for quality writing

Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Looking back at the fantastic Newlands Test 0

Posted on October 13, 2017 by Ken

 

What a fantastic game of rugby it was at Newlands, with the incredible atmosphere, the pace, intensity and physicality making it real Test match rugby.

Unfortunately the Springboks lost, but they gave a huge performance and the All Blacks will know they were lucky to win. It was so pleasing to see the Springboks go from 57-0 to losing by just a point, but they should have won.

Of course the game could have been different had Nehe Milner-Skudder’s break been finished off or Rieko Ioane had not been tackled over the goal-line by Jesse Kriel, those 14 points could have deflated the Springboks. But it was also the home side’s own mistakes that gave the All Blacks the points they needed.

Even the last-minute controversy was avoidable because it’s always a risk rushing for the charge down; you need to come at an angle so you don’t hit the kicker head-on. It’s to protect the kicker and Damian was too square-on. He did manage to put Lima Sopoaga off his drop kick, but he also would have known he was late and risked sanction, and conceded the penalty anyway. It wasn’t the best moment in Damian de Allende’s rugby life and it changed the complexion of the game because the All Blacks were then two scores clear and with just 14 men on the field, it was an uphill task for the Springboks.

The breakdown turnovers were the key and you could see the reaction of the team after Malcolm Marx and Francois Louw stole the ball. The mix of the back row Allister Coetzee chose came in for a lot of criticism but it was done for a reason.

Siya Kolisi and Francois Louw were the two breakdown players, which you need to disrupt the All Blacks’ attacking pattern, and Pieter-Steph du Toit provided physicality and bolstered the lineout.

In terms of the Springbok kicking game, they kicked a bit more than previously, although I find it strange that the crowd boos our own scrumhalf for kicking box-kicks, while the New Zealand scrumhalf is applauded for doing it. The plan was clearly to have contestable kicks to test the All Blacks back three. In the last World Cup semi-final, Milner-Skudder dropped a few high balls and was eventually moved away from the wing, so that was clearly part of the Springboks’ plan at Newlands.

You can’t just run willy-nilly from your own half, sometimes you’ve got to kick. It must either be long into the 22, which gives you time to build a chase line or force the catcher to kick out and give you a lineout; or he will kick long which gives you the chance to put the running bomb up; or it must be contestable. If you’re accurate enough then you have a 50/50 chance of winning the ball back, or you can put in a dominant tackle, get a turnover or just slow their ball down.

That did not happen in Ross Cronje’s box-kick that led to Damian McKenzie’s spectacular try, but to be fair, David Havili was allowed too much space and time to run across the field. The Springboks have struggled with guys running across their defensive line, it raises doubts as to whether the outside defender should turn in or trust the player on the inside. It’s something the Springboks have got to tighten up.

What was probably most pleasing of all – and credit must go to their conditioning for this – was that the Springboks were much stronger at the end of the game, both physically and mentally. Playing at sea level, as predicted, was also important because it makes it a level playing field.

The performance of the pack was magnificent, they were bristling on the gain-line, they won the collisions and they really gained confidence from the lineout. The Springboks went for four-man lineouts and then the short ball, which ensured they were able to win quality possession. The maul try they scored was also really pleasing.

The forwards seem to be in that special zone right now where they are full of confidence and intensity and they are really playing for each other.

We should also not underestimate Francois Louw’s calmness and experience and just his assurance, which definitely has an impact on his fellow forwards on and off the field.

Elton Jantjies’ kick at goal that he didn’t put over was also important and at international level you’ve got to convert those chances.

The main problem with the backline was that they were a little too deep and too lateral. Everyone wishes they can have a flat attack, because that’s what causes the defence the most problems, and it was better when Handre Pollard came on. Then again, there has to be quick ruck ball for the number 10 to take the ball into the jaws of the defence.

Ironically, the shorter lineouts do actually cause a problem for the backs because then there’s not much chance for them to have a one-on one. It’s good that Allister Coetzee is backing combinations because that induces trust, but he needs to be aware if, over a period of time, players aren’t really performing.

With the backs being a bit too lateral and too deep at Newlands, it allowed the All Blacks to pick off the carriers in the backline. It was interesting when Pollard came on that he played much flatter to the gain-line, which brought his forwards more into play, for example when Malcolm Marx hit the hole and set up the try for Jean-Luc du Preez.

For the end-of-year tour it will obviously be different conditions to South Africa, especially compared to on the highveld.

Both the matches against Ireland and Wales will be played in stadia with roofs, which makes a difference. Hopefully the Springboks have now found the formula that works for them.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Sharks come badly undone against superb Lions 0

Posted on July 02, 2016 by Ken

 

The Lions played with superb fluency and confidence, pace and power, to ensure the Sharks would come badly undone on their visit to Johannesburg, the hosts winning their SuperRugby match 37-10 at Ellis Park on Saturday.

After weathering an impressive first five minutes from the Sharks, the Lions were quick to communicate their intention to pick up where they left off before the June international break, their previous result being a similarly superb 56-20 demolition of the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.

The Sharks’ bright start withered in the face of some ferocious defending from the Lions and they simply pushed the visitors ever further from the advantage line, bossing the collisions and producing the quick ball that they flourished on, displaying wonderful skills and intensity in the process.

Flyhalf Elton Jantjies put the first points on the board with a seventh-minute penalty and the woes began for the Sharks as Paul Jordaan limped off with a knee injury. They had already been forced to make a midfield change when Andre Esterhuizen failed to recover in time from the hamstring strain he picked up during the week, which meant Jordaan was playing inside centre and JP Pietersen shifted to number 13 and S’bura Sithole came on to the wing.

Heimar Williams then came on to replace Jordaan and, with Garth April appearing flustered at flyhalf, the Sharks had a severely disrupted backline, the Esterhuizen/Jordaan combination being one of their strong points this season.

But what was unforgivable was the number of basic mistakes the Sharks made in the first half, starting with scrumhalf Michael Claassens basically bailing out of taking an up-and-under, giving the Lions prime attacking position. Lionel Mapoe produced an incisive run, Jaco Kriel, as ever, was up in support and made the final pass for wing Ruan Combrinck to score the opening try in the 15th minute.

The Sharks were also poor at relieving pressure in their own territory, allowing the Lions to mount relentless attacks because their kicks were often up-and-unders instead of touchfinders, and too often they did not find touch or grass.

The second try came after an up-and-under from the base rather than a lengthy kick to clear the lines, followed by Odwa Ndungane dithering and not claiming a mark that could also have relieved the pressure. Instead the Lions piled on to attack, lock Franco Mostert powered through close to the line and eventually centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg grabbed the ball out of a maul and swiveled over the line.

On the half-hour, the jittery April kicked straight to fullback Andries Coetzee, who launched the attack and Combrinck’s little chip behind the defensive line bounced wickedly for Lwazi Mvovo, again in the north-east corner of Ellis Park, with eighthman Ruan Ackermann gathering and passing to hooker Malcolm Marx to storm over for the third try.

The Sharks were 20-0 down and then butchered the best chance they had to get on the scoreboard when Mvovo’s pace took him clear, but his pass inside to Ndungane was a bit behind the fullback and the veteran dropped the ball with the line clear ahead of him.

While the dazzling attacking play of the Lions backline gets most of the plaudits, their pack is also brilliant and they deserve the credit for the fourth try, scored on the stroke of halftime, as the forwards went on the charge, battering through the advantage line until Ackermann, one of the stars of the show as he stood in for the injured Warren Whiteley, powered over the line with two of his colleagues behind him.

Jantjies’ conversion meant the Lions would go into the break with a commanding 27-0 lead and the problems that bedevilled the Sharks did not go away in the third quarter either.

April produced an awful kick from his own 22 that did not go anywhere but straight up, leading to a penalty slotted by Jantjies, and the ball-hungry Kriel then crashed over the line in a move that again highlighted the pace and power of the Lions forwards.

At 37-0 down with 22 minutes to play, the Sharks were really just chasing pride and their replacements, especially lock Ruan Botha, added some much-needed energy.

The visitors were finally on the board in the 63rd minute, Sithole cutting through the Lions defences and some clean hands by April and replacement fullback Rhyno Smith delivered the ball to Mvovo, who stepped inside and dotted down.

Six minutes later, Botha, who announced his return from long-term injury with a compelling performance in the Ellis Park fortress, soared high to take a lineout and set up the rolling maul, from which another Sharks import, replacement hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle, scored.

That made it five tries to two and, if the Sharks had managed to score once more in the last 11 minutes it would have robbed the Lions of a well-deserved bonus point, but Johannesburg’s pride held out to ensure they will top their conference and host the city’s first SuperRugby knockout game since 2001.

Bulls look to use attacking approach to beat WP 0

Posted on October 16, 2015 by Ken

 

 

When the Blue Bulls hammered Western Province 47-29 at Loftus Versfeld nearly two months ago, they used a ball-in-hand approach, clever attacking innovations and pace and intensity, and coach Nollis Marais wants them to use the same strategy in their Currie Cup semi-final in Pretoria on Friday night.

“We wanted to do things differently, we weren’t looking at a semi-final or a final back then, we were just starting a new culture at the Blue Bulls. We’ve worked hard and now the guys must just play. They must believe in themselves and believe in what we do. They’ve all had a season behind them now and we’re good enough to beat any team. Being young is not an escape clause, the guys must just go out and play,” Marais said.

For Western Province coach John Dobson, the way the Bulls used the restart that day has been a major concern.

“We were beaten on the short kick-off down the middle. A couple of times we just weren’t watching and then it’s Game Over. There was just general sloppiness that day. We have to make sure we don’t get caught in the middle and when we receive the restart the clearance has got to be beyond our own 10m line or else the Bulls will just maul you.

“So we’ve had to change our strategy considerably, in terms of how we set up. We weren’t blocking properly, we were leaving Robert du Preez [flyhalf] stranded deep in the pocket. It was a massive issue for us and we had to change the plan,” Dobson said.

Western Province will no doubt want to use their powerful, more experienced pack to grind down the Bulls.

“Last time we played the Bulls [a 29-14 home win at Newlands a month ago] our pack was fairly well on top and if we can do that again then we are going to stop them from playing Bulls rugby, force them into a more open game, and then the mistakes are going to come and we can put pressure on them. Maybe we can force them to run when they don’t have numbers, we see opportunity in that,” Dobson said.

“That was probably our worst game of the season,” Marais said of the Cape Town loss, “because our set-pieces just didn’t work. So it was the first time we were really under pressure, but we still twice lost the ball over the tryline, so we were competitive. We’re better prepared up front than we were then.”

 

Meyer has wanted Brussow since his Japan adventure 0

Posted on July 22, 2015 by Ken

 

According to Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, he has been wanting to choose Heinrich Brussow ever since he started playing in Japan and regained his pace of old, but his selection was delayed by long-term injuries.

Brussow was the surprise selection in the Springbok team announced to play the All Blacks at Ellis Park on Saturday, earning his first Test cap under Meyer and ending a four-year spell in the international wilderness as he joins Francois Louw in a loose trio featuring two specialist openside flanks.

“I have a lot of respect for Heinrich, there has been a lot of speculation that there is bad blood between us but that’s certainly not the case. There’s been a lot of communication between us, he knew where he stood and he has worked hard.

“He had two bad injuries and I believe he lost a bit of pace because of them, and then he tried to get too big and gained weight. But since playing in Japan, where the game is quicker, Heinrich has got his speed back, which is what you need as an openside.

“He has a very good record against the All Blacks [having been on the winning side in all four previous appearances against them] and I believe it’s the right game to give him a go, he deserves that.

“I’m going with two opensides because I believe the battle will be won on the ground on Saturday and the All Blacks have one of the best opensides in the world in Richie McCaw. One of the main things for the openside is also to secure your own ball and Heinrich has worked on that as well,” Meyer said.

Brussow described his game as having become more “clinical” since his last appearance for the Springboks, limping off early in the bitterly disappointing 2011 World Cup quarterfinal against Australia, which would have been a very sad end to a career in which he had won 14 of the previous 19 Tests he had played in.

“It’s a few years ago that I last played for the Springboks and I’m more experienced now, I think I make better decisions on which rucks to chase. I’ve become more clinical as the laws have changed and I’ve had to adapt.

“It was a different experience playing in Japan but I wanted to try new things and their game plan over there is really quick. I have a good relationship with Heyneke, I always knew where I stood so I kept positive and working hard. But then when I was close to selection, injuries came my way,” the man who turned 29 on Tuesday said.

The selection of two fetchers is a dramatic change in direction for Meyer, who has made his love for big ball-carriers and lineout options in the loose trio very clear, but Brussow said his job will be made easier by having Louw alongside him.

“I played with another openside flank at the Cheetahs because we did not always have big loose forwards, we often played with two fetchers. It makes it easier, you can make better decisions and support each other.

“But it’s going to be a big challenge against the All Blacks, any game against them is tough, but you have to beat the best to be the best. Richie McCaw speaks for himself, but with Liam Messam, Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino, that’s the best loose trio in the world, they’re playing well and in form,” Brussow said.

The other main feature of the Springbok selection is a new-look bench, with Vincent Koch set to make his Test debut. Flip van der Merwe will bring his experience upon his return from his self-imposed exile, while Lionel Mapoe could also play his first match in the Green and Gold.

Cornal Hendricks was originally named on the bench, but then wing JP Pietersen strained his hamstring in training, allowing the Cheetahs flyer to move up to the starting line-up and giving Mapoe his call-up as wing/outside centre cover, just like the veteran Sharks player.

Warren Whiteley is the reserve loose forward and will surely come on in front of his adoring home crowd for his first home Test, Meyer saying his abilities in the lineout and in open play would be valuable in the final quarter.

Meyer’s use of the bench in the last-minute loss to Australia in Brisbane last weekend was criticised, but the coach defended his tactics, saying he was in a no-win situation.

“I was in a lose/lose situation because we have so many injuries and I’m trying to bring players back for the World Cup. And then Victor Matfield and Marcell Coetzee went off and Jannie du Plessis also got injured.

“People say players are over the hill and ready for retirement, and then when I substitute them they say that was wrong too. We didn’t lose because of the replacements, we lost because we made mistakes. The big difference is my teams play, whereas those of the kenners [experts] don’t!” Meyer said.

The Springbok coach will certainly make changes in the final quarter again, however, because he expects a late surge from the superbly fit All Blacks.

“Last year at Ellis Park we made a great start against them but then they came back. In their last 60 matches, most of them have been won in the final 20 minutes because their fitness is superior.

“So we need fresh guys coming off the bench, I expect an open, running game from the All Blacks in the last 15 minutes, they’ll play at a very high tempo, which is one thing we’re not very good at presently,” Meyer said.

Hearing Meyer call for improvement in the tempo at which the Springboks play may surprise the public, but his loose trio selection is a genuine shock. Instead of playing two fetchers, Meyer could have used captain Schalk Burger as a ball-carrier, Whiteley starting at eighthman, or even Teboho Mohoje or Siya Kolisi as blindside flanks.

“We pride ourselves in having one or two big ball-carriers who can get over the gain-line and also stop the opposition’s momentum. It’s a problem at this stage and you don’t want to use half-measures, there’s simply no-one standing at the moment who can do that.

“So we have to change our game plan. Games against the All Blacks are always lost or won at the breakdown, they thrive on quick ball, especially at the end of the game,” Meyer explained.

The life of a Springbok coach is never simple and Meyer knows he will face a backlash from his transformation critics over Mohoje and Kolisi being leapfrogged, but he is selecting with half-an-eye on the World Cup and measuring potential players under pressure.

That’s also why Hendricks has returned, why Brussow has been given another life in international rugby and why there has been so much rotation on the bench.

Springbok team: 15-Willie le Roux, 14-Cornal Hendricks, 13-Jesse Kriel, 12-Damian de Allende, 11-Bryan Habana, 10-Handre Pollard, 9-Ruan Pienaar, 8-Schalk Burger, 7-Francois Louw, 6-Heinrich Brussow, 5-Lood de Jager, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Bismarck du Plessis, 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements – 16-Trevor Nyakane, 17-Adriaan Strauss, 18-Vincent Koch, 19-Flip van der Merwe, 20-Warren Whiteley, 21-Cobus Reinach, 22-Pat Lambie, 23-Lionel Mapoe.

  • Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • Thought of the Day

    James 1:5 - "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."

    The lessons Christ taught were intensely spiritual, but also extremely practical. For him, everything - every thought and deed - was an expression of his relationship with his heavenly Father. All of our life must be an expression of the spiritual.

    "I wait upon God to renew my mind, to make me creative, instead of becoming the clanging cymbal that Paul spoke of." - Paul Tournier

    "The spiritual life touches the realities of every day and enables you to look, to a certain extent, at people's problems as God does." - Solly Ozrovech



↑ Top