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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Positive about Bok prospects 0

Posted on August 16, 2017 by Ken

 

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has picked the best players for the Rugby Championship based on how well they did in the French series and I am really positive about their prospects, I believe they are in the best position of all the teams.

It reminds me a bit of 2013, when we won 10 of our 12 Tests. There was also a British & Irish Lions tour that year – to Australia – and we had time to bed the players in.

The Springboks played really well against France, who were a full-strength side that came out with tremendous intent. The fact that their coach Guy Noves is now under pressure to keep his job if they don’t improve in November shows how good the Boks were, in terms of attack, defence and the way they created a new team culture.

Meanwhile, Argentina were losing 3-0 to England, Australia lost to Scotland and only just beat Italy, and the All Blacks could only draw with the British & Irish Lions.

With some of our SuperRugby teams falling out early, the Springbok coaches were given extra preparation time and I think we all see that there is definitely a new culture about this Springboks group. You can see that the positivity and confidence is back, both in terms of the public and the players, after a disastrous 2016.

This has been built on respect for each other and there is a high energy within the group on the field. Their return-to-action time and kick-chase were both very good and the improvement under the good doctor, Brendan Venter, on defence was obvious. They only conceded four tries in the three Tests against France and they got off the line quickly with intensity, intent and attitude.

Return-to-action time is one of the keys for any side to succeed in the modern game. A player is likely to have to get up off the floor after a carry or cleaning at the ruck about 40 times per game and it is very hard to do this after hard contact. The standard figure in international rugby is to be off the ground in three seconds so it offers you more numbers on attack, to get your shape, or on defence to ensure your line has width. The Springboks did incredibly well with this and it is the basis of their defensive system.

The Springboks are now employing a far more aggressive line-speed, similar to what the British Lions used and it definitely gave New Zealand problems: they weren’t able to play with their normal width and freedom because they were worried about making mistakes on attack, and turnover ball is the most lethal in the game.

The architect of that defence was Andy Farrell and he worked under Brendan Venter for a few years at Saracens, so I think there will be a lot of similarity in the defensive system the Springboks employ and I believe they will certainly give the All Blacks problems this year.

Also, due to a loss of form, neither Julian Savea nor Waisake Naholo are in the New Zealand squad, so they don’t quite have the same size out wide as before. In any case, a wing very rarely defends against his opposite wing off first-phase, he’s virtually always on the second-last man, which is the fullback. The All Blacks will have Ben Smith or Israel Dagg at fullback and I’m certain our wings will be of a similar size.

What’s important for a wing these days is his ability to score tries, defend and catch high-balls, and one would never be picked at that level if they can’t catch box-kicks off lineouts.

Coetzee has obviously picked his wings for their finishing ability, work-rate and understanding of the system, and for me, Courtnall Skosan and Raymond Rhule are the incumbents and really showed superb work-rate and an ability to pull off try-saving cover-tackles against France.

The Springboks also employ the defensive system – well, everyone does these days – of the fullback coming into the line very early, so a wing can’t just have the ability to make tackles, he also has to make line-breaks and expose the props acting as pillars round the ruck area, and has a big role in covering grubbers, he becomes the last defender. Modern-day wings will cover an enormous amount of ground in a game.

I wouldn’t rule out JP Pietersen coming back into the mix, especially in World Cup year. His decision-making is so good and he adds a calmness and maturity in the backline. He has, however, recently changed clubs from Leicester to Toulon and we all know how their owner feels about his players taking part in the Rugby Championship …

Anyway, Allister Coetzee has obviously decided to back the home-based players who really performed in the incoming series to see if they can do it as well in the Rugby Championship. Let’s not forget two of the back three played against the Hurricanes for the Lions in the SuperRugby semi-final and gave them 44 points with six tries.

So we must be positive about Allister’s wing selections until we see evidence otherwise.

Argentina showed a lot of attacking intent against England in June, but they were really playing against England B and were well-beaten. Plus the Jaguares were disappointing in SuperRugby, they blew hot and cold.

So Saturday’s Test is a really good opportunity for the Springboks to hopefully get a good win that sets them on the road for the really difficult part of the Rugby Championship – those three away games in the middle that South Africa always get and which are very difficult because of all the flying.

Our best performance in Argentina in the last few years came in 2015 when we trained in South Africa and only left on the Wednesday, arriving on the Thursday evening. We had a captain’s run and then went to Buenos Aires for a convincing 26-12 win.

Our worst display in Argentina was in Mendoza when we drew 16-16 in 2012 and we had to sit in the bus for two hours just to get to practice. I remember there was even a stray dog running faster than our coach was going!

The Springboks have the opportunity this year to play hit-and-run Tests in Perth and Salta and that makes you much more alert. They can stay on South African time and not change their body clocks, like we used to do at the Bulls when we would leave for Australasia on a Tuesday evening, arrive on Thursday morning and usually win our first game. It was definitely a winning formula.

The Springboks have a fantastic record in Port Elizabeth [17 wins & 2 draws in their last 20 Tests there] and I’m looking forward to this new-look side continuing in the same positive manner against Argentina on Saturday and hopefully gaining a really good win.

 

 

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.

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.

The Springboks still believe – Kriel 0

Posted on December 02, 2016 by Ken

 

Springbok utility back Jesse Kriel has implored the South African public to still believe in the national team because the squad themselves are still positive, despite their dreadful results on a torrid European tour.

“The mood is still good in the squad, I know people have been really hurt by the results, but the team has always been positive. They’re still putting their bodies on the line and there are just small things in terms of the game-plan and individual errors that we need to get right,” Kriel said at the Bulls player awards evening, having returned early from the Springbok tour due to a leg injury.

“No-one accepts losing but there have just been small things, little errors, that have led to the Springboks being up against it. For us, winning matches is our pride and joy, our bread and butter, so it’s been difficult for us. We’ve learnt a lot out of this, but there comes a point when you can’t learn anymore, you have to actually start winning.

“Allister has chosen a new-look side for this weekend and it’s a great opportunity for the younger guys who are really hungry, a great opportunity for them to go out and prove they belong there. And having the overseas players back was a massive positive as well, they bring experience and calm heads,” Kriel said.

And captain and Bulls team-mate Adriaan Strauss, who will be playing in his 66th and final Test against Wales, was singled out for special praise by the 22-year-old.

“I just wish people could see behind the scenes because Adriaan has done so much and he never wants any credit or recognition. He’s very humble and full of selflessness and always puts his body on the line, even though I know he has a very sore back at the moment. I can assure people he’s not just selected because he’s captain. I know it would be the last thing Adriaan wants for the team to make this weekend’s game about him, but everyone has so much respect for him that the guys will want to,” Kriel said.

Kriel has now played 16 Tests and 31 Super Rugby matches and is eager to play more of a leadership role himself next year.

“I spoke to Nollis Marais [Bulls coach] and I told him I want to be a big part of the team, I want to contribute a lot to the team. So I want to start the year with no niggles and be in top condition. I still have to chat to the coach about where he wants to play me, but I think it will be fullback, where I started two years ago. I don’t mind that and there’s a lot of competition in the backline, so I have to prove my worth.

“When I started playing for the Bulls, a guy like Victor Matfield was still around and there was a lot of experience in the side, guys you could look up to when things were not going well. I’ve got to be one of those players now when things don’t go well because I’ve got a bit of experience now.

“But it all comes down to performance, we’ve been building a good team and it’s time to get back the glory years. We all get sick of hearing the word ‘building’, we must get results now and trophies, that is what we all want. Talk is cheap and money buys the whiskey.”

 

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.



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