for quality writing

Ken Borland



Lions have earned universal respect despite failing to make playoffs 0

Posted on November 24, 2016 by Ken

 

The Lions may have failed to make the SuperRugby playoffs after their dramatic weekend draw against the Stormers, but the Johannesburg-based franchise has certainly earned the respect of all their opponents this season.

Just two years after they were controversially relegated from SuperRugby, the Lions have clinched second place in the South African Conference and boast an almost identical record to the Brumbies, who have snuck into the playoffs ahead of them because of bonus points.

They have maintained their positive style of play with ball in hand, but where they have improved most is defensively, boasting the best tackling success rate in the competition. The Lions play at the highest tempo of all the South African sides as they swarm around in defence and always have great intensity on the ball. Their powerful scrum has provided a solid platform and their lineout has also been efficient.

“It’s all about playing with intensity and hunger, and we have to up our performance every week. There are plans in place, but I also allow the guys to be free spirits and you have to live with the small mistakes that come from that,” coach Johan Ackermann says. “Obviously I’m very proud of the team, it must be one of our best years and it shows that hard work is worth it.”

The Lions have certainly deserved all the praise that has come their way, beating the qualified Waratahs and Highlanders in the last five weeks and showing all season that they are never out of the contest with some superb second-half comebacks.

“There’s great belief within this side, a real hunger. We want to close down the opposition’s space and put them under pressure. We’ve built our physicality in defence, we want to be in their faces and not stand back,” captain Warren Whiteley says.

Their impressive performances have seen several of their players grow into Springbok contenders. The most likely Lions player to feature in Heyneke Meyer’s Springbok World Cup squad is flyhalf Elton Jantjies, who dares to take the ball flat and attack the opposition line, has superb hands and is a strong defender, as well as kicking well this season.

Eighthman Whiteley is competing with Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Burger for a place at the World Cup, but he gets through a mound of work and is the only player in SuperRugby this year to have made more than 200 tackles, while also being highly effective in a linking role, possessing great skill and vision as befits a Springbok Sevens player who helped win the Commonwealth Games gold medal last year.

He is also adept at interfering with the opposition lineout, where Franco Mostert has also been a key performer for the Lions, as well as in the loose.

Warwick Tecklenburg has been outstanding in doing all the Lions’ dirty work, being second only to Whiteley in terms of tackles made, but fellow flank Jaco Kriel has been the most impressive forward.

A constant nuisance at the breakdown, he oozes raw talent in offence, having phenomenal pace, strength and hands, and has more often than not been able to spark the most sensational counter-attacks by the Lions.

Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe have proved to be two powerful centres, while scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and wing Ruan Combrinck are two other backs who have announced themselves as future Springboks this year.

Despite their success over the last two years, Ackermann says at the moment they are just playing pretty rugby and haven’t won anything yet, there is more growing to do.

“We can look back on a good season regardless of missing the playoffs. The players know where they stand with me and they know my expectation on deserving the jersey. As long as they do that, I can’t ask for more. The growth from last year is definitely there, but there is still a lot of work to do.

“Nobody has achieved anything yet. We are not in the playoffs, we haven’t won the Currie Cup yet, we haven’t won any trophies yet. But if you ask me if there is a lot of growth, both for me as coach and for the team, then definitely if you look where we started in January 2014 until where we are now,” Ackermann says.

 

Bulls prove their composure to pip WP 0

Posted on October 17, 2016 by Ken

 

Vodacom Blue Bulls coach Nollis Marais promised that his team were a different side from the one that lost at the same stage, against the same opponents, in last year’s Currie Cup, and they eventually proved that as they pipped DHL Western Province 36-30 in their thrilling semi-final at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.

The Bulls were probably worthy winners as they played most of the rugby, but whenever they looked like putting the squeeze on Western Province, they would make mistakes and the visitors were brilliant at scavenging opportunities and using them to the full.

It looked like the Bulls would falter at the same hurdle when Western Province went ahead 27-22 in the 58th minute and then again, 30-29, with just seven minutes remaining.

But the 2016 Blue Bulls showed their development in terms of composure and mental strength as they played pragmatic rugby in the closing stages to eventually edge home thanks to replacement scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl’s try with just 90 seconds remaining.

A try by wing Travis Ismaiel, after 10 minutes, with centre Burger Odendaal making a great run off the ball and then the final pass, made sure that the Bulls made a good start to settle the nerves.

But Western Province scored nine minutes later to make it 7-7 with a try that showed their pack was not about to be bossed around at Loftus Versfeld, the forwards marching a lineout drive for 20 metres and eighthman Nizaam Carr dotting down.

That seemed to fire up the Bulls though and they began to squeeze Western Province in the second quarter. Schoeman kicked another penalty (10-7) and then a huge scrum in front of their own bench that had their subs on their feet earned another penalty (13-7).

Western Province were clearly feeling the pressure as Juan de Jongh tried to carry the ball out of his 22 but was met by a firm head-on tackle by Schoeman and flank Roelof Smit, who enjoyed an outstanding first half, pounced on the turnover, winning another penalty as the Bulls stretched their lead to 16-7.

But the lapses that kept the visitors in the game, the little momentum-killers, then reared their ugly heads.

Smit fell foul of referee Marius van der Westhuizen at the first ruck from the kickoff, allowing Western Province flyhalf Robert du Preez to cut the deficit to 16-10 as the hooter went for the break.

The lead was then cut to just three points from the kickoff for the second half as flank Jannes Kirsten carried strongly as ever, but outside centre Dries Swanepoel went straight off his feet and sealed off the ball at the ruck, allowing Du Preez an easy kick to make 13-16.

The mercurial Schoeman pushed the lead back up to 19-13 after his lovely break had forced Western Province to go offsides to prevent a try, but the 25-year-old’s ability to deliver the sublime and the ridiculous within moments of each other was then shown as he provided the intercept that was snaffled up by lock Chris van Zyl, leading to wing Werner Kok roaring away for the try.

From that point onwards, control was slipping away from the Bulls. Schoeman, to his credit, would keep knocking over the vital kicks at goal, succeeding with all eight of his shots, but he also dropped the kickoff after his own 55th-minute long-range penalty to give Western Province prime position.

The Bulls conceded a penalty, which the visitors ran and lock Jan de Klerk stepped inside before barrelling over for the try.

Du Preez’s conversion put Western Province 27-22 up and the Bulls seemed to be on their way to another semi-final heartache when they lost their own lineout throw just outside the opposition 22. But they would get another chance as the clearing kick was taken by wing Jamba Ulengo, who raced off on a great run, Odendaal carrying the move on down the right as the Bulls roared back into the red zone. Several pick-and-goes later and replacement lock Jason Jenkins was over for the try, converted by Schoeman as the Bulls regained a 29-27 lead.

A crowd of nearly 18 000 roared the home team on – and was thanked profusely by the team management and CEO Barend van Graan after the game – and the Bulls produced an inspired period of defence on their own line.

But after their scramble defence won them the put-in at a scrum, they went down at the most inopportune moment, giving Du Preez a terrifying penalty which he nailed, giving him a 100% goalkicking record of 6/6.

Western Province were 30-29 ahead going into the last two minutes, but to the enormous credit of this young Bulls side, they kept their heads.

Van Zyl has just turned 21 and it was his smart break which put the Bulls on attack, only for some willing defence from Western Province to keep them out. The visitors did give them a lineout inside their own 22 though, and the Bulls were willing to show patience as they built the phases until the opposition just weren’t able to get enough defenders across to the next ruck, allowing Van Zyl to dart over for the matchwinning try.

It means the Blue Bulls are going to play in the Currie Cup final for the first time since 2009, and will travel down to Bloemfontein to take on the rampant Free State Cheetahs.

They are going to need all their new-found composure then as well.

Scorers

Vodacom Blue BullsTries: Travis Ismaiel, Jason Jenkins, Ivan van Zyl. Conversions: Tian Schoeman (3). Penalties: Schoeman (5).

DHL Western ProvinceTries: Nizaam Carr, Werner Kok, Jan de Klerk. Conversions: Robert du Preez (3). Penalties: Du Preez (3).

http://citizen.co.za/1315860/bulls-prove-composure-pip-wp/

Southern Kings not to be underestimated after Rassie consulting – Gold 0

Posted on February 25, 2016 by Ken

 

The Sharks may have enjoyed an impressive pre-season tour to France while the Southern Kings, their opening opponents in SuperRugby this weekend, endured shambolic preparation, but the KwaZulu-Natal side’s director of rugby, Gary Gold, has warned that the Eastern Cape team should not be taken for granted, especially with Rassie Erasmus consulting for them.

Erasmus and his mobi-unit of top specialists were in Port Elizabeth in January to help Kings coach Deon Davids fast-track their preparations and the word from their camp is that they feel ready to compete. The Sharks will be the first team to test that readiness and Gold said they would be cautious.

“It’s exactly the same situation we had with the Cheetahs last year in our first game, so we do not take the Southern Kings lightly as a team. Deon Davids is a good coach and he would have got great help from Rassie and the mobi-unit. And they’ll be desperate to prove their detractors wrong.

“We have to make sure we don’t slip up like we did against the Cheetahs last year. We’re just trying to stay away from expectations and focus on what we do well. The two games in France have shown us how far we’ve come in certain areas. We had a very clear strategy in our pre-season in terms of how we prepared: We really put time and energy into four or five areas which we hope will have the most effect on the game,” Gold told The Citizen.

The Sharks beat Toulon 29-21 and Toulouse 31-17, but Gold said the results were only of secondary importance to how they played and he was very satisfied with their performance. With the time now available before their first SuperRugby game on Saturday, they will brush up on the areas that have not received as much attention.

“It’s not about the results but the performance and I was very satisfied with the things we worked on, we got reward for those, we’ll bank those, but now it’s time to sharpen the pencil. It’s now time to focus on other areas and we know that if we don’t put time and energy into those then we’ll come a cropper, so those areas will develop.

“We scored five tries and three tries in the two games, so I’m happy with that. Toulon could only score through driving mauls against us, three times, but we hadn’t worked on that yet.

“People ask how we want to play, well, first and foremost we want to win and the foundation for winning is a solid defence. That’s one of the areas where I feel we’ve made good progress, it was a helluva lot more consistent. Defence is where a team shows its camaraderie, whether they’re willing to fight for each other. As a coaching staff, we’re very excited because we’ve put our faith in this young group and they’ve repaid us,” Gold said.

 

 

Highveld Lions have handsome lead but lus for more 0

Posted on March 25, 2015 by Ken

The bizhub Highveld Lions have a handsome lead at the top of the Sunfoil Series log after winning three of their four matches but, as their opponents this week from the other side of Gauteng would say, they are certainly lus for more.

The Lions hammered the defending champions, the Nashua Cape Cobras, by an innings last weekend in Potchefstroom and they can now take control of the four-day competition if they beat the second-placed side, their neighbours the Unlimited Titans, at Willowmoore Park in Benoni from today. The Lions are currently 16.22 points ahead of the Titans with the competition heading into a midway break after this weekend’s full round of matches.

“We’ve played some good cricket but we’re not looking at the league positions, the competition only really starts taking shape after seven or eight games. We just want to keep doing our skills right and do what we need to do to get results, that’s how we like to play. We want to make sure we break the opposition game down slowly, not try to win on the second or third day, but take it to the last day after tea,” Lions coach Geoff Toyana told The Citizen.

The other matches this weekend see the Sunfoil Dolphins, smarting from their defeat in East London against the Warriors, travel to Kimberley to take on the Chevrolet Knights, while the Chevrolet Warriors host the Cobras in Port Elizabeth.

The Lions married patient batting up front, led by Stephen Cook’s marvellous century, with disciplined seam bowling and penetrative fourth-day spin from Dale Deeb to beat the Cobras. Paceman Sean Jamison announced his arrival in franchise cricket with eight wickets in the match, while Dwaine Pretorius claimed four first-innings wickets.

With Pumelela Matshikwe also bowling steadily, the Lions have successfully adapted to the loss of almost their entire attack – Eddie Leie, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Aaron Phangiso, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Hardus Viljoen all being unavailable.

“The most pleasing thing was the way the guys who came in performed. I’m very happy with the depth here, because last season I wasn’t happy when they didn’t come to the party,” Toyana said.

Titans coach Rob Walter knows the importance of the clash.

“If we can get a win then we’ll be in a great position for the second half of the competition, but if the Lions win then they’ll open up a big space on the log at the halfway mark,” he said.

The Titans’ first priority is to absorb the loss of batsmen Dean Elgar (wrist injury), Theunis de Bruyn and Farhaan Behardien, as well as all-rounder David Wiese. Graeme van Buuren should play his first four-day game of the season, having regained form with a century this week against Holland, while Heino Kuhn and Henry Davids will also have key top-order roles.

The Knights are having an even tougher time in terms of losing batsmen, with Gihahn Cloete, Reeza Hendricks, Rudi Second and Rilee Rossouw all unavailable. Gerhardt Abrahams, Michael Erlank, Patrick Botha and Diego Rosier are their replacements against the Dolphins. But in Quinton Friend, Dillon du Preez, Malusi Siboto, Corne Dry and Werner Coetzee, coach Sarel Cilliers is able to field one of the better attacks around.

The Dolphins have lost Craig Alexander to a hamstring injury, with coach Lance Klusener calling up promising pacemen Mathew Pillans and Graham Hume.

The Warriors are the most settled of the franchises at the moment and they welcome back Simon Harmer for their match against the Cobras, who will be hoping the experience of the returning Justin Kemp can change their fortunes.

 



↑ Top