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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column – Defence and touring are the talking points 0

Posted on March 30, 2017 by Ken

 

Two of the main talking points among South African SuperRugby followers at the moment are the apparent slackening in the defence of the local franchises and the resting of players for the away matches against the Jaguares and Sunwolves.

Questions have been raised about the defence of the South African franchises, especially after the Bulls leaked six tries against the Blues in Auckland last weekend. But it’s not just the Bulls – there are a lot more tries being scored this year in general.

The reason is that over the last year the attack has gone a lot wider and there are more players behind the ball. Sure, the rules have changed a bit, like the tackle law favouring more offloads, but the game has changed over the last year with people more willing now to leave forwards in the wide channels.

Most teams now play 2-4-2 or 1-3-3-1 with their forwards spread out across the field, and we are seeing more loose forwards standing in the backline.

In terms of the tries the Blues scored against the Bulls, we often saw two forwards in the outer extremities running against backs. When you have a big man on a smaller man, you’re more likely to be able to get an offload away. The Blues were able to score either because the Bulls simply ran out of numbers or they were able to effect excellent offloads by having support players behind the ball.

Three or four years ago, teams would have their forwards in two pods of four, but now they leave them in channels across the field and you will often see a hooker or back-row forward in the 15-metres-from-touch zone. The All Blacks have been doing this for the last five years and England did it between 2000 and 2003.

The reason it’s being done is because it’s now been proved, thanks to every player being fitted with a GPS that measures how many metres they have run and at what speed, that a lot less energy is used if the forwards are spread across the field than if they follow the ball. That’s how this new trend has evolved.

I actually thought the quality of the Bulls defence was very good in the first half, but they were found out in the second half when they just ran out of steam, too much juice had been taken out of their legs. That meant the Bulls’ backs and wings were always in a numbers situation, they could not get their width back and get back into line, so they were always under pressure.

To be fair though, the try from the restart was because at the kickoff you usually leave players back – the three outside backs and the scrumhalf on the chip-kick – and with four players out of the defensive line you will be vulnerable. But it was a good try and the Blues’ first try also featured fantastic offloads.

It’s difficult to stop offloads in the wide channels because you’re also dealing with footwork because of all the space available out there.

We always faced these same difficulties against New Zealand sides and some days we were more successful dealing with them than on others. The keys are a high level of conditioning, especially amongst the forwards, and to work hard at the breakdown. If you can’t get tacklers over the ball to slow it down, then the opposition just gets quick ball and quicker ball, and momentum, and then it’s difficult to set a defensive line. That’s what happened to the Bulls and it put Jamba Ulengo under real pressure on the wing.

But Pine Pienaar is an experienced defensive coach, now in his fourth year in the job, and he will be very aware of all this and will know how to fix it. After all, the Blue Bulls made the Currie Cup final last year and you don’t get there without having a good defence.

Handre Pollard had a better game and I’m looking forward to him coming through, he’s going a level up every week.

But it’s an horrendous draw for the Bulls to have all those away games up front, it’s the hardest draw in Super Rugby because you can never get on the front foot. Even a brilliant coach like John Plumtree was let go by the Sharks in 2013 after that sort of draw, and Allister Coetzee also had a season starting with numerous away games with the Stormers.

So it can happen that you get on a downward spiral. Super Rugby is such a tough competition that you always go through crises, but it’s how you deal with them that counts.

There have been suggestions that South African teams are concentrating more on attack to the detriment of their defence, but they will always get enough time during the week to work on their defence, that will never change. Generally teams train for 50 minutes on the Monday, then Tuesday is virtually a full session, the major day for defence, with contact. Then on Thursday attack will be the focus, but it’s not true that teams are concentrating too much on attack!

Each coach will have equal time to work within that on their area, teams split their time evenly between attack and defence.

In terms of weakened teams going to play the Jaguares in Argentina, that would have been pre-planned. Teams have to rest their frontline players in accordance with the Saru guidelines and it’s a helluva trip. You leave on the Sunday morning, flying 10-11 hours to Sao Paulo, where you have a three-hour wait before flying for four hours to Buenos Aires, only arriving on Monday afternoon, so you can’t train then. Teams will have a light practice on the Tuesday, with just one major session on the Thursday.

And coming back from Argentina is even worse!

What coaches like Johan Ackermann and Franco Smith have done is look at their next games and those have been vital, the problem with travelling to Argentina is always the game after that one, but that’s just the nature of the competition.

Singapore is also 10 hours away and it’s very humid and hot there. The Stormers took it as a chance to get some fringe guys some rugby.

Teams are merely following medical advice on how to keep their players fresh and get their best rugby out of them, plus players are more susceptible to ailments on these long trips.

The Lions proved last year that you need home advantage to win SuperRugby, but they needed to be at their best in the knockout games, hence their decision to rest players for their last round-robin game in Argentina.

 

 

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.

The thrills and drama of the Sunfoil Series 0

Posted on February 24, 2017 by Ken

 

The Sunfoil Series – the four-day domestic franchise competition – came down to the most thrilling of conclusions last weekend with the Knights claiming the title by just 1.78 points, the equivalent of 89 runs over a tournament that lasted 10 weeks, once again proving that, at least in the minds of the players and the aficionados of the sport, it is the premier trophy in the local game.

Nicky Boje, the Knights coach, confirmed that the four-day competition was the main target in their minds this season, and the other franchise coaches made similar comments through the campaign.

The thing about four-day cricket is that it provides the most all-encompassing test of a player’s skills and of a team’s quality – it’s essentially 40 days of cricket, 96 overs a day, so an examination that can last 3840 overs.

And it still came down to the narrowest of margins, so small in fact that Knights captain Theunis de Bruyn gave a large part of the credit for his team’s triumph to a partnership of just 10 runs between the last pair in their penultimate game against the Cape Cobras.

Akhona Kula and Tshepo Ntuli took the Knights’ first innings in Paarl from 143 for nine to 153 to get them one batting point – 150 is set as the milestone for the first batting bonus point, make 149 and you get zero. Even though the Knights went on to lose the match by 151 runs, that single point made their life a lot easier in the final game against the Highveld Lions because it meant they were targeting 430 in 100 overs rather than around 480.

“It allowed us to believe a little bit more,” De Bruyn said, and we all know belief plays a massive role in any achievement.

I just wish Cricket South Africa had a bit more belief in their four-day competition. It would be unrealistic to expect huge crowds to attend, but they could certainly do more to generate greater interest in the tournament that makes our Test cricketers. They have scheduled media sessions with the franchises before T20 and Momentum One-Day Cup games, why not before Sunfoil Series matches?  Their decision to no longer pay for a scorer to sit in the press box during four-day games suggests their attitude is to cut investment in the competition rather than promote it.

Scorers are an essential help to the media in terms of getting all their stats and figures correct, and it is heartening that CSA’s official statistician, Andrew Samson, is very much a long-format man.

The Oracle, as our media call him – I’m not sure what the BBC Test Match Special team call him but he is also their official statistician – has just brought out a book, The Moon is Toast, which is a celebration of all the quirky statistics the wonderful game of cricket throws up, written in the format of a year-long diary.

Copies of the book are available from http://tinyurl.com/hgbulfp and the wry humour of Samson makes what could become a boring read into an entertaining delight.

Long-form cricket obviously lends itself to more statistical gems than the wham-bam! of limited-overs cricket and the greater scope for all sorts of possibilities to occur was shown by the dramatic conclusion of our own four-day competition.

The longer the game, the greater the chance of an amazing comeback, just as the New South Wales team did in their recent Sheffield Shield game against Queensland at the Sydney Cricket Ground. They were two for two in their first innings before going on to make 603 for six declared which, Samson tells me, is only the fourth time in all first-class cricket that a team has lost their first two wickets for two or less runs but still gone on to score more than 600.

The South African example is Griqualand West recovering from one for two and then three for three to make 602 all out against Rhodesia in Kimberley in 1930, thanks to a double-century by the exotically-named Xenophon Balaskas, the Test all-rounder.

‘Lack of bonus points has hurt us’ – Nollis 0

Posted on June 29, 2016 by Ken

 

“The lack of bonus points is what has hurt us,” Bulls coach Nollis Marais said on Tuesday as he contemplated the three-point gap between them and the Sharks and the four extra points the Stormers have, deficits they now have three weeks to make up, starting with this weekend’s awkward trip to Buenos Aires to play the Jaguares .

The Bulls, Sharks and Stormers all won seven of their dozen matches in the first segment of SuperRugby, so Marais is spot on with his analysis.

“Not getting bonus points when we beat the Reds and Rebels is now a problem for us and we have to make sure we win our next three games, just to control our destiny a bit. But it doesn’t help if we now just allow ourselves to stagnate, we must definitely move forward in our intensity and in the way we want to play.

“We want to show our fight and we must go out and play an attacking brand of rugby. We definitely have that mindset. We can’t just maul sides, that’s not the way we want to play. We want to play more with the ball in certain areas, play a high-intensity game. The maul and set-pieces still play a big part, but we can’t just have that, we must also break the line,” Marais said.

The Bulls squad that will leave for Argentina on Wednesday has been rocked by injuries.

Flank Deon Stegmann, lock Grant Hattingh and wing Bjorn Basson have injured themselves in training, to add to the injuries picked up on international duty by prop Trevor Nyakane and lock RG Snyman.

The Bulls will also be led by Lappies Labuschagne because Springbok captain Adriaan Strauss is being given a rest as per the agreement with Saru.

“Nothing needs to be said by me, everyone knows what needs to be done and we’re all working towards the same goal. We’re in a good space, it’s a big game and one we really want to win. The past is in the past, but we can rectify the mistakes we made and we’re really fired up for the rest of the season. We’re really positive for what lies ahead,” Labuschagne said.

Expanded field, points & prizemoney for NGC 0

Posted on February 25, 2016 by Ken

 

This year’s Nedbank Golf Challenge will feature an expanded field of 30 golfers and Official World Golf Ranking and Ryder Cup qualifying points, as well as the increased prizemoney counting for both the European and Sunshine tour orders of merit as insurance against the weakening quality of the entrants.

The selection criteria for the invitational tournament will now cover all the world’s tours. The top 10 willing players from the top 30 of the PGA Tour’s Fedex Cup rankings, the top 10 from the top 30 of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, the winners of the Asian, Japanese and Australasian tour orders of merit and the best of the Sunshine Tour all qualify for the tournament at Sun City.

But it is with the European Tour that the Nedbank Golf Challenge has specifically thrown in its lot, gaining co-sanctioned status from the powerful tour that now rivals America’s PGA Tour.

The European Tour has for a long time enviously eyed the Nedbank Golf Challenge in early December as their golfers go into hibernation in the freezing, dark northern winter.

“This is a great opportunity for the European Tour to finally be involved in and sanction this event,” said Keith Waters, European Tour chief operating officer and director of international policy. He was talking at the launch of the new-look Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sandton on Thursday. “It really resonates with those of us in northern Europe because at that time of year, the weather is grim and nobody’s playing golf, so we always look forward to watching the event on TV. Now we’re officially part of it, which is great.”

The revamped Challenge will also prove to be of greater service to local golf, with at least five South Africans now guaranteed entry into the event.

While the previous year’s winner of the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit is still automatically invited, the opportunity to play at Sun City will now be extended to the winner of the South African Open and the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the top two on the 2013 money-list. To ensure a minimum of five South African golfers, the local invitations will then go according to the Official World Golf Rankings.

“These are very exciting times for us and we now have another co-sanctioned event in South Africa. The Nedbank Golf Challenge is the eighth. I don’t know of any other place that has so many,” said Selwyn Nathan, the executive director of the Sunshine Tour.

“We spoke so much about the Tournament of Hope [which is no longer happening], but the Nedbank Golf Challenge, in its 33rd year, is now our hope for a better future for South African golf. The increased opportunity for our players is a major asset for the Sunshine Tour in terms of inspiring our current stars. We’ve always prided ourselves on being able to open doors for a player to compete in some of the biggest tournaments in world golf and the Nedbank Golf Challenge will bring about an exciting conclusion to our season.”

The 2013 event will take place a week later than usual – from 5 to 8 December – and will have an increased prizemoney pool of $6.5-million, a 30% increase from the $5-million the 12-man field shared last year. The winner will still take away $1.25-million and the 30th place finisher will collect $100,000.

“We wanted to ensure we could still compete with events on all the other tours and not just in South Africa, and the prizemoney is still lucrative enough to attract any golfer,” tournament director Alastair Roper said.

“And we’ve gone a week later in the year and that will give us some protection. That weekend will be ours going forward and there won’t be any other rival European Tour events. Most schools are breaking up later these days and it’s important that the youth come and watch. The Nedbank Golf Challenge is what young golfers aspire to play and they want to emulate the stars they see at Sun City.

“With the prizemoney counting for both the Sunshine and European tour orders of merit and Ryder Cup and Official World Golf Ranking points on offer, it makes it extremely attractive for golfers to travel here for the event. This year the Race to Dubai final will end on 17 November, followed by the South African Open finishing on the 24th and the Alfred Dunhill Championship on 1 December, and we hope our event will also encourage golfers to play in those tournaments,” Roper added.

There had earlier been speculation that the field might be increased to as many as 50 golfers, but Roper said this was not only unaffordable for Sun City but would also dilute the quality of the event.

“We were always a bit nervous about increasing the size of the field, because then you can lose exclusivity and the tournament becomes too big. We discussed this with Keith Waters as far back as 2001 and we thought about 36, but we were never ever going to go bigger than that. The bigger you grow, the more questions you have over quality,” Roper said.

The Nedbank Golf Challenge is certainly now positioned as one of the premium events on the European Tour calendar. Apart from the World Golf Championship events and majors, there are only three tournaments that offer greater prizemoney, and all of them are at the end of the season in the weeks preceding the Sun City carnival – the BMW Masters in China, the Turkish Airlines Open and the World Tour Championship finale in Dubai.

But it seems the European Tour may well want their pound of flesh in return for their backing and Waters, in contradiction to Roper, said they envisioned an increase in the size of the field going forward.

“The Dubai finale has a 60-man field and the three events preceding that, two in China and one in Turkey, are 78-man events. Twelve is definitely too few for us and, as the Nedbank Golf Challenge develops, there is the opportunity to increase the field even further from 30. We hope we can find that balance between what people are used to and what the European Tour needs,” Waters told The Daily Maverick.

Where the Nedbank Golf Challenge has admirably succeeded is in finding a balance between an invitational, exhibition tournament and a regular tour event. There had been speculation that some sort of gimmick such as women’s golfers joining the seniors’ Champions Challenge would be added but, even though Roper said these facets could still be introduced in future, Sun International have gone for quality.

This is surely the better option and, with more South Africans in the field as well, one hopes the public will flock to a rejuvenated Nedbank Golf Challenge at the end of the year.

Qualifying criteria

(a) Defending Champion – Martin Kaymer.

(b) The winner of the 2012 Sunshine Tour Official Order of Merit if not otherwise exempt above – Branden Grace.

(c) The leading 10 available players not otherwise exempt in (a) or (b) above from within the top 30 only of the Final 2013 Fedex Cup.

(d) The leading 10 available players not otherwise exempt in (a), (b) or (c) above from within the top 30 only of the Final 2013 Race to Dubai.

(e) South African players to be selected in order of their position on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) as of Monday 18 November 2013, such that the total number of South African players qualifying through (a) to (d) combined as at the conclusion of the 2013 Race to Dubai is 5* in total.

(f) The winner of the 2012 Asian Tour Order of Merit if not otherwise exempt above. – Thaworn Wiratchant

(g) The winner of the 2012 Japan Golf Tour Order of Merit if not otherwise exempt above. – Hiroyuki Fujita

(h) The winner of the 2012 PGA Tour of Australasia’s Order of Merit if not otherwise exempt above. – Peter Senior

(i) The winner of the 2013 South African Open if not otherwise exempt above (A blank entry will be filed for this winner).

(j) The winner of the 2013 Alfred Dunhill Championship if not otherwise exempt above (A blank entry will be filed for this winner).

(k) The balance of the field will be completed as follows:

(i) The player ranked number one on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit as of Monday 25 November 2013, if not otherwise exempt above.

(ii) The player ranked second on the 2013 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit as of Monday 25 November 2013, if not otherwise exempt above.

(iii) Players selected in ranking order from the OWGR as of Monday 18 November 2013.

After close of entries, should a player in Categories (c) or (d) withdraw, they will be replaced by the next eligible player from within their category, up until 18:00 (local time in Sun City) on Sunday 1 December. Thereafter a withdrawal from these categories will be replaced by the next eligible player from category (k) above. A withdrawal from any other category after close of entries will be replaced by the next eligible player from category (k) above.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-06-21-nedbank-golf-challenge-gets-bigger-in-players-and-stature/#.Vs7sCfl97IU



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