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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: SA’s SuperRugby downgrade hard to understand 0

Posted on April 12, 2017 by Ken

 

Sanzaar obviously had to make changes to SuperRugby because the crowds were not reflecting the status of the competition, but I struggle to understand why South Africa have to give up two teams.

Our previous wins at the Sanzaar negotiating table have been because we could always use the threat of going to Europe and our TV figures to get our own way.

So why do New Zealand keep five franchises and South Africa have just four, but we’re a much bigger nation! I know the argument based on the performance of the teams, but in 2013 we had four teams in the top eight and in 2012 three sides in the top six. So we have had the strength, and the Bulls were a dominant force in SuperRugby from 2005-2010, which is not so long ago!

So I struggle to comprehend how a team like the Cheetahs, who are such a strong rugby region, can be facing the axe. Everyone understands that the Kings will have to go due to their financial woes and because they are propped up by Saru, but it will be very disappointing to lose the Cheetahs after they have been in SuperRugby for so long. And the Free State and Griqualand West region has provided a heck of a lot of players who have gone on to greater things.

What really concerns me is that the Springboks will miss out on an extra 30 players to choose from, while New Zealand will have a pool of 150 SuperRugby players, a 20% bigger selection pool.

And it’s easy to say we will retain more players because we will now have more money, but as Faf de Klerk’s offer from Sale shows, guys can still earn more than triple what they’ll get in South Africa by going overseas. I believe we’ll actually retain fewer players because there will be less opportunity with only four franchises. Our coaching ranks will also be diminished with less opportunity for them too.

The funny thing is, a year ago Sanzaar said everything was fine and a big fuss was made about how the new format would mean much less travel for South African sides – a maximum of two flights overseas.

The tournament did need expansion and Argentina have now been able to keep their best players, they haven’t gone to Europe, because there’s a clear pathway for them to develop and express themselves at the highest level. We’ve seen that with the Sunwolves too.

People say it’s not our job to develop rugby in South America and Asia, but that’s shortsighted. Rugby has to be a global game, if it just stayed within the Commonwealth and Argentina, it would die.

Exposing a team from Japan to higher levels of rugby has certainly brought an improvement to their play. There were 22 000 people at the Bulls game in Tokyo and the excitement was incredible, especially considering that the last game in Tokyo saw the Sunwolves lose 83-17 to the Hurricanes!

But there was a great atmosphere and huge interest in the Bulls game, but more on that shock result later on.

In my view, the SuperRugby format should be a 16-team competition – so five New Zealand and South African franchises, four from Australia and the Sunwolves and Jaguares – with everyone playing everyone else once. You would have two three-week tours as part of that.

Six teams would then progress to the playoffs, with the top two sides initially having a bye straight into their home semis against the winners of the quarterfinals, which would be third versus sixth and fourth against fifth.

This weekend I am really looking forward to the match between the Lions and the Stormers, which should be a high-tempo, all out attacking game, but the side that defends best will win it. For the main Easter weekend game to be between the two conference leaders is going to provide a great spectacle.

The quality and skill level of the Stormers last weekend against the Chiefs shows that they have reached a new dimension and you have to credit Robbie Fleck and his staff, and the players, for their willingness to play like that. It’s really high-risk, high-reward rugby and, believe me, it has to be coached!

What was especially pleasing was the way they really matched a New Zealand team at the back end of the game, when it’s normally been a huge struggle for South African teams.

The Sharks also had a good win, even though they are not scoring a lot of tries. They are playing off the other side’s mistakes, like their spectacular intercept try against the Jaguares.

They hung on in there against the Argentinians and it was an important win for their conference, although they will be a bit disappointed they gave the Jaguares a point. But it’s good that they were able to grind it out, hopefully they can get on a roll and get their confidence going.

The humidity in Durban made the ball very slippery and there were similar conditions for the Bulls in Tokyo, a match I was fortunate enough to attend. It was very wet and the Sunwolves managed the conditions better. The Bulls are not far off but they were simply not good enough last weekend.

They took time to get into their stride, they struggled to get control of the game. But then they had control when they were nine points ahead, they were in the pound seats, but the yellow card obviously had a huge influence.

After that the Sunwolves took a scrum with 10 minutes to go and scored the matchwinning try. The lesson for the Bulls is that when a backline player like Jan Serfontein gets a yellow card, then you must replace him. It’s better to have a full backline because you need that speed on defence. It was standard procedure when I was with the Springboks that if a backline player got a yellow card late in the game then we would take a forward off and replace him. Otherwise you’re defending with six versus seven, which is why the Sunwolves were able to break out so easily.

The Sunwolves were also able to keep the ball in play and did a good job of nullifying the Bulls’ lineout maul threat by standing off. That meant the Bulls had to mostly play from static ball. The home side were also very good with their kicks and chips, while the Bulls could have done much better with their chips, especially the one from their own 22 that led to a try.

The Bulls will be really hurting, but they now have a lot of games at home. No other team in the competition has had such a tough start away from home, and the Bulls will now hope they can get some form and a winning run at Loftus Versfeld.

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.

Pace quartet key to Lions’ triumph, but batsmen & back-up bowlers too 0

Posted on May 05, 2016 by Ken

 

The presence of all four first-choice pace bowlers in the top five of the Sunfoil Series averages was obviously a key factor in the Highveld Lions clinching the four-day title with a match to spare, but Geoff Toyana also praised the batsmen and the back-up bowlers for their vital role in the franchise’s third trophy in three seasons.

Dwaine Pretorius (19 wickets @ 18.52), Chris Morris (27 @ 20.44), Kagiso Rabada (34 @ 21.67) and Hardus Viljoen (31 @ 22.22) proved the adage that bowlers win matches as they played key roles in the Lions’ six wins, but they could not have done it without the support provided by the batsmen.

Captain Stephen Cook was obviously the outstanding contributor in this regard with 889 runs at 68.38, including five centuries, but the contributions of Temba Bavuma (545 @ 77.85), Neil McKenzie (487 @ 48.70) and Thami Tsolekile (424 @ 42.40) were also immense.

Back-up bowlers like Sean Jamison, with 12 wickets in three games, Pumelela Matshikwe (7wkts) and Eddie Leie (13wkts) were also crucial in filling in when the top four weren’t around.

“That combination of Kagiso, Chris, Hardus and Dwaine was really special, but we were fortunate because our depth was very good. We beat the Cobras by an innings with only Dwaine playing out of those, so those other bowlers don’t get the headlines but they really came through for us.

“With the bat, Stephen scoring five centuries was really special, plus there was his experience and leadership, while Neil was also in the runs and Temba came back from the Test team and did the business for us,” Toyana said.

It is the first time the Lions have won the four-day title since 1999/2000, in the pre-franchise days when they played as Gauteng, and Toyana said that made the triumph extra special.

“It’s the trophy we’ve wanted all these years and I’m very happy for the squad because it was tough last season, when we finished last in all competitions. But the belief in the squad was there because we did not make many changes, it was just a change in attitude that did the trick,” Toyana said.

Sharks end Highlanders’ home run with sheer character 2

Posted on April 25, 2016 by Ken

 

The Cell C Sharks ended the eight-match winning home run of the Highlanders, the defending Vodacom SuperRugby champions, with a gutsy 15-14 win in Dunedin on Friday, in a display that proves there is obviously great character and potential in their side.

The Sharks were helped by the 13th-minute red-carding of centre Jason Emery, who clattered into Willie le Roux while he was in the air fielding a kick, causing the fullback to suffer a horrendous fall on to his neck and head. Fortunately the Springbok was able to return to the field after a concussion test.

The error-rate of the Highlanders was also a major factor, with the home side making numerous handling errors to stymie their often dangerous attacking play, but the scrambling defence of the Sharks was outstanding, deserving some of the credit for forcing mistakes.

The Sharks made the most nervy of starts as they received the kick-off and set a driving maul, but were immediately penalised for obstruction, flyhalf Lima Sopoaga slotting the kick and giving the Highlanders the first three points on the scoreboard.

Flyhalf Garth April, making his first Super Rugby start, then sent the restart too deep and conceded a scrum in centre-field.

The battering for the Sharks started in the seventh minute when Sopoaga was late and led with the shoulder in a tackle on Cobus Reinach. April kicked the resulting penalty to level the scores, but the scrumhalf limped off the field with a leg-injury.

The Le Roux/Emery incident happened six minutes later and the hard-working eighthman, Philip van der Walt, also left the field in the first half with an injury.

In the 11th minute, April kicked a second penalty after the Highlanders collapsed the Sharks’ maul, after a lineout had been won five metres from the tryline thanks to a clever kick by wing Odwa Ndungane.

But despite being reduced to 14 men after Emery’s deserved ejection, the Highlanders dominated the first half. Their superior spatial recognition and the way they beat the Sharks’ first-time tacklers and dominated the collisions meant the visitors were forced to defend for long periods.

That the Sharks went into halftime 6-3 up was only thanks to Sopoaga being short with two penalties, the handling mistakes made on attack by the Highlanders and some heroic scrambling defence.

There was no better example of their courageous defence than in the last three minutes when the Highlanders piled on the pressure and the yellow-carding of lock Stephan Lewies was a potentially crippling development. But the Sharks held on magnificently and twice held the opposition up over the line.

Early in the second half, the Sharks showed some improved attacking ability, their forwards – especially Van der Walt’s replacement Jean Deysel – carrying the ball powerfully and the backline showing super ball-retention, trapping the Highlanders offsides and allowing April to stretch their lead to 9-3 with another penalty.

Lewies returned but the Sharks were only able to enjoy their 15-14 advantage for half-a-dozen minutes as the Highlanders piled on the pressure with good attacking play, leading to two penalties by Sopoaga and a yellow card for outside centre JP Pietersen, who showed ill-discipline in playing, while he was on the ground, scrumhalf Aaron Smith.

The Sharks did regain a 56th-minute lead through another April penalty (12-9), but, two minutes later, wing Matt Faddes managed to stretch his 1.85-metre frame and dot the ball down in the right-hand corner, having evaded Le Roux’s last-ditch tackle.

The Highlanders were 14-12 up going into the last five minutes; as a team, they have an attacking framework, but what followed was utter madness as they tried to run the ball from their own tryline and were forced to concede a five-metre lineout.

They stopped the driving maul and the Sharks, although they enjoyed a dominant scrum in the final quarter thanks to the introductions of Lourens Adriaanse and Chiliboy Ralepelle, were not able to exploit the extra space out wide with the Highlanders missing a centre.

But there was a penalty for them, which April slotted for a perfect five-from-five record with the boot, and a timely, shock victory for the embattled Sharks.

Even then, the Highlanders duffed a chance to snatch the win through a missed drop goal by Sopoaga and then a forward pass as a fitting final act.

There is still a lot of work ahead for the Sharks, even though they have kept themselves in touch with the leaders in the South African Group. But the attitude and commitment are clearly there, and that will be highly encouraging for coach Gary Gold.

Scorers

Highlanders: Try – Matt Faddes. Penalties – Lima Sopoaga (3).

Cell C Sharks: Penalties – Garth April (5)

http://citizen.co.za/1085900/sharks-end-highlanders-home-run-with-sheer-character/



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