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Ken Borland

Bulls have the spirit but little power 0

Posted on April 22, 2017 by Ken


It was far from the displays of arrogant power the Bulls have historically produced at Loftus Versfeld, but at least they managed to get the win as they scraped through 20-14 against the Cheetahs in their SuperRugby match in Pretoria on Saturday night.

The Bulls were once again their own worst enemies with numerous unforced basic errors, and they left it late to keep their unbeaten record at home intact for this season as Jesse Kriel’s 74th-minute try gave them the lead for the first time and ended up being the last score of the game.

The Cheetahs had led 11-3 at halftime and were able to use their scrum as a tremendous platform, while also disrupting the Bulls’ lineout maul and causing problems with their own driving maul. The visitors were also more slick on attack and credit must go to the Bulls defence for restricting them to just one try, and that from a rolling maul.

The Cheetahs scrum made themselves known in the first set-piece of the match, shoving the Bulls towards the touchline and allowing space for a backline move which saw right wing William Small-Smith looping around and then stabbing a clever grubber through which forced the Bulls to concede a five-metre lineout.

The Bulls were penalised for sacking the driving maul and the Cheetahs kicked to touch again, fiery loose forward Paul Schoeman rumbling over for the opening try from the second drive.

The Bulls also did themselves no favours through a lack of presence at the breakdowns, and a nice little dart by outside centre Francois Venter earned the Cheetahs a ruck penalty, which flyhalf Niel Marais slotted to put them 8-0 ahead in the 10th minute.

The Bulls are capable of playing some impressive rugby when they can hang on to the ball without someone dropping a straightforward pass, and 19 phases of sustained pressure eventually led to a penalty, allowing flyhalf Tian Schoeman to put them on the board in the 26th minute.

But the scrums are always an area of concern for the Bulls and they soon went down in a heap once again, allowing Marais to extend the Cheetahs’ lead back to 11-3 with another penalty.

That was the halftime score and it had been a disappointing first 40 minutes, with the sheer number of errors backing up those who feel South African rugby players are well behind when it comes to skills.

At least the Free Staters can still scrum, with loosehead prop Charles Marais thoroughly dictating affairs against Bulls tighthead Jacobie Adriaanse, the steady stream of penalties from that set-piece messing up the flow of the game for the home side.

But Adriaanse, together with openside flank Nick de Jager, who had struggled to make any impact at the breakdowns, then sponsored replacement flank Jacques Potgieter for the second try with fine runs and nifty offloads.

Although the Bulls undoubtedly lifted their game in the second half, they still made a lot of unforced errors and they wasted a fine counter-ruck by replacement prop Lizo Gqoboka when scrumhalf Piet van Zyl fumbled the ball, was tackled and then conceded a penalty at the ruck, Niel Marais stretching the Cheetahs’ lead to 14-10 after the home side had closed to 10-11.

Bulls flyhalf Tian Schoeman brought the gap back to just one point, however, with an excellent long-range penalty punishing the Cheetahs for a high tackle after the home side had run from their own half.

The Bulls certainly showed more attacking spark in the final quarter and the match-winning try also came from a long way out.

Right wing Travis Ismaiel effected a vital turnover inside his own half and left wing Jamba Ulengo then went through the gap, centre Burger Odendaal then feeding outside centre Jesse Kriel out wide, the Springbok cutting back inside to evade two cover-tacklers and score the second, crucial try.

Tian Schoeman converted for a 20-14 lead, but the Bulls defence still had to hold out at the end, Ismaiel and fullback Warrick Gelant combining to tackle left wing Raymond Rhule out on the corner flag in the last play of the game.

It was typical of the spirited defence the Bulls showed all night and the determination of the team not to lose, despite how badly they were playing, must please coach Nollis Marais.

But the Bulls must still do more when they have the ball and their skills have to be better if they are to be a force in SuperRugby. They have the pace and power out wide, but too often they are running from deep, which stifles their attacking efforts.

The Bulls will be enjoying a bye next week, but then they host the Crusaders and Highlanders on successive weekends and they will be far more ruthless in punishing the many errors they are still making.

Points scorers

Bulls: Tries – Jacques Potgieter, Jesse Kriel. Conversions – Tian Schoeman (2). Penalties – Schoeman (2).

Cheetahs: Try – Paul Schoeman. Penalties – Niel Marais (3).


New scrum laws will boost Argentina’s bajada 0

Posted on November 22, 2016 by Ken


Argentina is a rising power in world rugby and they are set to be boosted even further by the new scrummaging laws, which are tailor-made for their famous bajada scrum technique.

 The Springboks will be the first to tackle the Pumas since the introduction of the “crouch, bind, set” scrum engagement when they meet at the FNB Stadium on Saturday and they could be in for a shock.

Argentina was introduced into the Rugby Championship last year and made an impressive entry into the big league, proving plucky opponents as they even managed a draw against the Springboks in Mendoza.

After a largely disappointing third-place finish in last year’s competition, the Springboks will want to get into their stride far quicker this season, but the Pumas’ strength is in the pack and the new scrum laws will only magnify that.

The emphasis at scrum-time will now change from being on the “hit” to technique, something the Argentineans have been famous for and many rugby fans in the South American country are looking forward to the return of the bajada as the potent weapon it used to be.

The bajada is all about the entire pack working as a unit and channelling their power through the hooker, with the speed with which a front row can get the “hit” no longer a factor because they have to pre-bind before the engagement.

The co-ordinated, cohesive nature of the bajada scrum is exactly what the new scrum laws will favour, judging by what Springbok scrum coach Pieter de Villiers said on Tuesday.

“It’s going to be a learning process for players worldwide who have practised their trade over the last 10 years with the ‘hit’ scrum and it’s a big change. Speed won’t be as important and the frustration over grey areas in decisions, especially when binds slip, often because of tricks of the trade, has been dealt with.

“It’s now very important for the scrum to stand together and have endurance and it’s become a much tougher battle. It’s more about sound technique and endurance now and it’s more important for your whole pack to work together. The pack operating as a unit is vital,” De Villiers said.

The Springbok scrum has not always lived up to its reputation in recent years and those dastardly Australians who seem to spend their life trying to avoid proper scrums have even taken a couple of pot shots at the South Africans, saying the new laws will expose them more than anyone else.

The new engagement places a higher premium on scrummaging technique rather than skill in winning the “hit” and it is the Springboks’ lack of depth at tighthead prop, the most technical position in the pack, that suggests Saturday night could be a tough time for them.

De Villiers, having played 69 times for France, is well aware that the Pumas are masters of the dark arts of scrummaging.

“Their passion for scrummaging will always be there. They’re short, stocky guys and difficult to move and we expect them to have a strong, stable base at scrum time,” De Villiers said.

Jannie du Plessis is right up there with the best tightheads in world rugby but he has played so much over the last two years that a serious injury seems almost inevitable and there are no other specialist number threes in the Springbok squad. Coach Heyneke Meyer believes the sky is the limit for young Coenie Oosthuizen, the Cheetahs loosehead he is converting into a tighthead.

De Villiers expressed confidence in Oosthuizen’s ability to make the change, if not with the same enthusiasm as Meyer has done.

“Coenie is progressing very well. You must remember everyone is starting with a clean slate now because of the new laws and it’s important to see how Coenie adapts. But even the top tightheads in world rugby have to start afresh,” De Villiers said.

Meanwhile, Springbok backline coach Ricardo Loubscher stressed that despite all the attention focused on the scrums, the Argentines’ backline strengths are not being ignored.

“Most of their backs play in Europe and they are world-class. Given the opportunity, they can finish, their outside backs are quick and have had plenty of exposure to sevens rugby. So we need to prepare well against them too,” Loubscher warned.

Another area where South African has not looked too clever in terms of depth has been scrumhalf and the new lenient approach to choosing overseas-based players made it inevitable that Meyer would call on Fourie du Preez, one of the players he built the champion Bulls team around.

The Springbok coach has made it clear he is relying on Du Preez’s experience and game management abilities to lift their performance and Loubscher said those strengths were already evident on the training field.

“He’s a world-class player, there’s no need to elaborate on his credentials. He just slotted right back in, I was impressed, I thought he did really well in training. He brings great experience to the team, you can see the way he talks with players like JJ Engelbrecht and Willie le Roux, who haven’t played in the Rugby Championship before, and he makes it much easier for me as the backline coach,” Loubscher said.

Sharks come badly undone against superb Lions 0

Posted on July 02, 2016 by Ken


The Lions played with superb fluency and confidence, pace and power, to ensure the Sharks would come badly undone on their visit to Johannesburg, the hosts winning their SuperRugby match 37-10 at Ellis Park on Saturday.

After weathering an impressive first five minutes from the Sharks, the Lions were quick to communicate their intention to pick up where they left off before the June international break, their previous result being a similarly superb 56-20 demolition of the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.

The Sharks’ bright start withered in the face of some ferocious defending from the Lions and they simply pushed the visitors ever further from the advantage line, bossing the collisions and producing the quick ball that they flourished on, displaying wonderful skills and intensity in the process.

Flyhalf Elton Jantjies put the first points on the board with a seventh-minute penalty and the woes began for the Sharks as Paul Jordaan limped off with a knee injury. They had already been forced to make a midfield change when Andre Esterhuizen failed to recover in time from the hamstring strain he picked up during the week, which meant Jordaan was playing inside centre and JP Pietersen shifted to number 13 and S’bura Sithole came on to the wing.

Heimar Williams then came on to replace Jordaan and, with Garth April appearing flustered at flyhalf, the Sharks had a severely disrupted backline, the Esterhuizen/Jordaan combination being one of their strong points this season.

But what was unforgivable was the number of basic mistakes the Sharks made in the first half, starting with scrumhalf Michael Claassens basically bailing out of taking an up-and-under, giving the Lions prime attacking position. Lionel Mapoe produced an incisive run, Jaco Kriel, as ever, was up in support and made the final pass for wing Ruan Combrinck to score the opening try in the 15th minute.

The Sharks were also poor at relieving pressure in their own territory, allowing the Lions to mount relentless attacks because their kicks were often up-and-unders instead of touchfinders, and too often they did not find touch or grass.

The second try came after an up-and-under from the base rather than a lengthy kick to clear the lines, followed by Odwa Ndungane dithering and not claiming a mark that could also have relieved the pressure. Instead the Lions piled on to attack, lock Franco Mostert powered through close to the line and eventually centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg grabbed the ball out of a maul and swiveled over the line.

On the half-hour, the jittery April kicked straight to fullback Andries Coetzee, who launched the attack and Combrinck’s little chip behind the defensive line bounced wickedly for Lwazi Mvovo, again in the north-east corner of Ellis Park, with eighthman Ruan Ackermann gathering and passing to hooker Malcolm Marx to storm over for the third try.

The Sharks were 20-0 down and then butchered the best chance they had to get on the scoreboard when Mvovo’s pace took him clear, but his pass inside to Ndungane was a bit behind the fullback and the veteran dropped the ball with the line clear ahead of him.

While the dazzling attacking play of the Lions backline gets most of the plaudits, their pack is also brilliant and they deserve the credit for the fourth try, scored on the stroke of halftime, as the forwards went on the charge, battering through the advantage line until Ackermann, one of the stars of the show as he stood in for the injured Warren Whiteley, powered over the line with two of his colleagues behind him.

Jantjies’ conversion meant the Lions would go into the break with a commanding 27-0 lead and the problems that bedevilled the Sharks did not go away in the third quarter either.

April produced an awful kick from his own 22 that did not go anywhere but straight up, leading to a penalty slotted by Jantjies, and the ball-hungry Kriel then crashed over the line in a move that again highlighted the pace and power of the Lions forwards.

At 37-0 down with 22 minutes to play, the Sharks were really just chasing pride and their replacements, especially lock Ruan Botha, added some much-needed energy.

The visitors were finally on the board in the 63rd minute, Sithole cutting through the Lions defences and some clean hands by April and replacement fullback Rhyno Smith delivered the ball to Mvovo, who stepped inside and dotted down.

Six minutes later, Botha, who announced his return from long-term injury with a compelling performance in the Ellis Park fortress, soared high to take a lineout and set up the rolling maul, from which another Sharks import, replacement hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle, scored.

That made it five tries to two and, if the Sharks had managed to score once more in the last 11 minutes it would have robbed the Lions of a well-deserved bonus point, but Johannesburg’s pride held out to ensure they will top their conference and host the city’s first SuperRugby knockout game since 2001.

Bulls display precision & power to beat Cheetahs 0

Posted on October 23, 2015 by Ken


The Bulls produced a display of precision and power to beat the Cheetahs 30-25 in Bloemfontein and put themselves on the brink of claiming the Vodacom SuperRugby South African Conference title and a home playoff match.

The Bulls, thanks to their combative forwards, who dominated the gain line and the lineouts, were in control for most of the crunch encounter and led 30-13 going into the last 10 minutes.

Tries by flyhalf Riaan Smit, after magical hands by inside centre Robert Ebersohn, and prop Trevor Nyakane then claimed a bonus point for the Cheetahs and kept them above the Crusaders in fifth place on the overall standings.

But for the other 70 minutes, they seldom threatened the Bulls line. The Cheetahs seemed to be drowning in a sea of blue defenders, every collision seemingly another metre gained by the Bulls, and the Thick Blue Line was no laughing matter for an increasingly desperate home side.

The one area where the Cheetahs did dominate, however, was in the scrums and Coenie Oosthuizen, Adriaan Strauss, Lourens Adriaanse and Trevor Nyakane were all rewarded with Springbok call-ups shortly after the game.

It’s clearly an area of concern for the Bulls as it will allow whoever they face in the playoffs to target a specific area of weakness, and coach Frans Ludeke hauled loosehead prop Dean Greyling off the field as early as the 44th minute.

But while Greyling and Werner Kruger are struggling in the scrums, it doesn’t seem to be costing the Bulls games … yet. And besides, Greyling and Kruger are at the forefront of the massive hits the Bulls tight forwards put in on the gain line and one can understand Ludeke’s reluctance to jettison them completely.

Hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle is also not renowned for his scrummaging, but his open play is outstanding and it was his charge through the defence that allowed the Bulls to make the breakthrough in the eighth minute, as Kruger barged over the tryline.

The only time the Bulls defence looked as if it might be breached was when the Cheetahs’ roaming wing Willie le Roux had the ball in hand. He scored from a typical piece of individual brilliance in the 13th minute when, with nothing much on, he chipped over the defence and gathered to score under the poles.

But the next five minutes were dominated by the Bulls’ direct runners, so strong with ball in hand (lock Flip van der Merwe in particular), and the inevitable ruck penalty saw Morné Steyn kick for the corner, the rolling maul put in place and flank Deon Stegmann scoring.

The Cheetahs were still in touch at 10-17 down at half-time, but with the hugely talented Jan Serfontein in white-hot form at inside centre, the shell-shocked home side soon found themselves 30-13 down after two penalties by Steyn and a try by Jano Vermaak that had its roots in the 20-year-old crashing through the home line. There was also great interplay between replacement forwards Grant Hattingh and Dewald Potgieter, who were both able to come on and make a major impact, with the latter throwing a precision pass for the scrumhalf to complete the try.

The Stormers emerged victorious (19-11) from their arm-wrestle with the Southern Kings at a sodden Newlands, fullback Joe Pietersen kicking 14 points in blustery conditions and ensuring the visitors were kept in their own half for much of the game.

Flank Deon Fourie also scored a try, but the Stormers were victorious because they won the kicking battle, their set-pieces were better and they shaded the collisions.

The Kings were determined and skilful, and can point to two gross misfortunes having a material impact on the outcome.

Flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis, part of the Springbok training camp and very close to selection for the final squad according to Heyneke Meyer, had a recurrence of his calf injury and pulled out just before the game and left the Kings without a major weapon for the kicking and territorial battle.

And Fourie’s try came from a rolling maul after the Stormers had been given a lineout throw five metres from the line when replacement scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenhage’s chip deflected off a Kings defender and rolled into the corner.

The Kings had the Stormers under pressure in the closing minutes, scoring through flank Wimpie van der Walt after a lineout drive, but flyhalf George Whitehead missed the crucial conversion and the visitors had the chance to kick a penalty for the losing bonus point but went for the try instead and lost the ball.

Jean de Villiers had another inspirational game for the Stormers at outside centre, although clearly no one had much fun in the awful conditions.

The Kings can now concentrate all their resources on the almost-inevitable promotion/relegation matches they will have to play against the Lions at the end of July.

And it looks like they will need them after the Lions demolished Samoa 74-14 at Ellis Park.

While one can never read too much into such a one-sided game, the fact that the Samoans were all at sea in the set-pieces and defending out wide suggests the Lions have weapons that can really hurt the Kings.

Super Rugby Logs – after Round 16:

Combined Log

Pos Team P W D L PF PA PD TF TA Bye BPts Pts
1 Chiefs (NZ) 13 10 0 3 383 283 100 40 29 2 8 56
2 Bulls (SA) 13 10 0 3 367 263 104 32 27 2 6 54
3 Brumbies (AUS) 14 9 2 3 376 257 119 35 26 2 6 54
4 Reds (Q) 15 9 2 4 307 284 23 30 21 1 6 50
5 Cheetahs (Q) 14 9 0 5 345 317 28 35 28 1 6 46
6 Crusaders (Q) 13 8 0 5 338 263 75 32 24 2 6 46
7 Blues 13 6 0 7 298 282 16 35 26 2 11 43
8 Waratahs 14 7 0 7 371 344 27 40 31 2 4 40
9 Hurricanes 13 6 0 7 303 349 -46 30 36 2 7 39
10 Sharks 13 6 0 7 285 252 33 25 24 2 6 38
11 Stormers 13 6 0 7 264 264 0 22 17 2 6 38
12 Rebels 14 4 0 10 327 439 -112 36 55 2 8 32
13 Force 14 3 1 10 233 323 -90 21 29 2 5 27
14 Southern Kings 13 3 1 9 255 434 -179 23 51 2 2 24
15 Highlanders 13 2 0 11 276 374 -98 28 40 2 6 22

South African Conference

Pos Team P W D L PF PA PD TF TA Bye BPts Pts
1 Bulls 13 10 0 3 367 263 104 32 27 2 6 54
2 Cheetahs 14 9 0 5 345 317 28 35 28 1 6 46
3 Sharks 13 6 0 7 285 252 33 25 24 2 6 38
4 Stormers 13 6 0 7 264 264 0 22 17 2 6 38
5 Southern Kings 13 3 1 9 255 434 -179 23 51 2 2 24

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