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.

 

John Smit Q&A 0

Posted on July 28, 2016 by Ken

 

While the Sharks team has scrapped their way into the SuperRugby playoffs, an off-field battle has been polluting the waters around KwaZulu-Natal rugby. John Smit, who has announced he will be stepping down as chief executive, with Gary Teichmann, another former Springbok captain, announced this week as his successor, answers Ken Borland’s questions about the controversies and successes of his term.

What has caused the delay in the financial statements?

 

JS: Essentially we were renegotiating our debt/equity situation and the favourable outcome was announced this week with the recapitalisation of shares. It has some complexities, but in essence SuperSport have acquired 9% from KZNRU and then both entities have been issued more shares, together with another financial instrument, the net effect of which is that the Sharks have R40m recapitalised. Furthermore, we were trying to make sure that any future arrangement benefited our schools, clubs and development programmes. To this end Supersport really stepped up to the plate and we are most fortunate to be able to count on them as a shareholder. They will support our amateur organisation to grow our school base, clubs and support our development programme. We’re in a great space.

The economic downturn has affected all the franchises, but just how badly off are the Sharks?

JS: I don’t think it is news that our franchises are under pressure with attempting to retain players while competing with foreign currency, but we as a franchise had to do something to stem the tide and create a business plan that takes us back to operating successfully on both fronts, on the field and off. With this amazing move from SuperSport to inject R40m into the Sharks we can now realistically look at having a profit-bearing budget for the first time in over a decade by 2019. We have had to think smartly as to how we contract players and as frustrated as people have been this year with on-field performance, our new, much younger squad with far less internationals has in its first year together qualified for the playoffs, which for me is a great sign considering the draw of death we were in. This group is signed with us for the next few years and I can’t wait to see how they blossom. Our financial performance in 2016 is right on track and will reflect some of the major changes already implemented. Losses should not exceed R5m and hopefully we do a little better.

How has your relationship been with KZNRU president Graham McKenzie and chairman of the board Stephen Saad?

 

JS: These two men as well as others on the board have been very supportive of me in my tenure, Stephen has given me so much of his time, for which I am truly grateful as he runs a massive business, values time with his family immensely and he has always found time to assist with every issue I brought him over the last three years.

Are you satisfied with the number of sponsors on board and the key relationships you have developed for the union during your time as CEO?

 

JS: This is probably the area of the business I enjoyed most and looking back on the revenue we managed to increase on the sponsorship front over the last three years is pleasing. The fact that Cell C have bought into the vision and plan for this team’s future by renewing for a further three years is probably our biggest victory in this rebuilding phase. The other very important relationship that needed mending was with our very own city. Being one of Durban’s greatest assets I found it sad how far removed we were from each other and can proudly say that we now truly are partners. Durban Tourism has been instrumental in us being able to host the All Blacks this year and from there the discussions around a possible stadium move emerged, now knowing full well that any such move would need to benefit both parties should it happen.

You have been criticised for getting rid of Sharks stalwarts like John Plumtree and Rudolf Straeuli, what were the reasons for your decisions?

 

JS: I think in my three years one thing I could count on was that every time the team lost I was guaranteed to hear or read about Plum not being renewed! So much has been written and said about this issue but I have to say I was devastated at how it was handled. I had a very different idea in my mind of how this process was going to unfold while still in the UK, until one journalist and ex-coach decided to play their part. Never was it my intention to have Plum treated like that and he is justifiably angry. The discussion I wanted to have with Plum was to be one-on-one to ascertain where he saw himself currently and why he believed we hadn’t excelled at SuperRugby yet with the quality of squad we had. One needs to remember that coming in as a new CEO making that change was not an easy one or one taken without the consultation of many players, board members and rugby people close to the brand, with the most important part of this process being taken away by not being able to discuss with Plum himself. The irony is Plum had for months prior to my appointment been asking my predecessor to extend his contract with no luck. It is sad for me how it turned out, Plum was a friend of mine and as a coach I enjoyed playing under him while at the Sharks.

Rudolf asked to leave when offered the Lions CEO post. My relationship with him is still strong and I have always enjoyed Rudolf, his success at the Lions is no surprise to me. He was a great asset to us.

 

Do you have any advice for your successor?

 

JS: Wow, how long do we have! On a serious note though, I’m delighted that Gary Teichmann is our next CEO. We have sat down and discussed the areas integral to the business and where the possible hurdles lie. My advice to him was to try and block out the noise and focus on the job, he too will have similar challenges as I did being a high-profile person coming in and it’s important he knows that the same people who pump up his tyres now will slash them at will when they don’t get what they feel they need. So the best advice I can give is the same advice I was given many years ago: Decide your direction of journey, stay on course and don’t be distracted by either the good or bad noise along the way.

 

 

A year of SuperRugby experience a major positive – Nollis 0

Posted on July 19, 2016 by Ken

 

Bulls coach Nollis Marais said the experience gained from a year of SuperRugby was the major positive of a campaign that ended at the weekend with his team just missing out on a playoffs spot.

The Bulls ended on a high with a 43-17 romp over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, their ninth win from 15 games leaving them on 42 points, in ninth place overall and just one point behind the Sharks, who took the last quarterfinal place as the third South African qualifiers.

“At the end of the day, the Sharks finished with more points than us, but we had 14 players make their SuperRugby debuts this year and 12 of them went on their first tour to Australia. They all came through and guys like Jason Jenkins, RG Snyman and Warrick Gelant are 20/21. The guys now have one Super Rugby season behind them, but we can’t use inexperience as an excuse again next year, we will have to be much better especially since we’ll be playing against the New Zealand teams,” Marais said.

The lack of bonus points picked up by the Bulls was a key factor in their failure to make the playoffs, as they collected only four, all of them from the try-scoring bonus. Home games against the Reds – where they led 27-8 but won 41-22 – and the Rebels – where they led 42-3 but conceded four tries in the final quarter, have come back to haunt the Bulls.

“It actually makes me quite emotional because I remember after the Reds game saying that I hope missing the bonus point doesn’t come back to bite us. And every time we lost a game, we couldn’t get a bonus point either, which is very disappointing, especially when you finish just two points off the playoffs.

“I still believe our best wins were against the Stormers and the Western Force away, although a lot of guys played well against the Cheetahs, the guys pitched because a lot of them are leaving,” Marais said.

It was announced on Monday that Marais will now take the reins of the Currie Cup side, which will basically be the SuperRugby outfit minus Jesse Kriel, who once again showed how good he can be at fullback without his space being cramped like it is in midfield, Rudy Paige, Lappies Labuschagne, Marcel van der Merwe, Adriaan Strauss, Werner Kruger, Grant Hattingh and Francois Brummer.

The qualifying campaign under Hendré Marnitz has been messy with seven defeats fouling their seven wins, but CEO Barend van Graan said the change was more to do with continuity seeing as though most of the SuperRugby side will be involved.

“With almost the whole Bulls squad now available for the Currie Cup competition that is starting soon, the call was made to extend the mandate of Marais, so he will now be coaching the Blue Bulls as well. It just makes sense for him to continue with the group of players that are developing so nicely under his guidance. The call to continue with Nollis in the Currie Cup was made for rugby reasons and is not a reflection on Hendré’s abilities. The progress and growth shown by the team under Nollis is something we want to expand and grow, hence the decision,” Van Graan said.

60% Sharks stutter into playoffs 0

Posted on July 18, 2016 by Ken

 

The Cell C Sharks operated at about 60 percent of what will be required from next week as they stuttered to a 40-29 win over the Sunwolves at Growthpoint Kings Park in Durban on Friday night to seal their place in the Vodacom SuperRugby playoffs.

They were far from the well-oiled machine coach Gary Gold wanted them to be in their last league game before the knockouts and, for much of the match the bottom-placed Sunwolves actually had the scent of a massive upset win in their nostrils.

The Sharks only led 21-19 at halftime and the advantage was only 28-22 going into the last 10 minutes, before flyhalf Garth April finally made an impact by scoring himself and setting up a first SuperRugby try for replacement fullback Curwin Bosch.

While the Sharks held on to the ball and used their forwards to lay the platform, they looked good and two tries in the first seven minutes came after the pack had driven well.

Tighthead prop Coenie Oosthuizen barrelled over for the opening try and then scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer ran off the base of a maul, centre Andre Esterhuizen stepped outside his marker and went straight through the gap, allowing wing Lwazi Mvovo to have an easy run-in for the second try.

But the Sunwolves then began dominating possession as the Sharks became loose and error-prone. Although they initially struggled to breach the staunch Sharks defence, with nearly 70% of the ball the visitors were able to bend and stretch it with clever play and eventually break through.

Their first try came from a nifty set-piece move as flank Liaki Moli soared high at the back of a split lineout and then passed the ball straight to scrumhalf Kaito Shigeno, who ran straight through the gap to score untouched.

Flyhalf Yu Tamura converted and then, in the 21st minute, he put a clever chip over the defensive line. It was a tricky bouncing ball for fullback Rhyno Smith, but he gathered well and had seen the space, launching a great counter-attack, good hands by forwards and backs getting the ball to captain JP Pietersen, who beat the last man to score the Sharks’ third try.

But battering ram centre Mifiposeti Paea then barged his way over for a try and completed a top-class individual first-half performance by making a fantastic break from his own 22, lock Faatiga Lemalu dotting down from close range after several phases to ensure the Sharks only took a two-point lead into the interval.

The Sharks started the second half like a team with a renewed purpose as Oosthuizen produced a bullocking run and a fabulous offload, hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle providing a slick ball out wide and Esterhuizen a determined finish.

April continued a great run of successful kicks at goal with the conversion to give the Sharks a 28-19 lead, but a Tamura penalty cut that to 28-22 on the hour.

The Sharks made life hard for themselves by not looking after the ball at the breakdown and an anxious last 10 minutes awaited the Kings Park faithful before April made up for all his defensive failings with two moments of magic.

Outside centre Pietersen played a big role in April’s try with a lovely run after the flyhalf’s initial dart before a superb offload back to April, who rode a tackle to get over the line.

April’s precise chip over the top set up Bosch for his try, which would have secured a bonus point for the Sharks were it not for the reaction from the Sunwolves.

April had a kick charged down, leading to a loose ball which went to replacement scrumhalf Yuki Yatomi, who put the Sunwolves on attack with a lovely break, Paea finishing off to take the bonus point away.

But a Sharks team that lacked spark and accuracy scarcely deserved anything more than a scrappy victory.

Scorers

Sharks: Tries – Coenie Oosthuizen, Lwazi Mvovo, JP Pietersen, Andre Esterhuizen, Garth April, Curwin Bosch. Conversions –April (5).

Sunwolves: Tries – Kaito Shigeno, Mifiposeti Paea (2), Faatiga Lemalu. Conversions – Yu Tamura (3). Penalty – Tamura.

http://citizen.co.za/1206785/60-sharks-stutter-into-playoffs/



↑ Top