for quality writing

Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Lions’ efforts deserve Test selection 0

Posted on June 01, 2017 by Ken

 

The Springboks are back in camp and it will be interesting to see the team for the French Tests, two of which will be played at altitude, so it will definitely be an advantage to pick players that are full of confidence and successful on the Highveld.

There’s only one team that has been playing with real conviction and confidence, though, and that is the Lions, so I expect a few debutants from them over the course of the series. It will be a well-deserved honour and credit to their coaches, Johan Ackermann, Swys de Bruin and JP Ferreira.

The Lions’ 54-10 win over the Southern Kings showed that the difference in strength is vast between them and the other South African teams and they now have a great run-in towards the SuperRugby playoffs. They deserve it after winning three games overseas and they are reaping the rewards in confidence and the way they are playing.

It’s sad for SuperRugby that the playoff places are mostly already sorted out, especially in South Africa. It always used to go down to the last weekend and a very exciting final day of round-robin play. Anyway, it’s a huge advantage to finish first on the log and the Crusaders are three points clear of the Lions as our pacesetters go into the international break.

The Crusaders have some tough New Zealand derbies coming up though, including having to travel to the Hurricanes.

So I believe Rudolf Straeuli, the Lions CEO, can’t wait to pencil in 3pm playoff games on the Highveld. If you speak to the Highlanders players they will tell you that their legs felt like jelly during their semi-final at Ellis Park last year, they just could not get going, and that’s a side packed with All Blacks that lost 30-42.

The Lions will definitely have earned that advantage via their performances, especially their tremendous run of 15 unbeaten games against South African opposition.

Most of the Lions players have been let go by other franchises or picked up from other unions, so you have to credit their hard work and improvement. Guys like Andries Coetzee and Courtnall Skosan were playing for Tuks in 2012/13, while Franco Mostert was also part of that side and nobody has worked harder for their Springbok opportunity, so I’m sure he’ll take it with both hands.

A guy like Ross Cronje has worked really hard on his game, he’s been the second-choice at the Lions a lot of the time, but he kept his belief and keeps producing the goods, so his selection is also fully deserved.

It was really pleasing to see Warren Whiteley appointed as the new Springbok captain, he’s a really honest player and always totally committed on the field. You can never accuse Warren of shirking anything, whether that be in terms of workload or skill.

He was with the Sharks as a junior and was a very explosive, impact player who could really cause damage in the wide channels in the last 20 minutes. He has become a dominant captain who epitomises all that his Lions team stands for in terms of culture.

Warren is a superb lineout option and also has safe hands at the back, which is important because it’s vital these days for eighthmen to be able to counter-attack. He brings his Sevens skills to bear.

His journey to the Springbok captaincy has not been easy, he has worked so hard to get there and thoroughly deserves the honour.

The Springboks are heading into a phase of more inclusive leadership, Warren will take notice of the opinions around him and has great empathy. But he showed when he first came into the Springbok group in 2014 that he is strong enough to have his own ideas, he knows the path forward and will not just follow the party line, he will make sure he drives his own opinions. He’s also a great communicator, with the coaches and the playing group.

I wish him all the success he deserves and wouldn’t it be nice for him to have the Rugby Championship trophy in his hands in October?

And Duane Vermeulen playing at seven will definitely work, in terms of their defensive system, they want a blindside flank who can do a lot more when it comes to work-rate. I think the eighthman will stay at a lot of the set-pieces and save his energy for attack and ball-in-hand play.

Duane of course will be in France for the Top 14 final with Toulon and will only have a couple of days training with the Springboks after flying back to South Africa, which is why Jean-Luc du Preez has been called up.

The Sharks v Stormers game showed the difference in strength between the two conferences. The Stormers just could not get that final pass or offload away, which, given their style of play, is essential for them.

Under new coach Robbie Fleck, they’re always going to be involved in high-scoring games, but they need to convert their chances. One has to credit the Sharks for their defence holding firm, which bodes well for the Springboks.

I felt there was some improvement from the Bulls, they were far more physical at the gain-line. There’s obviously been a change in the coaching staff there, which possibly produced the improved display, but unfortunately it was not enough against a clever team like the Hurricanes.

The Bulls will regret those soft moments in defence when the Hurricanes were able to slice through them like a knife through butter.

The positives for the Bulls were Duncan Matthews, the young wing, who really took his opportunity well, and the way the forwards and inside backs competed on the gain-line against one of the most physical sides in SuperRugby (How we wish for the days when the Bulls were the most physical side in the competition!).

I was fortunate enough to be at the Cheetahs game against the Sunwolves and it’s always nice when the South African teams come to Tokyo – because of our relationships in the past, I get to catch up and spend some time with them. The smattering of survival Japanese I have helps them in the shops and with the very complicated subway system!

I thought the Cheetahs ran a very smart week in terms of preparation. Often when a team is coming off a massive losing run (nine games), the temptation is to go harder at the players in training. But the Cheetahs did not do much in Tokyo and Franco Smith ensured the players were very fresh, and they reaped the reward.

The match was quite tight until just before halftime when the Cheetahs scored a killer try to leave the Sunwolves 14-0 down.

I was impressed by the way the Cheetahs played, they kept their shape and Raymond Rhule and Sergeal Petersen were always a big danger on the wings.

It was a big event in Tokyo, because they only get to host a handful of games every season. It’s a huge thing for Japan to have a SuperRugby team.

We need a global game and we should get teams from the USA and Canada involved as well, it has to happen eventually. Look at the improvement in the Argentina team from having the Jaguares involved in SuperRugby – they have been exposed to a higher level of rugby and it has paid dividends.

The biggest drawback is the travel for the Sunwolves and Jaguares, they do nearly twice as much travel as anyone else. It’s always a great feeling going to a new country when you win, but the worst thing is then losing.

So I hope they change the conferences, but who knows because there has still been no clarity from Sanzaar.

 

 

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.

 

Lions winners of a pulsating epic 0

Posted on April 01, 2017 by Ken

 

The Lions were the winners of a pulsating, high-quality SuperRugby derby against the Sharks at Ellis Park on Saturday night, edging the visitors 34-29 in a gripping encounter that had all the intensity of some of the famous Test matches the Springboks have played at the venue.

The Lions were obviously not at their best, perhaps rattled by the tremendous physical onslaught brought by the Sharks, and they made numerous handling errors. But the sign of a champion side is their ability to win the games when things aren’t going their way, and they did that through a 77th-minute Jaco Kriel try.

The Sharks were superb – none more so than Curwin Bosch, the precocious flyhalf who later shifted to fullback, and produced one of the most incredible kicks seen at the famous stadium when he slotted an angled penalty from 65 metres that put the KwaZulu-Natalians 29-26 ahead in the 71st minute.

The Sharks were undone largely by a string of penalties against them by referee Jaco van Heerden, particularly for high tackles, an offence that saw Etienne Oosthuizen yellow-carded just before halftime. The lock, a perennial liability when it comes to discipline, had earlier caused a try to be disallowed by targeting the neck, and when he was carded, the Lions immediately scored so his indiscretions cost the Sharks at least 12 points.

The visitors will not be happy though with the performance of the TMO Johan Greeff, who was happy to point out every time the Sharks went above the shoulder, but turned the blindest of eyes to clear instances when the Lions committed the same offence.

The Sharks have history with Greeff and coach Robert du Preez made his displeasure over the inconsistencies clear after the game.

That the Sharks were intent on upping the intensity of the contest, especially in terms of physicality, was clear from the start and the Lions conceded a first-minute penalty at the ruck, which Bosch slotted (3-0).

In the eighth minute they fired a real warning shot at the Lions by scoring the opening try. Outside centre Lukhanyo Am managed to make ground through Rohan Janse van Rensburg as the newest Springbok centre was unsuccessful in stripping him of the ball. Kobus van Wyk, coming from the opposite wing, was then barking for the ball as he ran a great line, scrumhalf Cobus Reinach delivering, and prop Coenie Oosthuizen then stormed for the tryline, having just enough in the legs to dot down in Warren Whiteley’s tackle.

Bosch converted and the Sharks were 10-0 up.

But the set-piece lays much of the platform for the Lions’ success and the home side began to exert pressure on the Sharks, especially at the lineout. A scrappy 14th-minute effort saw Lions lock Andries Ferreira pounce on the tap-down, leading to a penalty and Elton Jantjies was able to give last year’s SuperRugby runners-up their first points (3-10).

Bosch, meanwhile, was grouping together 50-60 metre touchfinders and he showed tremendous accuracy to go with length off the tee as well as he nailed a 57m penalty to stretch the lead to 13-3 in the 19th minute.

A 25th-minute penalty then rebounded off the post, with the Sharks regathering possession and scoring in the corner. But Van Heerden and Greeff had a whole bunch of questions about the try and eventually it was disallowed and the Lions given a penalty under their poles for Etienne Oosthuizen’s high tackle in the build-up.

It only further opened up the can of worms when an innocuous high tackle was again penalised and Jantjies kicked a penalty to close the gap to 6-13.

Bosch opened up a 10-point lead again with a superb 34th-minute drop goal as the Sharks were making little headway against a Lions team that had stepped up their intensity, and when Oosthuizen was yellow-carded for the same offence just before halftime it was an enormous moment.

The penalty allowed the Lions to set up an attacking position close to the tryline, hooker Malcolm Marx proving an unstoppable force after the lineout drive.

Jantjies converted and the Lions were just 13-16 down after a first half in which they had been bossed for long periods, setting the scene for an epic second half.

And it took the Lions just four minutes after the break to take the lead, an incisive finish by wing Courtnall Skosan completing their second try after scrumhalf Faf de Klerk had broken away on the short side after an impressive scrum.

Jantjies converted (20-16) and then fullback Andries Coetzee emulated Bosch with an excellent long-range drop goal, which came after Skosan, fielding a missed touchfinder from centre Andre Esterhuizen, had run headlong into the huge abs of Coenie Oosthuizen, but managed to survive and recycle the ball.

Bosch had pretty much been a bystander for the previous 20 minutes, but a move to fullback as Innocent Radebe slotted in at flyhalf and Michael Claassens came on at scrumhalf, saw the Sharks regain the initiative.

The top-class distribution skills of Claassens and Radebe certainly seemed to help them, and a long pass out wide to Van Wyk from Radebe, after he had taken the ball to the line, led to a much-needed try for the Sharks in the 55th minute.

Bosch converted to level the scores at 23-23 and then kicked a penalty.

The Lions’ championship credentials were certainly being refined by fire and they managed to draw level again in the 67th minute through a Jantjies penalty after Van Heerden penalised the Sharks at a scrum although they were dominant.

But Bosch replied with his incredible 65m angled penalty after a Lions infringement, but it would only be enough for the silver medal on the day.

Another high tackle call against the Sharks allowed Jantjies to level the scores again and then, with three minutes remaining, the counter-attacking skills of Coetzee and replacement flank Kwagga Smith were like gold for the Lions.

Bosch could not kick directly into touch because the ball had been carried back into the 22 and Coetzee ran the ball back, before a great run by Smith, and then flanker Kriel came roaring through for the matchwinning try.

Jantjies did not convert, but the Sharks were unable to hang on to the ball in the closing stages of the match in Lions territory, and the home side had survived to post an invaluable victory.

Scorers

Lions – Tries: Malcolm Marx, Courtnall Skosan, Jaco Kriel. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2). Penalties: Jantjies (4). Drop goal: Andries Coetzee.

Sharks – Tries: Coenie Oosthuizen, Kobus van Wyk. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (2). Penalties: Bosch (4). Drop goal: Bosch.

 

Positive Klaasen makes a move into Test squad 0

Posted on March 04, 2017 by Ken

 

Titans wicketkeeper/batsman Heinrich Klaasen was celebrating a first call-up to the South Africa squad for their Test series against New Zealand on Friday, convenor of selectors Linda Zondi saying a “positive presence at the crease” had played a large part in his selection.

Klaasen has looked a top-class talent since his days with the dominant Tuks Varsity team and he now follows his skipper from his student days, Theunis de Bruyn, into the Test squad as one of the back-up players, having scored 635 runs in four-day cricket this season, at an average of 48.84.

Zondi confirmed that it was a close-run thing between Klaasen and Rudi Second of the Knights, who scored 684 runs at 52.61, with the 25-year-old Klaasen being considered a closer match in terms of approach to Quinton de Kock, the player he is understudying.

“It was a very close call and it could have gone either way. Rudi is a very experienced player and is definitely not out of our plans, but we just felt that Heinrich has a positive presence at the crease, he’s tidy behind the stumps and there’s something about him.

“He’s a good striker of the ball, a fearless cricketer. We’ve watched him a lot and we feel he can play the same role as Quinton de Kock,” Zondi told Saturday Citizen on Friday.

While the presence of players such as De Kock, Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier, De Bruyn and Klaasen makes it a young squad, the selectors have also recalled veteran Morne Morkel, the 32-year-old who has not played a Test in more than a year.

Morkel is only two 50-over games into his comeback from serious back issues, but Zondi said they wanted some experience around to guide a young attack. Vernon Philander has played 40 Tests, but Keshav Maharaj (4), Wayne Parnell (5), Rabada (14), Olivier (1) and Chris Morris (2) have played just 26 Tests between them.

“We’ve been guided by our medical team with Morne and he’s 100% fit. We want him to play more games, but his extra experience is required, because we don’t want to be caught out if anything happens. We’re quite comfortable in terms of all-rounders, so Morne must just go there and compete, providing us with extra variety,” Zondi said.

Squad: Stephen Cook, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis (Capt), JP Duminy, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Wayne Parnell, Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Theunis de Bruyn, Heinrich Klaasen.

‘Knights fully deserve their triumph’ – Boucher 0

Posted on February 20, 2017 by Ken

 

Titans coach Mark Boucher said his team has not played to the best of their ability and that the Knights fully deserve their narrow triumph in the Sunfoil Series.

The Knights beat the Highveld Lions by an innings and 121 runs in the final round of fixtures, but they only topped the log by 1.78 points and it could have been so different for the Titans had they just batted better in the first innings of their last game, against the Warriors, when they were bowled out for just 227 and only earned 2.54 batting points; just 90 more runs and the Titans would have won the title.

“We knew what we had to get, we knew we had to bat well, but we haven’t played the way we can the whole season and we didn’t deserve to win the title. The Knights threw their all into their game against the Lions, their gamble worked and they played unbelievable cricket to score 443 and then bowl the Lions out for just 87.

“Our batting in general has to improve, particularly in terms of partnerships, centuries win you trophies. We only played to within 60-70% of our capabilities and were within a point or so of winning the title, but I don’t blame the last game, there were other matches where we didn’t bat well enough and we tended to lose sessions badly. There were some great individual performances, but we didn’t quite gel as a unit, we played good cricket but not great cricket,” Boucher said.

Two of those great individual performances came in the final game against the Warriors as Shaun von Berg became the first player to score a century and take 10 wickets in the match in a franchise game, and Heino Kuhn steered the Titans to a record target of 315 with an exceptional 165 not out.

“Every time Shaun comes into the team, he produces the goods and does the business. Last week he and Heinrich Klaasen won the game for us and he’s a street-fighter, I really enjoy having him in the team. He’s one of those guys that it would do the Proteas no harm to have a look at – his leg-spin has come on leaps and bounds, he consistently hits good areas, and he could do a good job as a second spinner on the subcontinent.

“Heino showed what a great player he is and showed his character by toughing it out when he said he didn’t feel great. That innings answered everything when it comes to questions over him playing for the Proteas, he carried his bat and won the game,” Boucher said.

The coach danced around the issue, however, of whether the Titans had unsuccessfully gambled with a Willowmoore Park pitch that had inconsistent bounce from the first day, making it very difficult for them to keep up with the Knights’ haul of 6.70 batting points.

“The pitch was strange, it was up-and-down on the first two days but then it flattened out. It was a bit of a mystery and when the ball is keeping low it will be in the back of the batsman’s mind, but we should still have somehow got to 320. There were some indifferent shots so we can’t blame the pitch, we didn’t apply ourselves in the first innings and it was only an unbelievable knock from Shaun that got us in front of the Warriors. The first hour of the second day was a train smash,” Boucher said.

 

http://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-gauteng/20170214/282089161522672



↑ Top