for quality writing

Ken Borland



Sharks surprise nobody but nearly unhinge the Lions 0

Posted on July 22, 2017 by Ken

 

Not many people, least of all the Lions, will have been surprised by the Sharks bringing an intensely physical, in-your-face approach to their SuperRugby quarterfinal at Ellis Park on Saturday, but it so nearly unhinged the home side, the overwhelming favourites.

In the end, the Lions had to be bailed out by a phenomenal penalty kick by wing Ruan Combrinck, who slotted the ball over in the 78th minute from six metres inside his own half and 10 metres from touch, to make the final score 23-21.

Combrinck did not have much opportunity in the match, thanks to the Sharks’ swarming defence swallowing up practically all the space on the field, but he showed that he is a person who thrives on the big moment.

“It’s just Ruan’s character that he’s always looking for opportunities and the big moments, he’s normally the last one to leave kicking practice, even though we don’t know how many kicks he gets over!” captain Jaco Kriel joked after the nailbiting victory.

“I always look to the touchline to see if the coach is giving any advice, and both JP [Ferreira, defence coach] and Cash [Ivan van Rooyen, conditioning coach] were pointing to the line to set up the lineout, but Ruan already had his tee in his hand, even though he told me he cramped when he missed his previous kick!”

More drama was to follow in the final minute as the Lions received the kickoff and then set up a series of slow-mo pick-and-goes and rucks as they counted down time. The incensed Sharks were screaming at referee Marius van der Westhuizen, who was the epitome of indecision throughout, for holding on, but the Lions refused to concede anything, even though Kriel afterwards admitted that “we nearly lost the ball in that last ruck”.

The Lions roared into Sharks territory from the first kickoff, which lock Stephan Lewies dropped, and showed their aggressive, confident intent as they turned down two penalties at goal to rather set up lineout drives.

The Sharks were also having early problems in the scrum and the Lions’ third penalty came from that set-piece, and this time flyhalf Elton Jantjies went for poles.

The easy kick from just inside the 22 hit the post, however, and it set the tone for an awful kicking display by the incumbent Springbok flyhalf.

Lionel Mapoe was chasing the rebound, though, and for the umpteenth time, lock Etienne Oosthuizen cost his team points as he took the outside centre out off the ball, giving Jantjies an even easier shot at goal which he slotted to give the Lions a 3-0 lead.

The Lions are always intent on playing the game their way, but in the face of such an aggressive defence and the Sharks’ strategy of getting players in-between their backs, perhaps they should have played the situation more than their preconceived tactics.

A case in point came straight after they had opened the scoring as they tried to pass the ball around in their own 22 after the restart, with both Sharks prop Thomas du Toit and outside centre Lukhanyo Am getting intercepts. Am cut inside and then fed flank Jean-Luc du Preez, who freed wing Kobus van Wyk to go racing over in the corner for the first try.

The Sharks were playing the knockout rugby, building their play around the intensity of their pack and defence, and using the boot of flyhalf Curwin Bosch to good effect.

Coach Robert du Preez played in the Currie Cup-winning Northern Transvaal sides of superboot Naas Botha, so it was no surprise to see Bosch using the drop-kick, and he succeeded with one in the 17th-minute, centre Andre Esterhuizen’s powerful run at the flyhalf channel providing front-foot ball and plenty of time for him to stretch the lead to 8-3.

Jantjies then missed a penalty from in front of the poles, after another Sharks scrum infringement, and the sense of unease grew at Ellis Park as the flyhalf then lost the ball in his own half and lock Andries Ferreira knocked on, forcing the Lions to play the ball on the ground and allowing Bosch to kick a penalty (11-3).

Just before halftime, the Lions were on the wrong end of a 50/50 ruck call and another Bosch penalty put the Sharks 14-3 in front at the break, and seemingly in command.

But the Lions came out for the second half playing much more direct rugby, and with a greater focus on hanging on to the ball rather than throwing speculative passes.

Immediately, the pressure shifted on to the Sharks and a couple of offsides calls led to Lewies being yellow-carded in the 46th minute, an important development as the Lions scored two tries, both unconverted, while he was off the field.

The great work of the Lions scrum set up the first try as lock Franco Mostert plunged over the line a couple of phases after the set-piece had the Sharks forwards going backwards; and four minutes later, flank Kriel burst through the weak defence of Bosch to score.

The woeful kicking of Jantjies meant the Lions were still one point behind though (13-14), but just after the hour mark they won a penalty on their own 22 for a high tackle – although it was not the most obvious offence.

Centre Harold Vorster took a quick tap and jinked his way through the disorganised defence, making it well into the Sharks half before he freed Mapoe on his outside for the Springbok to speed over for the try. This time Jantjies converted (20-14).

But the Sharks regained the lead four minutes later.

Ferreira was blatantly offsides at a ruck and the Sharks kicked the penalty to touch to set up the drive, which was collapsed by Mostert. But the Sharks, playing with the advantage, went over the line as scrumhalf Cobus Reinach nipped over from a ruck close to the poles.

But the TMO referral showed that the ill-disciplined Oosthuizen had once again cost his team points, this time by shoving Mapoe to create the gap that Reinach went through.

The Sharks had another chance though, because Mostert was yellow-carded for his earlier offence and the visitors chose a five-metre scrum, where this time they had the edge and eighthman Daniel du Preez scored against the post.

The Bosch conversion made it 21-20 and the lead lasted all the way through until the thrilling final couple of minutes, with Combrinck missing a penalty in the 70th minute.

The Sharks nearly scored in the right corner as Van Wyk, under pressure from Courtnall Skosan, just failed to gather the bouncing ball. The Lions had the throw-in, under severe pressure, five metres from their line, and Akker van der Merwe, having replaced the excellent Malcolm Marx at hooker, threw over the top for Kriel, charging forward on a storming run.

Mapoe gave great support and the Lions were out of their territory and able to win the fateful penalty that gave Combrinck his moment of glory.

 

Two No.4 locks for Springboks against physical Samoans 0

Posted on February 19, 2016 by Ken

 

The Springboks will go into their quadrangular series final against the physical Samoans with two number-four locks in partnership in the middle row, after coach Heyneke Meyer named Flip van der Merwe in the number-five jersey on Wednesday.

Van der Merwe replaces his Bulls partner Juandre Kruger, a more traditional number-five lock, and Meyer said the reason for the change was because “I want to see if Eben and Flip can play together because we’re very thin at number five.”

Kruger, who was a mobile presence last weekend against Scotland, is of course off to chase the euro in France later this year, so that might also have something to do with Meyer’s decision.

Franco van der Merwe, who has run the Sharks lineout with aplomb this year, is also in the squad and if Meyer was really desperate to test his depth at number five, he would surely have given the experienced former Lions star a run.

It seems probable that the real reason for Flip van der Merwe’s selection is that Meyer wants to target the collisions, where Scotland showed them up last weekend, against a team that is especially combative and has great physical presence in that area. If the Springboks lose the collisions, then they could be condemned to chasing after the ball against a side that thrives on running rugby when they’re on the front foot.

The 28-year-old may not have played in the middle of the lineout since his junior days, but he was unfazed by the switch.

“I’ll be doing the same work at lineout time, it doesn’t matter if you’re four or five, it’s just a different number on your back. The breakdown will also be very important and we’re working hard on trying to improve that,” Flip van der Merwe said.

There are potentially two changes to the loose trio as well, with Marcell Coetzee making way for Francois Louw on the open side and Willem Alberts set to return on the blind side. The Sharks battering ram has been bracketed with Siya Kolisi, who really took his chance to shine last week in Nelspruit, but the medical staff are confident Alberts will be fit to play, meaning the Stormers rookie will start on the bench again.

While Alberts will add even more oomph to the Springboks when it comes to the collisions, the way Louw is able to read and adapt to referee’s interpretations when it comes to turnover ball, means South Africa should be much more effective at the breakdowns than they were last weekend against Scotland.

“Scotland deserve a lot of credit for playing on the off-sides line, but Francois Louw has much more knowledge of Northern Hemisphere referees and he is a recognised open-side flank. When he came into the team last year, suddenly he brought something different to our game in terms of ball-stealing. He’s used to those Northern Hemisphere interpretations and he shows how to adapt to the referee,” Meyer said.

The all-round contribution of Louw also extends to ball-carrying and lineout work, where the Springboks should dominate the Samoans even without a specialist number five jumper.

The scrums are the one set-piece where Samoa have improved tremendously in recent times and the 120kg bulk of Van der Merwe in the second row will obviously help the Springbok scrum.

The fitness of Jean de Villiers is still not certain and he has been bracketed at inside centre with Jan Serfontein, with hooker Adriaan Strauss set to take over the reins if necessary and become the 55th Test captain of the Springboks.

“Jean has had a scan of his sternum and there’s nothing torn or broken and he’s feeling much better today. There’s not as much pain or discomfort,” Meyer said.

Wednesday’s selection means Meyer has used just 27 players (28 if De Villiers is unavailable and Juan de Jongh gets game time) through the three-match series, but the Springbok coach said he was happy with the amount of experimentation he has done ahead of the Rugby Championship.

“I feel I’ve played a lot of new guys. I’ve stuck with Willie le Roux when I could have played Zane Kirchner, there’s JJ Engelbrecht and Jano Vermaak, Bjorn Basson had never started for me before, Siya Kolisi, Arno Botha, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen earned just his second cap, Piet van Zyl and Jan Serfontein. I know what the rest of the players can do from the end-of-year tour and I feel like we now have a good squad of 30 players,” Meyer said.

Team: 15-Willie le Roux, 14-Bryan Habana, 13-JJ Engelbrecht, 12-Jean de Villiers/Jan Serfontein, 11-Bjorn Basson, 10-Morne Steyn, 9-Ruan Pienaar, 8-Pierre Spies, 7-Willem Alberts/Siya Kolisi, 6-Francois Louw, 5-Flip van der Merwe, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Adriaan Strauss, 1-Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements: 16-Bismarck du Plessis, 17-Trevor Nyakane, 18-Coenie Oosthuizen, 19-Juandre Kruger, 20-Siya Kolisi/Marcell Coetzee, 21-Piet van Zyl, 22-Pat Lambie, 23-Jan Serfontein/Juan de Jongh.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-06-20-changes-to-bok-squad-for-physical-game-against-samoans/#.VscUn_l97IU



↑ Top