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Ken Borland



Why such negativity in the season of hope? 0

Posted on December 20, 2016 by Ken

 

This is the season of hope and our cricketers have certainly given cause for much optimism for the rest of the summer, and yet there are still people spreading negativity about the game in this country.

It started up again when Keaton Jennings, son of former Transvaal Mean Machine great Ray, made a century on debut for England against India last week. The South African-born expat is 24 years old and has been playing for Durham since 2012.

Following his brilliant 112 in the first innings in Mumbai, the nonsense talk started about Jennings being ignored by the South African system, without honour in his own land, if you like, with “quotas” receiving their normal share of the blame.

Just to set the record straight, young Jennings was the captain of the SA U19 team in 2011 and made his first-class debut for Gauteng later that same year. So Jennings was in the system, playing in the same side as Quinton de Kock at that stage, but to expect him just to waltz into the Highveld Lions team ahead of players like Alviro Petersen, Neil McKenzie, Temba Bavuma, Stephen Cook and Zander de Bruyn would have been naïve.

So Jennings was not denied fair opportunity, he merely made a personal decision, good luck to him, and it in no way reflects badly on Cricket South Africa.

The other bizarre negativity at the moment surrounds AB de Villiers’ selfless decision to give up the Test captaincy.

From being the blue-eyed boy of South African cricket, suddenly certain people are reading all sorts of sinister motives and reasons into De Villiers’ decision. It’s disgraceful that aspersions are now being cast on the honourable Faf du Plessis and his long-time friendship with De Villiers.

The person crying foul the most has been Fanie de Villiers, but then he has had an axe to grind with South African cricket for some time, and is persona non grata around the Proteas so he doesn’t really know what is going on inside that camp.

Sit down Fanie and follow the wise advice that says: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, rather don’t say anything!”

Former Springbok defence coach John McFarland’s post-mortem of the SuperRugby final & looking ahead to the Rugby Championship 0

Posted on August 11, 2016 by Ken

 

The SuperRugby final has come and gone and basically the Hurricanes were just too good on the day for the Lions, and Test rugby is now going to be another level above that, but I do believe the Springboks have reason for optimism.

It’s brilliant that we had a SuperRugby finalist, and the Lions gave 110% against the Hurricanes and did South Africa proud, as they have done all season, and their players will be in a strong space going into the Rugby Championship.

It’s easy to say the Springboks must just play like the Lions, but hard to coach. Although, in 2013 we scored a mountain of tries and Johan van Graan is still the attack coach with the Springboks and he’s clever enough to use all the best bits from all the franchises.

You put the game plan in place according to the players you have and Test rugby is a step above SuperRugby, you need guys who can get on the front foot on the gain-line, in the heat of battle. Players like Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw, Lood de Jager and Adriaan Strauss have done it, they’ve proved it at that level, they can gain metres whether in attack or defence.

Damian de Allende was outstanding in 2015 so I can understand why Allister Coetzee has gone with him again, as was Jesse Kriel. I can remember the New Zealand coaches telling us last year that with those young midfield backs they were expecting a real battle against us in the next three or four years.

I believe we should do well in the Rugby Championship, I look forward to it with optimism.

The All Blacks side has changed a lot from the World Cup semifinal which we lost by just two points, they’ve lost a mountain of caps and experience in Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Conrad Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks and Richie McCaw.

The big thing for the Springboks will be to manage the three away games on the trot, which is very hard. They go from Salta to Brisbane to Christchurch and to win the Rugby Championship they’re going to have to win those away games, which is flippen tough. And their hardest game will be at the end of that tour, against New Zealand in Christchurch.

But the squad is in good health, as Allister himself has said Heyneke Meyer left him with a good legacy, and we came very close to winning in Wellington in 2014, losing by four points, in Auckland in 2013 we had Bismarck du Plessis sent off which was cruel, and in 2012 in Dunedin it was close until Dean Greyling got a yellow card, plus Morne Steyn only kicked at 33%. So we have been competitive in New Zealand in recent years.

But the All Blacks and Australia only really play two away games in the Rugby Championship every year, that’s why they can waltz through and why it’s so tough for us.

To win in New Zealand, you have to be 100% on your game and they have to be at 90%, as the Lions discovered too in the Super Rugby final in Wellington against the Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes were just too strong and too smart on the day, they were at full-bore from the first minute.

Conditions also played a huge role, it was very rainy and cold and you could see the Lions players shivering at every stoppage, so it was obviously a factor and a disadvantage for them because they played most of their games on the Highveld where it’s sunny and dry.

The Cake Tin has a swirling wind and it’s not easy kicking in that wind, but Beauden Barrett does it week in and week out and you could see the difference in the kicking games.

Against the Highlanders, the Lions were able to move the ball in the red zone with their backs and they made some wonderful exits, but that was just not on in Wellington last weekend. The Hurricanes monstered them in that first channel, with their line speed and aggressive defence, and I felt sorry for Elton Jantjies and Faf de Klerk because nobody likes playing with back-foot ball.

The Lions’ two big weapons are their scrum and lineout, but the Hurricanes stood up to them and Dane Coles was inspirational. I think the Lions wanted to use the scrum to gather penalties and points, but the Hurricanes scrummed so well, especially that important one in their own 22 when they were only 10-3 ahead.

In the lineouts, I thought Malcolm Marx did exceptionally well with his throwing in those conditions and Franco Mostert made good calls, but their drives could neither get distance nor momentum.

In fact, the Hurricanes defended so well that the Lions couldn’t get momentum the whole game. Faf de Klerk tried to probe with runners but they got smashed back. Rohan Janse van Rensburg did well to get over the advantage line at times, but Elton was always on the back foot, which meant the backline was static and they just couldn’t get going.

And the tries the Lions conceded were as a consequence of finals pressure, although Corey Jane provided a special moment with that catch.

It’s funny, at the Bulls we used to have a theory that you needed five world-class players and 10 internationals to win SuperRugby, but neither the Hurricanes nor the Lions have that. But they are real workaholics and both have such a good culture on and off the field.

The back-row clash between Warwick Tecklenburg and Brad Shields, the two unsung heroes, was tremendous, they went toe-to-toe all game. Jaco Kriel and Ardie Savea tried to make game-breaking plays, but the space and time just weren’t there.

The Hurricanes’ tactical kicking was also so good, they would just stab the ball in behind the wings and put the pressure on, making the Lions try to exit.

It was a foretaste of the challenges ahead in Test rugby but none of our other teams exactly covered themselves in glory against the New Zealand sides, so they definitely have the upper hand. But it’s Test rugby and you can’t write off Australia either, they’ll be a different kettle of fish with Matt Giteau and Will Genia back, they’ll have more rhythm to their game.

Finally, let’s wish the Blitzbokke good luck. Neil Powell and his staff have assembled a great squad, they’re very hard-working, they have a fantastic culture and they work hard for each other. They thoroughly deserve whatever accolades come their way.

 

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.

SuperRugby will be a baptism of fire for Southern Kings 0

Posted on June 10, 2013 by Ken

The SuperRugby season kicks off on Friday with Australian teams getting the competition started. The five South African franchises join the fray next weekend with several burning questions still to be answered. Foremost of these is whether the Southern Kings have procured enough firepower to avoid totally embarrassing themselves and the South African Rugby Union administrators who promoted them with scant regard for on-field performance.

The Southern Kings have brought a dozen new players to Port Elizabeth, but they can best be described as SuperRugby journeymen. Even though hooker Bandise Maku and centres Waylon Murray and Andries Strauss are all Springboks, they are not what one would term star players capable of dominating at SuperRugby level. The Kings have also signed two seasoned Argentinean internationals in scrumhalf Nicolas Vergallo and flank Tomas Leonardi, as well as former Toulouse hooker Virgile Lacombe.

The role of captain Luke Watson, of whom opinions vary from sulky trouble-causer to inspiring team-man and leader, is going to be very important in melding such a disparate group of players into a team. Massive expenditure is no guarantee of success in a sport that depends so greatly on team cohesion and attitude.

The Kings have also incurred the wrath of many South African fans who believe their inclusion in the competition is purely on political grounds and the pressure will be on them from the outset.

All eyes will be on their opening game when they host the Western Force, who are also trying to find their feet in SuperRugby. Then, before heading off on their overseas tour, the Kings face daunting meetings with the Sharks and defending champions the Chiefs.

The other game the Kings could possibly target in search of that morale-boosting first victory will be against the Rebels in Melbourne on 13 April, but that will be the last game of their overseas tour and whether they will still be on two feet remains to be seen.

On the positive side, this year provides an ideal opportunity for talented players such as flank Daniel Adongo, flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis, centre Ronnie Cooke and lock Steven Sykes to make their mark on this semi-international stage.

The Bulls will be looking to build on their achievement in making last year’s playoffs as they showed there is still life in the union after so many of yesterday’s heroes moved on.

Pierre Spies’s team will include two new faces in utility back Lionel Mapoe and talented young lock Paul Willemse, but the Pretoria faithful will be relying on remaining stalwarts such as Morne Steyn, Spies, Flip van der Merwe, Francois Hougaard, Werner Kruger, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Wynand Olivier, Akona Ndungane and Zane Kirchner for bigger and better things in 2013.

None more so than Steyn whose eye will still be on the Springbok number 10 jersey. He can count on Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer still valuing his experience and goal-kicking ability, but he needs to play more like the dashing flyhalf of 2008/9 than a gout-ridden has-been turning out for the Blikkiesdorp over-35s.

Loose forward CJ Stander has moved on to new pastures, which counts as a big loss for the Bulls, but the likes of lock Juandre Kruger and backs JJ Engelbrecht, Francois Venter and Bjorn Basson are ready to take the next step and dominate at SuperRugby level.

The Cheetahs will be well aware that their neighbours in Gauteng are smarting over their exclusion from SuperRugby and the way their former allies in Bloemfontein helped betray them. So they will be nervous going into the SuperRugby season, desperate to avoid finishing last in the South African conference and having to face the Lions in a promotion/relegation series.

Their build-up to the campaign has not been good, with the final bell having rung on Juan Smith’s superb career and another favourite, prop Coenie Oosthuizen, still taking the first steps on his way back to recovery. The front row has been one of the Cheetahs’ premier areas of strength in recent years, but with WP Nel and Marcel van der Merwe both having left, coach Naka Drotske is a worried man, with his job under some pressure as well.

Twenty-year-old Johan Goosen is a potential match-winner for the Cheetahs and a popular choice for the Springbok number 10 jersey – he will be a key man for Drotske.

Captain Adriaan Strauss is a respected leader and brilliant hooker, but the state of the rest of the tight five will be the key factor in determining whether Goosen and other exciting backs like Sarel Pretorius, Robert Ebersohn, Johann Sadie, Raymond Rhule and Willie le Roux are able to play with the flair they are famous for.

The Cheetahs also have a bad draw: they have just a solitary home game against the Sharks before they head off overseas, their opening tour matches being against the defending champions, the Chiefs, and then the Highlanders at the House of Pain in Dunedin.

The Stormers topped the log in 2012 and are the Currie Cup champions, and there is plenty of optimism in Cape Town that they are heading into another golden age of Western Province rugby to rival that of the late 1990s/early 2000s. The SuperRugby title is the one they really want and they certainly have the players to become the second South African franchise to claim the trophy. Though their defence was famously committed and superbly organised last year, they will need to sharpen up on their attacking skills.

Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana and Schalk Burger are household names, but they have also added some potential superstars in fullback Jaco Taute and flyhalf Elton Jantjies.

Their pack also boasts Springboks in Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen, Andries Bekker and new signing Pat Cilliers, while much is expected of loose forwards Siya Kolisi and Rynhardt Elstadt.

But items up for debate are whether they have enough depth in the tight five should injuries strike, whether scrumhalves Dewaldt Duvenhage, Nic Groom and Louis Schreuder have the star quality to get the best out of a phenomenal backline also featuring Juan de Jongh, Gio Aplon and Joe Pietersen, and when Burger will actually return to action after a succession of leg injuries.

It will be necessary for the Stormers to hit the competition running as their first three games are key away trips to conference contenders the Bulls and Sharks, followed by a meeting with the Chiefs at Newlands.

 

The Sharks have such a wealth of talent at their disposal across almost all positions that it is becoming inexplicable that they still haven’t managed to win a SuperRugby crown.

The only items causing some concern down Durban way will be the second row, where Franco van der Merwe is the experienced import among the greenhorns, who is going to start at hooker while Bismarck du Plessis continues his rehab from knee ligament surgery, and will Frans Steyn continue to captain while Keegan Daniel recovers from a knee injury?

A dreadfully slow start to the 2012 campaign was to blame for the Sharks only finishing sixth on the log and scraping into the playoffs. Travelling to Australia, Cape Town and then to New Zealand was a bridge too far for them and they will be mindful of the need to earn home playoffs this time round.

Although the Currie Cup ultimately ended in a shock defeat to Western Province in the final, the potential was plain to see in the likes of lock Anton Bresler, scrumhalf Cobus Reinach, centres Paul Jordaan and Tim Whitehead, wing Sibusiso Sithole and fullback Louis Ludik.

The Sharks loose trio was arguably the best in the competition last year and Ryan Kankowski is back from Japan to join Marcell Coetzee, Daniel, Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel and Jacques Botes.

In Butch James, the Sharks have experienced cover for Pat Lambie in the flyhalf position, while Steyn provides muscle in midfield and JP Pietersen and Lwazi Mvovo were inspirational on the wing last year.

The Sharks will also be spending the first eight weeks of the competition in South Africa, playing teams like the Stormers, Brumbies and Crusaders in Durban, so they should be in good spirits by the time they head overseas in the last week of April.

The Sharks will surely be in contention and, provided they don’t get in their own way, 2013 could be the year they finally get their hands on the SuperRugby trophy.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-02-15-superrugby-preview-brief-lull-before-the-storm-for-sa-franchises/#.UbXJOec3A6w



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