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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 [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.

Sharks sing the blues once again 0

Posted on November 03, 2016 by Ken

 

The Cell C Sharks sung the blues once again on their overseas tour as they were unable to overcome their own first-half mistakes, a fired-up Waratahs side and one of the most disgracefully one-eyed officiating performances in Sanzar history in losing 33-18 in their Vodacom SuperRugby match in Sydney on Saturday.

Referee Rohan Hoffman, TMO George Ayoub and the assistant referees were so determined to sing the home side’s tune that the Sharks never had a chance, despite turning in an excellent second-half performance against a team that surely does not have it in them to be repeat SuperRugby champions unless other forces are at play. The fact that Sanzar are based in Sydney does not ease the speculation that was running rampant on social media on Saturday nor the genuine fears that rugby is totally naïve when it comes to matchfixing, much as cricket was.

The decisions to award wing Taqele Naiyaravoro’s 53rd-minute try, although he lost control of the ball and there was absolutely no evidence of grounding, and the TMO’s call to disallow opposite number S’bura Sithole’s touchdown in the 70th minute, were particularly damaging to the Sharks.

Waratahs flyhalf Bernard Foley was also able to kick four penalties as Hoffman punished the Sharks for a high tackle when the ball-carrier had clearly slipped and fallen into an arm that was at a perfectly legal height and for ruck offences when the home team were clearly not supporting their own body weight.

As outrage grew on South African social media, Sharks CEO John Smit told The Citizen: “I’m sure Sanzar leadership is strong enough to do something before we need to enquire … I hope”.

It looked like it was going to be a miserable day for the Sharks right from the outset as centre Adam Ashley-Cooper scored after 55 seconds, but that was entirely down to the visitors’ lacklustre defence and the brilliance of the Waratahs in exploiting the gaps.

The Sharks kicked out on halfway from the opening kickoff, and scrumhalf Nick Phipps passed inside after the lineout tap to livewire flank Michael Hooper, who burst through a huge gap the visitors were shockingly slow to close, before passing out to Ashley-Cooper, who powered over the line.

Sharks centre Francois Steyn pulled back a penalty from a scrum in the 17th minute, but Foley was able to stretch the lead to 10-3 at the end of the first quarter after captain Marco Wentzel, in a bid to turnover a loose ball, held on under pressure from Ashley-Cooper and conceded a penalty after another Waratahs attack sparked by Hooper.

The Sharks would have begun to feel Hoffman was screwing them over in the 28th minute when he made a ridiculous forward-pass call against Bismarck du Plessis, the Waratahs then being given another penalty as the scrum went down, Foley making the score 13-3.

Steyn narrowed the gap to 6-13 five minutes before the break after a sneaky hand in the ruck by the Waratahs was penalised. They then managed to win a Waratahs lineout throw on their own line after brilliant scramble defence stopped fullback Israel Folau from scoring and won a penalty. Hoffman told the Sharks it was halftime, so they kicked the ball straight out only for the disgraceful referee to give the Waratahs the lineout!

The Sharks were certainly in the game after the shock of conceding that first-minute try, but a shaky defence – six tackles were missed in the first 10 minutes and 15 in the first half alone – and their own basic mistakes were really hurting them as their promising attacks lacked the finishing touches.

Consultant Brendan Venter was seen addressing them during the break and the Sharks dished up some impressive fare in the second half.

They claimed the vital first score of the second half when they closed the gap to 11-13 thanks to flyhalf Lionel Cronje’s brilliant crosskick from a penalty, that was well-finished by wing Odwa Ndungane.

But three minutes later, it became clear that the officials would ensure the Sharks could say farewell to any chance of a morale-boosting win against the defending champions.

Massive wing Taqele Naiyaravoro powered down the right but lost control of the ball in the tackle by Sithole on the goal-line. With two pairs of legs rolling over and the ball seemingly stuck in between them, TMO Ayoub, (the whole of South Africa rejoiced when he was no longer an on-field referee), awarded the try despite there being absolutely no evidence of grounding.

Foley’s conversion gave the Waratahs a crucial 20-11 lead after 53 minutes but the Sharks lifted themselves when veterans Du Plessis and Steyn showed that they are not rugby oupas by slickly combining for the centre to score, Cronje also providing some vital touches in the build-up.

Steyn’s conversion made it a two-point game (18-20), but the Sharks were knocked back to the mat as Hoffman awarded two more controversial penalties against the Sharks – the ridiculous high-tackle call against Cronje when centre Kurtley Beale slipped and fell over into the tackle and a harsh deliberate knock-on call against JP Pietersen.

There was much to enthuse about the Sharks’ second-half display on attack, none more so than when they got the ball wide to Sithole and he powered down the left in a thrilling run, but the fun for the visitors was soon ended when Beale shoulder-charged the wing into the corner flag. That does not mean he is in touch, of course, but Ayoub decided he was and Beale escaped punishment for his no-arms tackle.

Any chance of even taking a point out of a game that they could well have won given decent officiating disappeared in the 79th minute when a poor pass from the otherwise good scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer was fumbled by Cronje and Foley pounced, kicking the ball through and re-gathering to score.

These days, any referee appointed by Sanzar could be incompetent, but this game seemed different in that there weren’t any bad calls against the Waratahs.

Whether any action will be taken by Sanzar remains to be seen, but past experience suggests the carpet in their Sydney headquarters will merely have more swept underneath it.

Scorers

Waratahs: Tries – Adam Ashley-Cooper, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Bernard Foley. Conversions –Foley (3). Penalties – Foley (4).

Sharks: Try – Odwa Ndungane, Francois Steyn. Conversion – Steyn. Penalties – Steyn (2).

http://citizen.co.za/sport/sport-rugby/383666/sharks-sing-the-blues-once-again/

It takes a special organisation to destroy a top-class brand like the Currie Cup 3

Posted on August 08, 2016 by Ken

 

It takes a special organisation to destroy a top-class brand like the Currie Cup – a 124-year-old South African sporting institution and one of the most famous competitions in the game – but the South African Rugby Union, the custodians of this treasured tournament, are pulling off this dubious feat with scarcely-believable efficiency.

A crowded schedule and the growth of SuperRugby, both in terms of size and importance, has put the squeeze on the Currie Cup in recent years, but in 2016 Saru have taken the self-sabotage to a whole new level.

The build-up to this year’s tournament can only be described as a fiasco – from a largely pointless qualification competition to the scheduling of the fixtures, the Eastern Province Kings saga and the decision that match-day squads will only feature 22 players, it has been a litany of mistakes by Saru.

Griquas, Boland and the Pumas all finished in the top five of the qualifying tournament and their involvement in the Premier Division is a fine idea. But the Kings are likely to be an absolute shambles given that they have been liquidated and almost all their SuperRugby players have left. Their second-string players could only win two of their 14 qualifying games.

The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, itself about to undergo a change of leadership, has temporarily bailed out Eastern Province with a R20 million support package, but that’s not going to fix their tight five or their defence.

Everyone knows that the Kings are going to be a disaster but a Saru vote, thanks to their archaic governance system, has kept them in the Premier Division. Instead of a path being chosen for the benefit of South African rugby as a whole, the decision was made by the general council of the 14 union presidents and it needed to be unanimous for the dysfunctional, bankrupt team to be booted.

Of course one could guarantee self-interest would win the day and the Griffons vetoed the scheme. Apparently they agreed the Kings shouldn’t be in the top division but they didn’t want the Leopards to replace them. Talk about childish petulance and abysmal leadership, and we have seen the same outcome in many other issues Saru have voted for over recent years.

No wonder so many sponsors run a mile when Saru come knocking on their doors, because who wants their brand to be associated with a bunch of dinosaurs who are busy presiding over the extinction of the once mighty and proud Currie Cup?

The scheduling has also been poor with the opening round of the main event taking place in the same radius as the SuperRugby final and one of the biggest stories in the local game for many years, the possibility of the Lions winning that trophy. So nobody really cares that the Currie Cup is starting.

The final is scheduled for October 15 and the Springboks only play their first end-of-year-tour match on November 5, so the Currie Cup could easily have started a week later, out of the shadow of SuperRugby.

The vexed question of the Kings’ participation has also led to a dizzying array of fixture changes, but even before that the Lions were scheduled to play this weekend, even though the attentions of the defending champions were clearly going to be on SuperRugby.

Saru are certainly not putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to the Currie Cup and the lack of resources for the competition is also shown by the decision that teams can only have 22-man match-day squads, instead of the 23 with a full front row on the bench that is used now in all other high-level rugby.

This will not only affect the quality of the competition – expect more uncontested scrums – but obviously affects the preparation of the Springboks because they will have to use 23 players at international level.

No wonder the Springboks have struggled in recent years when their support structures and their pipelines are like an IOU from Cheeky Watson blowing in a Port Elizabeth gale.

Titans grab the Knights’ banker & raid the Dolphins 0

Posted on April 18, 2016 by Ken

 

The Titans will announce three new signings for their champion outfit on Friday as they have lured one of the most consistent bowlers in franchise cricket and two young batsmen just looking for half-a-chance to reach their potential to Centurion.

Malusi Siboto, a stalwart of the Knights attack with 98 wickets in 39 matches at an average of 31 in Sunfoil Series cricket, is the bowler who will be joining the Titans, while Jonathan Vandiar and Daniel Sincuba, both from the Dolphins, are the batsmen moving to Centurion.

Vandiar was considered one of the brightest young batting talents in the country when he played for the Highveld Lions as an U19 star, before joining the Dolphins in the 2012/13 season. But the left-hander has never really fulfilled his talent, something Titans coach Rob Walter wants to change.

“Everyone knows he has talent and we’d like to help him realise that. If you go back a few years at the Lions, he was close to national honours and then just got lost a bit. He’s certainly got potential and I believe he can thrive in our environment,” Walter told The Citizen.

Sincuba impressed the Titans when he scored 41 against them last season in Durban, but the 23-year-old has only played sporadically for the Dolphins since then. He will join the Titans as the back-up wicketkeeper to Heinrich Klaasen, with Mangaliso Mosehle having joined the Lions.

“We wanted a young batsman that we could really grow his game, we’re strong enough in terms of senior batsmen and we’d like to invest our energy in a young cricketer. He’s a top-order batsman and it’s hugely important that we have depth there. The key is to create competition and, most importantly, give us different options when we need to change the balance of the side and play horses-for-courses,” Walter said.

The 28-year-old Siboto has been the banker of the Knights attack and took 28 Sunfoil Series wickets at an average of just 20 this season, as well as being the leading wicket-taker in the Momentum One-Day Cup and matching West Indian team-mate Andre Russell’s excellent figures in the RamSlam T20 Challenge. The left-hand batsman is also very capable with the willow and will lengthen the Titans’ tail.

“He can perform in all three formats, he’s a really solid and consistent bowler and we needed some seniority in our attack to help bring the young bowlers through. He brings experience and has been a very successful bowler with the Knights,” Walter said.

The signing of Siboto does compensate for the loss of fast bowler Marchant de Lange to the Knights.

“He’s a very different bowler to Marchant but we still have Rowan Richards, the spin options are still there, David Wiese and Chris Morris will play if they’re not with the national side and these guys can combine with our youth,” Walter said.

The other big departure from the Titans is batsman Theunis de Bruyn, but Aiden Markram, the U19 World Cup-winning captain, has joined the contracted list in his place.

Titans contracted players: Henry Davids, Albie Morkel, David Wiese, Chris Morris, Heino Kuhn, Daniel Sincuba, Malusi Siboto, Jonathan Vandiar, Aiden Markram, Heinrich Klaasen, Grant Thomson, Lungi Ngidi, Junior Dala, Tabraiz Shamsi, Shaun von Berg, Qaasim Adams, Rowan Richards, Grant Mokoena, Ethy Mbhalati.



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