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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column – Bok defence gives them hope v All Blacks 0

Posted on September 14, 2017 by Ken

 

All in all, even though people were disappointed with the result, there was a lot to be pleased about in the Springboks’ draw with the Wallabies in Perth last weekend.

To put it into perspective, historically South Africa’s record in Australia is not that good with just 12 wins in 37 matches and only five out of 26 games since 1992, so to get two away points is a good result.

The Springboks will be disappointed, however, that they did not win because they were so dominant in the second half and they had some really clearcut opportunities that they needed to finish.

This Saturday against New Zealand at the North Harbour Stadium will be a real test, but then it always is against the All Blacks. What will really encourage the Springboks leading into that match is their defensive system that meant Australia could only score one try against them in open play, having scored five and then four tries in their two matches against New Zealand.

The Wallabies’ other try in Perth came from a driving maul and the main reason for that was that the Springboks competed at the front of the lineout. It was a high risk/high reward tactic, but with Eben Etzebeth in the air it meant they lost three players to defend on the drive, which is a particularly high-risk strategy five metres from your tryline.

The Springboks were really good in the tackle in Perth and made lots of double hits. They mixed up their defence well: at times they came very hard off the line, for example in the two turnovers Siya Kolisi forced through sheer linespeed; sometimes they were softer in their defensive line, especially on the blindside, where the attack is usually very flat and basically off the scrumhalf, so you just try to shepherd them out towards the touchline.

Once Kolisi managed to jolt the ball loose and that gave Jan Serfontein a clear run for the line but he was held up two metres short, and the other major turnover by the blindside flank came when he forced the error that led to the end of the game.

The Springboks were very good at the breakdown in Perth, and Jaco Kriel and Pieter-Steph du Toit made some really important steals as well.

The Springboks really struggled though with Australia’s obstruction, especially on the kick-chase. When you kick long it is vitally important that your line gets ahead, and stays ahead, of the retreating defenders. The Springboks do generally chase well, but if the opposition can get players in-between the chasers then it allows their back-three player a clear gap and a hole to hit in the line. It’s like obstruction and completely illegal, but someone like Richie McCaw made it an art-form for the All Blacks.

Every bit of momentum the Wallabies had in Perth really came through this. You cannot rush in defence if the attack has momentum, you have to go softer to recover; you try to get them on to the edge of the field and then you can push hard again.

It’s interesting that under Chean Roux last year, South Africa tried to implement the rush-defence, but we all know the problems they had with that system. But I feel their defensive system is very secure this year, you can see the players really back it and believe in it.

The South Africans could have been better organised on the restarts though. They tended to have their wings forward and their pods deeper, but against someone as lethal as Israel Folau, you need the pods to come further forward. But when Folau won the one aerial ball against Courtnall Skosan that led to a try, there was a huge obstruction. If you watch it from behind, Sekope Kepu actually points to Kurtley Beale and tells him where to go, he clearly blocked Etzebeth from making the hit.

Eben obviously has the respect of his team-mates and is leading well, but he is still an inexperienced captain, especially at Test level. That try needed to be reviewed and I’m sure the TMO would have made the right decision; the captain just needed to whisper in the referee’s ear …

I thought the Springbok kicking game was quite good and Elton Jantjies managed to convert a few zones and pin Australia in their 22. The Springboks were quite clever at times by moving the ball wide to Andries Coetzee, which brought Folau up and then they were able to put the ball in behind, which gave the blind wing quite a few problems.

I was really impressed again with Coenie Oosthuizen. Besides anchoring a dominant scrum, he also hasn’t missed a tackle all Championship and he also made three tackles with a broken arm when he came back on to the field!

It just shows the commitment and attitude in the team at the moment, they are really working hard for each other.

I was curious to know how the Springboks would respond to being 10 points down in a Test and the fact that they were able to get back into the game and so nearly won it at the end is a real positive going forward. As is the fact that for long periods their forwards were very dominant at the set-pieces.

We must remember that this is not a team full of 50-Test Springboks – in fact only three players in the starting XV in Perth had more than 30 caps, with two more on the bench – it is a growing team. In the decision-making positions, there is tremendous inexperience and in the spine of the team – hooker, eighthman, scrumhalf, flyhalf and fullback – there was a total of just 34 caps.

So critics of the Perth performance need to take a rain-check and be positive; they must realise that this is a Springbok team that is growing in stature and is unbeaten this year so far.

The All Blacks are probably favourites on Saturday, but in 2012 and 2014 both Tests over there were very close and 2013 was the famous Romain Poite Test with Bismarck, so you can’t really count that. Apart from last year, all our games with New Zealand have been relatively close.

This is a Springbok team in such a good mental space and the All Blacks have alluded to how they can see a brilliant culture in the team and the difference in their defence, as well as the clever bits of play they are producing. They have the deepest respect for this South African team.

The absence of Jaco Kriel will, however, be a big loss for the Springboks, especially against the All Blacks. His pace, dynamism and the way he puts his body on the line without any fear is a huge positive for the team. But it’s a chance for Jean-Luc du Preez to step up and for Siya Kolisi to play at six and for someone new to come on to the bench. Siya is already really forcing a lot of turnovers on the ground.

You have to give credit to the South African coaches, staff and players for how well the Springboks have performed and hopefully they can get a good result on Saturday.

The winner will win the Rugby Championship – it probably is that simple really.

 

 

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.

Evaluating Coetzee’s first Springbok squad 0

Posted on June 06, 2016 by Ken

 

Speculating on Springbok squads is always one of the more enjoyable aspects of being a rugby writer and I was pleased to read Allister Coetzee said choosing it had been one of the highlights of his career. One of a scribe’s other jobs is to then evaluate the selection, and I’m pleased to say the new coach’s squad makes me largely very happy.

It would be remiss of me, however, not to point out what I believe are a couple of oversights in Coetzee’s first task in his new project.

I will explain the first by asking you, dear reader, to imagine you have been transported forward in time by a week and you are perusing this column on the morning of the opening Test against Ireland. And the shock news has just broken that Pat Lambie injured himself in yesterday’s captain’s run.

This will be a major problem for Coetzee and the Springboks because of the flyhalves he has chosen in his squad. Elton Jantjies has only just resumed training after having surgery on a fractured finger, so he has not had much time to heal or acquaint himself with what the new coach is hoping to do on the field. Garth April is a bright talent, no doubt, but has only made three starts in top-flight rugby and it would be a massive gamble for him to play in a Test match.

So who is going to be the general as South Africa enter a new era against a tough Irish side?

We can look at the other side of the halfback equation, the scrumhalves, but the picture is just as bleak there, with Faf de Klerk and Rudy Paige no doubt players of the future, but vastly inexperienced at the moment when it comes to Test rugby. I have some sympathy for Coetzee when it comes to the dearth of scrumhalves though because he did apparently approach Ruan Pienaar, who turned him down, possibly because of all the abuse he takes from fickle Springbok fans.

Nic Groom also does not inspire much confidence. Against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld recently, the Stormers enjoyed a surfeit of possession, but he was unable to stamp his mark or take control of proceedings against a team that was hammered by the Lions the following week.

With Lambie out, the Springboks could be forced into playing Willie le Roux, who has had no serious rugby with a number 10 on his back, in the pivot position. All this could have been avoided by just naming Morne Steyn as the third flyhalf. It’s too late now because you can’t fly him out from France on the eve of a Test.

The other error, I believe, is in the composition of the loose forwards. They are all fine players with varying skills, but there seems to be, apart from Duane Vermeulen, a lack of a mean and nasty ball-carrier, someone with mongrel who can crash through the advantage line and bounce away anyone trying to get through the Springbok defences.

With Jaco Kriel and Francois Louw surely fighting over the openside flank position, Siya Kolisi is likely to wear the number seven jersey and is a super player, with a tremendous work-rate and great skills, but for me he is more of a hybrid loose forward, good at plenty of things and master of none. As a ball-carrier, he is only ranked 58th in Super Rugby this year, according to the Vodacom stats.

And Coetzee could open himself up to accusations of Stormers bias with his selection of Sikhumbuzo Notshe, another hybrid flank, as well as the likes of Steven Kitshoff, Groom and Scarra Ntubeni, ahead of players like Jean-Luc du Preez and Malcolm Marx.

But overall, it is a pleasing squad with the experience of players like Beast Mtawarira, Eben Etzebeth, JP Pietersen, Vermeulen, Lambie, Le Roux and Louw being combined with some of the exciting talent sweeping through our rugby, and a fine choice of captain in Adriaan Strauss.

And there is the thrilling prospect, looking at some of the selections, of the Springboks playing a more high-tempo, ball-in-hand style of rugby.

Mother Cricket is fluttering her eyelashes at potential all-rounders 0

Posted on September 21, 2015 by Ken

 

I was pleased to hear Titans and South Africa all-rounder Chris Morris say this week that, despite a little tiff with Mother Cricket and her often tough ways, he has been spending more time than ever hitting balls in the nets.

Morris, having struggled in Bangladesh and then missing the series against New Zealand with an abdominal/groin muscle strain, has been recalled to the national squad for the tour of India which starts on September 29 as the selectors continue their search for a genuine all-rounder.

“I had a poor tour to Bangladesh, I shouldn’t have gone but you never want to turn down an opportunity to play for the Proteas,” Morris, whose grandfather also passed away in the middle of the T20 series, said.

“I came back from there and a lot of things in my head needed sorting out, because you’re in a very dark place when you’re injured. I thought about what I wanted to achieve – doing so badly made me think I wasn’t good enough to play for South Africa – and I went back to the drawing board.

“A couple of days in the bush and playing golf meant I got my passion for cricket back and I’m trying to be a proper all-rounder. It’s the hardest I’ve ever worked on my batting, I’m hitting more balls than ever with [Titans coach] Rob Walter. My bowling will get me in the team, but I want to be a genuine all-rounder,” Morris said with surprising candour.

This will be great news for the selectors, who are known to be searching for someone who can hold their own with bat and ball in the number seven position. It’s amazing how South Africa’s all-round stocks have diminished when, for so many years, we had several of the best multi-skilled players in the world – Jacques Kallis, Albie Morkel, Shaun Pollock, Nicky Boje, Lance Klusener, Eric Simons, Brian McMillan, Mike Procter, Clive Rice, Anton Ferreira, Eddie Barlow and Trevor Goddard all spring to mind.

The selectors are not just looking for someone who can swing the bat to good effect in the lower-order, but a proper batsman who scores regular first-class centuries and who is a good enough bowler to be relied upon for 10 overs in an ODI.

The prime candidates to fit the bill are Morris, David Wiese and the unfortunate Ryan McLaren, who missed the World Cup because the selectors somehow reasoned that Farhaan Behardien and JP Duminy were genuine all-rounders. Wayne Parnell is also still in the picture.

The Australian team that won the World Cup had Shane Watson, Glenn Maxwell, wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, James Faulkner, Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc batting from five to number 10, and you can also throw Mitchell Marsh’s name into the discussion as an all-rounder.

The balance of the South African side is just so much better with a fifth frontline bowler, but then he has to be good enough with the bat to fill the number seven position. The gauntlet has been thrown down by the selectors and it will be interesting to watch the progress of the likes of Morris, Wiese and McLaren in the coming summer .

It will certainly help if the franchises give these candidates as much opportunity with the bat as they can.

 

 

Coetzee delighted that Stormers answer physicality barbs 0

Posted on August 13, 2015 by Ken

 

DHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said the way his pack had answered barbs about their physicality was what pleased him the most about their impressive 29-17 upset win over the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.

The Stormers’ tight five was particularly youthful with an average age of 22 years and 10 months – while their replacements averaged 21-and-a-half years – but they managed to dominate a powerhouse Bulls pack laden with Springboks, especially in the scrums, while they never gave an inch in the collisions as the big men ran at them.

“There were big question marks about our physicality, but I’m really proud of the way the players put their bodies on the line, they got stuck into the Bulls and I’m really proud of the way we defended.

“It all starts in the scrums, they were a massive focus for us, and there’s been a big improvement. I’m really pleased for our young props, Vincent Koch [on loan from the Pumas] has slotted in very well and so have Bongi Mbonambi and Wilco Louw,” Coetzee said after the game.

Despite trailing 17-5 at halftime, the Bulls managed to burrow their way back into the game and had closed the gap to 17-20 on the hour mark, but Coetzee said he was delighted with the way his team had managed to close out their first SuperRugby win at Loftus Versfeld since 2012.

“I haven’t seen a Stormers team be so clinical in the last 15 minutes, we had to turn up and really perform, especially the youngsters and the leadership. Our indiscipline early in the second half allowed the Bulls back into the game and we have to make sure we brush up on that,” Coetzee said.

Despite all the talk about a new style of play for the Bulls, it was back to the bad old days for Frans Ludeke’s team as they made numerous basic errors when in possession and struggled to find a way through or around the ferocious Stormers defence.

Ludeke admitted the performance “was not good enough” and blamed “silly penalties” for the Bulls being under pressure, a batch of them conceded at the scrum.

Captain Victor Matfield accused his team of being “out-worked” by the Stormers in the final quarter.

“Everything went so well in the pre-season, but I hope the guys see that only one thing counts, and that’s the 80 minutes on the park. You have to win the big moments,” Matfield barked.

Both Ludeke and Coetzee praised Stormers captain Duane Vermeulen for two of those big moments, when the eighthman effected critical turnovers under his own poles and replacement hooker Mbonambi also made a crucial steal against his former team in the final quarter.

Vermeulen also had praise for his tight five and the composure of his side.

“The tight five definitely put us on the front foot, but the Bulls came back and if you’re not composed and playing in the right areas, then you’re going to be back on your goal-line and conceding points. It was nice to see us execute that well,” Vermeulen said.

 

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