for quality writing

Ken Borland



A passionate, top-class SA coach without a job 0

Posted on May 24, 2017 by Ken

 

Despite a poor final year in charge of the Springboks, there is little doubt Heyneke Meyer remains a top-class coach and it is a symptom of a sick South African rugby system that the 49-year-old is without a full-time coaching job despite making it clear that he still wants to make a difference to the game in this country.

Meyer was back at Loftus Versfeld a couple of days ago to launch the Beachcomber World Club 10s, a unique tournament for professional teams in a social environment, that will be held in Mauritius next month, but there is no doubt he still harbours a burning desire to be involved in the cauldron of top quality rugby again judging by the passion with which he answered a range of questions on South African rugby.

Although a great admirer of New Zealand rugby and a personal friend of All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, Meyer makes a good point when he says a drive to play like the Kiwis do is a case of chasing the wind for South African rugby.

He reckons it will take us 10 years to catch up to their style of play, by which time their game will have evolved and they will still be 10 years ahead of South Africa. It is perhaps a symptom of our insecurity as a nation that we are always trying to copy other teams – in the early 2000s it was Australian rugby that was the flavour of the month.

Meyer, who has been working with plenty of New Zealanders and Fijians in his part-time role as coach of the Asia Pacific Dragons team, points to a higher innate skills level as one of the main reasons South Africans will find it very difficult to emulate the free-flowing, expansive style of the Kiwis.

“South Africans don’t have the same natural understanding of space that they do, but I truly believe any of our teams can still beat a New Zealand team, especially at home. But if we try and follow them then we’ll never be the best in the world. We have to rediscover what we stand for and play South African rugby – brilliant set-pieces, driving, strong defence. We must do what we’re good at and kick intelligently, not just kick the ball away,” Meyer said.

The national coach from 2012 to 2015 made the point that ex-Springbok coaches are practically driven out of the country and pointed to Eddie Jones travelling from Australia to South Africa and now to England as an example of the value of experience, even if it comes from losing a few games.

“Eddie lost eight games in a row with Australia and was fired, he then helped the Springboks and learnt a lot there. In fact England are now playing like the Boks used to – they have great set-pieces, a great defence and kicking game, they still score tries and they’re on a winning run. It would be 50/50 right now between them and the All Blacks.”

Many observers have pointed to the speed at which New Zealand teams play the game and Meyer said this difference was most marked towards the end of matches, due to the superior fitness of the Kiwis.

“The All Blacks have always been superior in terms of fitness. We have big, strong guys, but it’s harder to get them fit. New Zealand have smaller but more mobile players and they run you ragged in the last 10-15 minutes. Central contracting means Steve Hansen knows the fitness of all his players and whether they need to rest or work harder.

“But you can’t do major fitness work if your players are tired or injured and our guys going overseas makes it very difficult, I’m very concerned about all the guys in Japan because you can’t play for 12 months. Before the last World Cup, I did not see the players for eight months so I asked for fitness reports from the franchises and nobody sent them in.

“So when I got the players I knew we were in trouble and the guys were not fit for the first game against Japan. But the All Blacks get to rest for three months after SuperRugby, so they’re super-fit for the next year, but we’re playing Currie Cup or in Japan. It’s very difficult for the South African coaches,” Meyer said.

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-gauteng/20170513/282578787965088

Handling & defence chief concerns for Nollis 2

Posted on March 27, 2017 by Ken

 

Handling errors and poor defence were the chief concerns of Bulls coach Nollis Marais following their dismal display in Albany which saw them being belted 38-14 by the Blues at the weekend.

Despite having their fair share of possession and shading the territory battle, the Bulls were outscored by six tries to two and fell apart badly in the second half after going into the break level at 7-7.

“We were very competitive in the first half but we didn’t take our chances in the second half. We made too many errors with our handling and we couldn’t convert from the lineout. We gave them too many opportunities and obviously the defence is definitely a concern.

“We conceded too many points in the second half and we will have to look at that, re-visit our defence,” Marais said.

The Bulls allowed 13 linebreaks and missed 24 tackles against the Blues, and have now conceded 17 tries in four matches.

The Blues had won just one of their four matches prior to their meeting with the Bulls, who now face far tougher opposition in the form of the unbeaten Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday.

“There will definitely be one or two changes to the team, but we’re not going to change structurally, we have to make sure everything is in place for next Saturday,” the coach said.

The scrums were perhaps the only area where the Bulls did themselves justice.

“It was a great performance in the scrums, Trevor Nyakane did really well at tighthead, and we were dominant there, so that was a very good positive,” Marais said.

“But we didn’t take our chances in the second half, we wasted too many opportunities. A couple of times we were in their 22 but we didn’t convert that into points either.”

 

John McFarland Column – What the Boks need is money & leadership 0

Posted on December 12, 2016 by Ken

 

It’s been a really poor year for the Springboks under any circumstances and nobody can hide from that, but now is the time for true leadership.

It is in times of adversity that true leadership is shown and it is time for the South African Rugby Union to bring the Springboks we all love and cherish back to their rightful place in world rugby.

They need to decide either to change direction, replace Allister Coetzee and start afresh; or back him and give him his own coaching staff going forward, allowing him to put his own stamp on the team. If they back him then they have to give him what he wants going forward.

If they decide to change direction, then they must have someone new appointed by February. The national coach needs a little time to get his systems in place and the skills program has to be continued through the year and monitored.

As for 2016, there were many changes in game plan, that was quite obvious, so I feel for the players. They also had so many different defence coaches, who would all have different ideas.

There was never any clarity on the way forward in 2016, there was very little continuity, especially in defence, which makes up 50% of the game. The biggest mistake was changing defence coaches all the time.

And then you look at the rumoured national U20 coaches, none of them have coached at the really sharp end of rugby before, even at Currie Cup U19 or U21 level. Why not appoint someone with SuperRugby experience? You need to make strong appointments in these areas, because that is the start of the Springbok pipeline, you need quality coaches at all levels. Why not appoint someone with real experience and clout and give him a four-year contract?

SA Rugby needs to put their hands up, who will take responsibility for these decisions? Where has been the leadership off the field in this time of great uncertainty in Springbok rugby? New president Mark Alexander has spoken a lot, so credit to him, but also shouldn’t the leader of Saru, who is involved in all these decisions, back his decisions?

Compare that to the situation with English Rugby Football Union CEO Ian Ritchie and Stuart Lancaster, who is an excellent coach, but Ian had the unpleasant task of firing him. He said they have to get their ship going in the right direction and they have to do what they have to do, so they appointed Eddie Jones and allowed him to choose his own assistants and management team.

I see now that Saru’s exco will have responsibility for all decisions related to rugby. It will really come down to them making the right decisions going forward.

Someone like Richie Gray, who is at the forefront of his craft, was let go and he’s now the fulltime breakdown coach for Scotland. It’s a big loss for the Springboks and you can see how well Scotland did in the November series of Tests, you can see the impact he made.

The breakdown is not just about stopping tries but also creating them because 50% of all tries are scored from turnover ball and unstructured play. So it’s about how you win the ball at the breakdown and use it.

For South African rugby, the principle thing to get right is where the money should go. You can have all the marketing you want and great structures within your company, but if your major rugby team is not successful then it all falls down. You can’t attract sponsors just to start with. The Springboks should be their major spend, they need to get that right.

In any core rugby business, the spend of budget on the team and management is normally 60%. The question must be asked: Has 60% of the budget been spent on getting the Springboks right this year and moving forward?

They’ve got the money, more than enough, their turnover is R1 billion which is a very large amount of money in any corporate business, but they haven’t shown the vision and necessary expertise in spending that money widely on the rugby front. Questions need to be asked.

There are also more than enough quality players and experienced coaches in South Africa, but most of the things that were said in the recent indaba, the previous Springbok management have said for four years – things like kicking execution, high-ball and breakdown work.

So Saru need to spend money and employ coaches to fix it and they need to work around the franchises. The franchises are very open to information-sharing and always backed the national process and way. The thing is that national coaches have to be seen around the franchises, making themselves freely available to help when and where needed.

South African rugby needs a director of rugby who is high-quality and there are enough candidates in South Africa, who have a proven record when it comes to building pipelines and structures and winning trophies.

That’s what is fantastic overseas, the interaction between the national management and the franchises, like in New Zealand and other places. England have a full-time coaching co-ordinator who coaches the coaches of the elite teams. He helps them with their professional development, it makes all their coaches better. There’s nothing like that in South Africa; here, you can win one Currie Cup and you’re the next big thing. Coaching takes time and learning, and the first port-of-call for Saru should be a support system for their top coaches.

I’ve been interested to see Dave Rennie’s name mentioned. The Kobelco Steelers, where Allister Coetzee was coach before getting the Springbok job, have a relationship with the Chiefs and Dave would spend time at Kobe as a spot-coach, where he would have developed a relationship with Allister.

As ever, contracts are a problem and Rennie has signed for two years with Glasgow, so it will cost a fair bit of money to buy him out of that and then Saru need to make it lucrative enough for him to want to come to South Africa.

Any coach worth their salt wants to coach an international team, so hopefully Saru would give the job description the weight it needs. He could be used in a whole host of possible roles, the key is getting the job specifications and expectations right.

If Allister stays on, at the end of the day he is on very shaky ground next year and there will be huge pressure on him going into the Rugby Championship. Fortunately he starts with a series against France and in June they are never at their best because their championship finishes so late and is so long. Their players are tired by June and have eased back on training.

This week will be a very important week for South African rugby, with critical decisions needing to be made and backed. The process needs to be driven by those with the real power at Saru.

Sitting in 6 degrees in Japan, a long way from the South African summer, I wish everyone a very happy and prosperous Christmas. We will resume the column in January.

 

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.

Former Bok defence coach John McFarland on the BaaBaas game & England coming up 0

Posted on November 08, 2016 by Ken

 

It’s a big week for Springbok coach Allister Coetzee after what was, frankly, a poor performance against the Barbarians, and I find it hard to believe a number of our commentators regarded it as an acceptable display, although it is not a foregone conclusion that England will beat South Africa at Twickenham this weekend.

It was a fantastic comeback against the Barbarians – yet another one!

The Springboks did really well to come back from 19-31 down, but they have to turn over less ball at the breakdown. To concede 25 turnovers is completely unacceptable at this level and if they do that against England then they will be hammered. A Barbarians team without much international experience managed to exploit all that turnover ball and England will have even more speed on the wings.

The Springbok defence has to improve, it was continuously providing overlap situations from middle rucks. There is a need to work a lot harder to set the breakdown ie the defence is ready to go before the attack.

The key at international level is never to lose your width but against the BaaBaas the defence wasn’t set quickly enough and there were too many forwards behind or next to the ruck, which will lead to huge problems for the wings. There were structural weaknesses, but I expect a more experienced Springbok team to play this weekend and they will make better decisions on both attack and defence.

As the game progressed, because of this shortage of numbers in defence, Sergeal Petersen would come in and hit the second-last attacker, but he needs to stand wide of a man like Naiyaravoro and wait for the inside players to come and help, hope the numbers arrive to help get him into touch. But he’s not the first big wing the Springboks have played against and I fully expect JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana to be on the wings this weekend and they are used to playing against guys like that.

The positives the Springboks can take into the England match are that their lineout kept them in the game in the first half and they scored a great try through the drive by Pieter-Steph du Toit when the Barbarians stood off, this was a well thought-out tactic and England are bound to do the same as the BaaBaas.

Rohan Janse van Rensburg was quite explosive with ball in hand and finished well, he got over the advantage line well. But he had a lot of space at Wembley which he won’t get at top international level.

Francois Venter showed good hands and support skills for his try, but it will be a difficult decision for Allister Coetzee to choose them against England because Lionel Mapoe and Damian de Allende have been his midfield for most of the year and they are settled together. Maybe he’ll pick the Lions combination of Janse van Rensburg and Mapoe because they know each other and are comfortable together.

Pat Lambie obviously hasn’t played much for a long time and was a bit too deep at times, plus his timing wasn’t quite there. But it was the first time he’s played at flyhalf since June and he just needs game time, we’ll see him at his best only towards the end of the tour. He’s obviously a class act, but it will be interesting to see if Allister goes with him or Elton Jantjies this weekend.

The Springboks have quite categorically stated that they are going to use the kicking game with an attacking line to get the ball back, that is not revolutionary! The accuracy of the kick will be of the utmost importance – is it contestable? – because all of our back three are very good in the air and the forwards will have to have a high work-rate to get underneath the kick and react to the positive tackle from JP or Bryan.

England don’t really play with a sweeper so there is chip space behind the line, especially on box-kicks.

I know people want a specialist at six, but the breakdown is actually the whole team’s job, not just the openside flank’s. The problem against the Barbarians was that too often the carrier would lead with the ball, which allows the choke tackle, and the BaaBaas were destructive with the ball on the floor.

Generally at Test level you want to keep the penalties you concede to less than 10 and your turnovers conceded at around 12, and then you’ve got a chance of winning. But poor technique and knowledge of the game plan and system they were playing meant the players did not instinctively react to where the ball was going. The Springboks did carry the ball more than usual though because they were playing catch-up for most of the game.

England have very good ball-carriers (the Vunipola brothers are quite a handful), their goalkicking is a real strength and their lineout is vastly improved. I think they’ll target having a high ball-in-play figure against South Africa because they will suspect the Springboks’ conditioning may not be at a level to match them at the back end of the year, a few them looked a bit short of a gallop last weekend. Eddie Jones teams tend to play a set way, I think they’ll target our tight five forwards on the blindside with their backs, especially from scrums.

The Springboks have their backs against the wall, but Twickenham has been a good hunting ground especially when South Africa have been under pressure. In 2006, Jake White was under real pressure and won there, and the next year we won the World Cup, while in 2012, under Heyneke Meyer, we came through by a single point after a disappointing Rugby Championship.

The Springboks won there in 2014 as well and the common factor in both those years was that Ernie Els presented the jerseys, he even sat in on the team talks and was at the captain’s practice. He spoke for longer than even Heyneke did and it was one of the most inspirational speeches I’ve heard. He’s always as motivated for this game as the players are and I hope he’ll be in London again for the game!

 

 

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012-15, having 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.

 

 



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