12, 2016 by Ken

 

It’s been a really poor year for the Springboks under any circumstances and nobody can hide from that, but now is the time for true leadership.

It is in times of adversity that true leadership is shown and it is time for the South African Rugby Union to bring the Springboks we all love and cherish back to their rightful place in world rugby.

They need to decide either to change direction, replace Allister Coetzee and start afresh; or back him and give him his own coaching staff going forward, allowing him to put his own stamp on the team. If they back him then they have to give him what he wants going forward.

If they decide to change direction, then they must have someone new appointed by February. The national coach needs a little time to get his systems in place and the skills program has to be continued through the year and monitored.

As for 2016, there were many changes in game plan, that was quite obvious, so I feel for the players. They also had so many different defence coaches, who would all have different ideas.

There was never any clarity on the way forward in 2016, there was very little continuity, especially in defence, which makes up 50% of the game. The biggest mistake was changing defence coaches all the time.

And then you look at the rumoured national U20 coaches, none of them have coached at the really sharp end of rugby before, even at Currie Cup U19 or U21 level. Why not appoint someone with SuperRugby experience? You need to make strong appointments in these areas, because that is the start of the Springbok pipeline, you need quality coaches at all levels. Why not appoint someone with real experience and clout and give him a four-year contract?

SA Rugby needs to put their hands up, who will take responsibility for these decisions? Where has been the leadership off the field in this time of great uncertainty in Springbok rugby? New president Mark Alexander has spoken a lot, so credit to him, but also shouldn’t the leader of Saru, who is involved in all these decisions, back his decisions?

Compare that to the situation with English Rugby Football Union CEO Ian Ritchie and Stuart Lancaster, who is an excellent coach, but Ian had the unpleasant task of firing him. He said they have to get their ship going in the right direction and they have to do what they have to do, so they appointed Eddie Jones and allowed him to choose his own assistants and management team.

I see now that Saru’s exco will have responsibility for all decisions related to rugby. It will really come down to them making the right decisions going forward.

Someone like Richie Gray, who is at the forefront of his craft, was let go and he’s now the fulltime breakdown coach for Scotland. It’s a big loss for the Springboks and you can see how well Scotland did in the November series of Tests, you can see the impact he made.

The breakdown is not just about stopping tries but also creating them because 50% of all tries are scored from turnover ball and unstructured play. So it’s about how you win the ball at the breakdown and use it.

For South African rugby, the principle thing to get right is where the money should go. You can have all the marketing you want and great structures within your company, but if your major rugby team is not successful then it all falls down. You can’t attract sponsors just to start with. The Springboks should be their major spend, they need to get that right.

In any core rugby business, the spend of budget on the team and management is normally 60%. The question must be asked: Has 60% of the budget been spent on getting the Springboks right this year and moving forward?

They’ve got the money, more than enough, their turnover is R1 billion which is a very large amount of money in any corporate business, but they haven’t shown the vision and necessary expertise in spending that money widely on the rugby front. Questions need to be asked.

There are also more than enough quality players and experienced coaches in South Africa, but most of the things that were said in the recent indaba, the previous Springbok management have said for four years – things like kicking execution, high-ball and breakdown work.

So Saru need to spend money and employ coaches to fix it and they need to work around the franchises. The franchises are very open to information-sharing and always backed the national process and way. The thing is that national coaches have to be seen around the franchises, making themselves freely available to help when and where needed.

South African rugby needs a director of rugby who is high-quality and there are enough candidates in South Africa, who have a proven record when it comes to building pipelines and structures and winning trophies.

That’s what is fantastic overseas, the interaction between the national management and the franchises, like in New Zealand and other places. England have a full-time coaching co-ordinator who coaches the coaches of the elite teams. He helps them with their professional development, it makes all their coaches better. There’s nothing like that in South Africa; here, you can win one Currie Cup and you’re the next big thing. Coaching takes time and learning, and the first port-of-call for Saru should be a support system for their top coaches.

I’ve been interested to see Dave Rennie’s name mentioned. The Kobelco Steelers, where Allister Coetzee was coach before getting the Springbok job, have a relationship with the Chiefs and Dave would spend time at Kobe as a spot-coach, where he would have developed a relationship with Allister.

As ever, contracts are a problem and Rennie has signed for two years with Glasgow, so it will cost a fair bit of money to buy him out of that and then Saru need to make it lucrative enough for him to want to come to South Africa.

Any coach worth their salt wants to coach an international team, so hopefully Saru would give the job description the weight it needs. He could be used in a whole host of possible roles, the key is getting the job specifications and expectations right.

If Allister stays on, at the end of the day he is on very shaky ground next year and there will be huge pressure on him going into the Rugby Championship. Fortunately he starts with a series against France and in June they are never at their best because their championship finishes so late and is so long. Their players are tired by June and have eased back on training.

This week will be a very important week for South African rugby, with critical decisions needing to be made and backed. The process needs to be driven by those with the real power at Saru.

Sitting in 6 degrees in Japan, a long way from the South African summer, I wish everyone a very happy and prosperous Christmas. We will resume the column in January.

 

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.

John McFarland Column: Boks are in a dark space & I know how that feels 0

Posted on November 23, 2016 by Ken

 

It was obviously a big shock for the Springboks to have lost to Italy at the weekend and everybody involved will feel that they have let the country down. But it’s now about going forward and getting things right for this weekend’s game against Wales.

The key is the coach, the wolf pack follows the pace of the leader and if he’s energised and shows how hard he wants to fight, then the rest will follow.

The nice thing about sport is that you get the chance to turn things around the next week and a good win against Wales will maybe show that the players have settled in better into the new game-plan.

In any coach’s life, they will go through a crisis, they will have a bad loss, because nobody wins 100% of the time. Every coach has their time under pressure, even the best coaches – for example Jose’ Mourinho at Chelsea or Eddie Jones at the Reds.

They’ve got to know what to do and how to put it right the following week.

In my time with the Springboks, I was part of the squad that lost to Japan at the World Cup. That was also a big blow to all our careers and I remember the day itself very well.

During the week everyone was filled with euphoria, we had landed in London, had the World Cup welcome, and we were really over-confident.

Japan certainly deserved their win, as did Italy last weekend.

On that Saturday evening in Brighton, it felt like being in a dark hole, certainly the players were feeling that. We had a very short meeting, some of the senior guys stood up and said it wasn’t good enough and we had to make sure we came back. We were still in the World Cup, so we were lucky that we had the chance to turn it around.

When you lose like that, everyone goes in different directions, especially when it’s the national team. Nobody looks anyone in the eyes, everyone feels a huge responsibility for their role in the disaster.

As part of the coaching staff, you pore through the video, looking at what was good and what was bad, preparing yourself for a really critical review of exactly what went wrong and how to better it. You deal with the team and also individuals in one-on-one situations.

After that game we had a long trip to Birmingham, five hours on a bus, and not one word was spoken. We stopped for lunch and there was still very little chat.

We kept the physical routine the same that week, but we made some key changes in other areas of our schedule.

On the Monday morning the players had their usual gym and recovery sessions, but then instead of a review of the game, we had an inquest. Every player got up and took responsibility for their part in the defeat, and said what they were going to get right and bring to the table for the next weekend.

Believe me, tears were shed because it’s pretty galling that the game you played with such joy as a child can put you in such a dark space.

Responsibility was taken by the whole group. Heyneke Meyer stood at the front and said this is the way we are going to do it from now on.

With all that cleaned out of the way, I remember there was a new focus from the players, everyone made a tremendous shift. Jean de Villiers led from the front, he said we will fix this, we will put it right, as did all the senior players. Training was very physical and intense that week as you’d expect from a wounded Springbok team.

Then they put on a real performance of pride and passion in beating Samoa 46-6, allowing them zero tries as we absolutely smashed them backwards. Duane Vermeulen was only meant to play about 50 minutes, but he played the full 80 and put in a real shift at the coalface.

Unfortunately Jean de Villiers was injured in that match and had to return home, but we won all our games after losing to Japan and pushed the All Blacks to within two points in the World Cup semifinal, the difference being a Dan Carter drop goal and an overturned penalty.

We were all really proud at the fact that we had come back and pushed New Zealand really close, putting on a far better performance against them than Australia did in the final, and then we took the bronze medal from Argentina in convincing fashion.

Heyneke Meyer pulled the team together with his staff and senior players, the core group pushed the boat in the right direction. From the Monday after the Japan loss, we were one team and we knew that one more defeat would put us out of the World Cup.

Some of the squad have been involved in both defeats to Japan and Italy and hopefully they can turn it around now like they did in the World Cup.

It’s always a battle of the gainline against Wales, with Jamie Roberts, Alex Cuthbert and Dan Biggar, and the Springboks will need to be really defensively solid in the backs … and obviously take their opportunities much better than they did against Italy.

 

 

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012-15, having 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.

Uganda putting initial suspicions & tragedy behind them to embrace rugby 0

Posted on November 04, 2016 by Ken

 

Having gone through the agony of a young player tragically dying on the field and initial suspicions about the game, the Uganda Rugby Union is now seeing a rapid rise in interest at schools which can only be good news for a country that has enormous unharnessed talent.

Yusuf Saidi Baban, a player with Nile Rugby Club and student at Jinja Senior Secondary School, died following a Uganda Cup game against Buffaloes in July 2013. There had already been some resistance to rugby being played in schools with the perception being that the game was not “godly” because it was rough and the ball was passed backwards!

But since then, there has been a dramatic change in attitude, thanks to the hard work of the Uganda RU and the support of WorldRugby’s Get Into Rugby programme and the private Bhubesi Pride charitable initiative.

“WorldRugby obviously give us their usual grants and help with training and education, but their Get Into Rugby programme has been very good for us. Since 2014 it has gone into really remote areas that have never seen a rugby ball and we are beginning to familiarise the game at schools,” Uganda RU president Andrew Owor said.

“We now have 248 primary schools playing rugby, mostly non-contact through the Tag Rugby Trust. But we are running up-skilling programs alongside that and Uganda’s Get Into Rugby is a blend of Tag and Uganda Rugby Union programs. We are locating rugby centres, going to schools that we have had contact with before.

“But schools now write to us saying they want rugby there, which shows the change in mindset. Before, there was a bit of stigma about rugby in schools and we needed a lot of education, starting with the teachers. The key is also getting parents fully on board and then you get two or three brothers all playing at different high-level clubs.”

Bhubesi Pride is the initiative Richard Bennett started in 2010 to bring together rural communities, NGOs and government departments in Africa with lovers of rugby union. It selects volunteers from all over the world to help develop rugby and harness its benefits for society in general.

According to Bennett, Bhubesi Pride has three main objectives: “To unite communities through rugby, promoting the sport’s values and life skills; empower and up-skill local staff, nurturing community leaders, male and female, in a way that maximises sustainability; and to inspire long-term developmental outcomes via tangible legacy projects, alongside in-country partners.”

Their 2015 expedition began at the end of January in Uganda with a 25-strong team of volunteers drawn from 11 different countries.

“Bhubesi Pride have raised huge awareness, especially in Jinja, which is an hour from Kampala. It was good that they went to where the boy died on the pitch, they faced that and educated the people about what happened. They go to a number of schools, holding clinics for coaches in the area and it has been a huge success. They do a lot,” Owor said.

It’s an important year for Uganda Rugby because, at the top level, their senior team will be bidding for promotion back into Africa Group 1A and their men’s and women’s sevens teams are both strong contenders to qualify for the Olympic Games.

Uganda rugby has always been renowned for a running, expansive game and the sheer pace of their players – sometimes their props could seemingly double as wings! – makes up for them being smaller than those from most other African countries. Sevens rugby would seem to be an obvious area for investment.

“We’re in the final eight of Olympic qualifying to be held in South Africa in November. Kenya and Zimbabwe are our main rivals, with one other team from Africa joining South Africa at the Olympics. We don’t have funding to travel much which is why we dropped out of the second level of the World Series.

“We’re now looking for a sponsor and we don’t have nearly as much financial backing as Kenya and not much government support, so we’re at a disadvantage. But there is enormous talent, we saw that in Glasgow at the Commonwealth Games last year. They only had four months to train, but they performed so well, beating Sri Lanka and not being disgraced by Australia nor England, you could see the raw talent,” Owor said.

Get Into Rugby has also proved to be a great avenue for women’s players to excel in Uganda.

“It channels girls into sevens and has produced a multitude of players. The Uganda U19 girls won the Safaricom Sevens in Nairobi, it was the first time they had ever been outside Uganda and that shows how much talent there is, but it’s unharnessed.

“Women’s rugby is the success story in Uganda, only South Africa beat our team and the women’s sevens is the first team, across all sporting codes, to represent Uganda at a senior World Cup,” Owor said.

Apart from the usual problem of limited finance, Uganda Rugby is also longing for their own national rugby stadium. Owor is hopeful that a new agreement with the Kingdom of Buganda will see their dream come true.

“It’s a landmark partnership, going to the local kingdom, which is independent of government. They are in the process of giving us land on which we can put up a stadium, which will also be a facility for their subjects. It’s a huge collaboration with the kingdom, which is in the central third of Uganda, and now we will work together to get partners from the rest of the world and hopefully have a new centre for rugby in East Africa,” Owor said.

At grassroots level, the move to bring families and communities on board has been a key factor in the growth of Ugandan rugby, while instituting a three-tiered competition structure has seen the number of senior clubs grow to 26. The changing model has also seen a decentralisation of rugby with the four regions now empowered to run their own affairs on a semi-autonomous basis.

Franchise rugby, with two or three clubs joining together, has also been introduced and although Owor knows it will take time for all the talent in Uganda to bloom, he is confident there is enormous potential.

 

 

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    1 Corinthians 3:3 - "For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?"

    One of my favourite U2 songs is a collaboration with Johnny Cash called The Wanderer, and it features the line "they say they want the kingdom, but they don't want God in it".
    Many people say they believe in God, but they don't experience his loving presence. They may be active in Christian work, but only if they have their way. If they cannot be leaders, they refuse to be involved.
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    Spiritual maturity means developing a greater love for others.

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