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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Planning for the French Tests 0

Posted on May 23, 2017 by Ken

 

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee will not find it too difficult to prepare for the three Tests against France and there is always great excitement when the players get together in the national team environment.

Due to WorldRugby regulations, he will have to wait for the overseas players until the week of the first Test match, but these days the information they need to know is easy to disseminate and the players have access to apps, for example, with which they can watch the training sessions. He will have communicated the game plans, moves and patterns to them, so it shouldn’t be too difficult for them to assimilate.

This week saw Allister have his third camp this year, which is obviously what he missed last year. His program of camps has been very much extended this year, but you still don’t do a lot of hard, physical work at these get-togethers.

As Springbok management, you have to be very careful because the players are in the middle of SuperRugby and will be coming off a very tough game. But the camps are certainly invaluable for laying down the plans for the structure and principles, making sure all the players get on the same page.

There will be on-field training, but basically it will just be walk-throughs or practising with the contact levels right down. We used to use the Lions U19 players as defenders, which puts much less pressure on the Springboks in terms of physicality.

After all, some unions used to send their players to camp with GPSs so they could check the amount of running they did!

Generally the three Tests in June are against the same opposition, so it’s easier to prepare for it, but it’s the same for every international team, they are all in the same boat.

In November, the Southern Hemisphere teams have an advantage because it’s after the end of their season, all their game plans are in place and they’ve just come off a month’s rest. In June, the Northern Hemisphere sides are tired at the end of their long season, but due to the Six Nations, they are further along in their game plans.

The key for Allister will be to not make it too complicated, stick to simple principles and make it clear what he wants the team to do to win that first Test.

I know international football sides only get their players for a week from all over the world, but soccer is quite an individual game, there are a lot more dynamics in rugby such as the set-pieces and the defensive and attacking game plans.

As far as last weekend’s SuperRugby goes, the Stormers did really well to come back from their overseas tour woes with a win. They defended very well in the final quarter and from half-time onwards they were very sound and physical in the collisions. They got their just rewards for quick-taps with some game-changing moments.

I was quite sceptical, however, about the TMO decision on Sikhumbuzo Notshe’s try, but there are always highs and lows in terms of officiating through a Super Rugby season and it evens out in the end.

The Southern Kings were a bit unlucky against the Brumbies, but they were very vulnerable to the grubber in behind. Their defensive system relies on the fullback getting up in the line very early, the Brumbies obviously saw that and took advantage.

In the game in Singapore, the 38-17 scoreline flattered the Sharks a bit because they had an intercept and two breakaway tries in the last few minutes against the Sunwolves. Before that, the Sharks just could not finish and the amount of mistakes they made, especially when it came to the final pass, didn’t help either. But they will be happy to get back to winning ways and get the bonus point, although it looks likely they’ll have to get through a playoff in New Zealand.

If the Lions, however, have aspirations of playing at home all the way through to the final, then they need to win their big game against the Sharks after the international break.

No side in SuperRugby would have lived with the Lions in the first half of their match against the Bulls and they are showing great decision-making at the moment.

Having been away for three weeks, there was definitely a feeling of the Lions being back at home and they were full of confidence.

Obviously they will lose a bit of momentum over the break, quite a few of their players will be in the national squads, so it will be a tough month for them. They will have guys who will play all three Tests against France, so that will be disruptive to their rhythm.

And coach Johan Ackermann won’t have a break either because he will be coaching the SA A side, which will be quite taxing too. And then one week after the end of SuperRugby, he’ll be off to Gloucester, so he has a very busy program over the next few months.

Sometimes you get very good SuperRugby players who are just not able to adapt to the higher environment and believe you me, international rugby is a higher level and just so much quicker, because it’s the best of the best playing. In SuperRugby, you get guys who are in the same system all their life, at the Bulls there were guys who were coached in defence by me since they were 19, but they can’t adapt to the different pace of the game at the next step up.

Certain other players prove to be consistently excellent players at Test level. There’s such a mental side to it because there is real pressure representing your country at international level, some players just cope better.

Those are the sort of players Allister Coetzee will want to be working with.

 

 

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.

 

Adapting to breakdown blowing Boks’ biggest concern 0

Posted on February 01, 2016 by Ken

 

“It’s up to us to adapt to what is being blown on the field at the breakdown,” Springboks forwards coach Johan van Graan admitted in Pretoria on Tuesday as the South Africans prepare for their quadrangular series finale against Samoa at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

The Springboks are coming off a thoroughly unconvincing 30-17 victory over Scotland, in which they scored 10 points in the last five minutes and coach Heyneke Meyer conceded after the Test in Nelspruit that the breakdown was the biggest area of concern for him.

The Springboks failed to get quick ball, partly because Scotland were all over the breakdown, doing their best to disrupt possession by whatever means, fair or foul. The Springboks knew Scotland were going to attack the breakdown, but they did little to stop them, naively relying on the referee to sort out the mess. As Van Graan agreed on Tuesday, quick ball is not some divine right in the game of rugby, you have to work for it and the opposition are obviously going to try and stop you from obtaining it.

“We expected beforehand that every breakdown would be a massive contest, but my feeling is that we also wanted to focus on our discipline in the first 20 minutes and we expected the tacklers to have to roll away quickly, so we didn’t compete as much.

“But there are no excuses, you have to adapt and sort it out on the field; it’s about fixing our own problems,” Van Graan said.

The first problem the Springbok coaching staff has identified is that they need to be more aggressive when carrying the ball.

“My opinion is that it always starts with the ball-carriers. If they don’t get momentum then it’s very difficult for the cleaners to get in. And if those first and second arrivers don’t do their job, then the breakdown is lost,” Van Graan explained.

The expected return of Willem Alberts should provide a boost to that area of the game at Loftus Versfeld, with the bone-crunching loose forward back in training after a side strain.

“Willem was brilliant for the Springboks in 2012. Siya Kolisi and Pierre Spies both had nearly a dozen ball-carries for us against Scotland, but Willem is world-class. He’s the guy you want on the advantage line and that’s where the big battle will be on Saturday,” Van Graan said.

The Springboks fully expect Samoa to follow Scotland’s lead and attack the breakdown, with another inexperienced referee in charge on Saturday in Irishman John Lacey.

“Samoa have a simple plan, but they execute it well. They have big ball-carrying forwards who are good in broken play and at the breakdown. They’re going to put a lot of pressure on the wide rucks, so it won’t be a lot different to Scotland, it’s going to be a battle for the ball,” Van Graan said.

While Alberts’ return would add 20 caps’ worth of experience to the loose trio, there could be a considerable loss of experience at centre with captain Jean de Villiers rated only a 50/50 chance of playing after popping a rib against Scotland. If De Villiers can’t play then JJ Engelbrecht with just three caps, and Jan Serfontein, with only two brief appearances off the bench, will likely combine in midfield.

However, wing Bryan Habana does not believe that this would also create a leadership vacuum.

“Since 2012, the side has had a very young nucleus, with just myself, Jean, Ruan Pienaar, Pierre Spies and Frans Steyn having played more than 50 Tests. So it will be very disappointing if Jean can’t make it, he’s been an unbelievable captain and I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves. But as a senior player, my job is to make that important step up, that’s what we’re there for, our leadership responsibilities increase and we need to bring that leadership to the fore,” Habana said.

“But it’s also very exciting the way guys like Acker Strauss, Bismarck du Plessis and Pierre Spies, who has led the Blue Bulls very well for the past five months, have stepped forward as leaders. We showed that we still have that calmness and belief we can win in the team, even though we were 6-17 down against Scotland, and that’s a great thing,” Habana added.

While facing the combative Samoans in a final at Loftus Versfeld should ensure the Springboks bring the right attitude into the game, Van Graan said there would also need to be a greater focus on their tactical approach, against opponents who thrive on unstructured, loose rugby.

“In the first 30 minutes against Scotland we maybe played too much rugby. Samoa these days are tactically very good and it might become a tactical battle at Loftus, a typical final. It will be about the territory battle, we need to make sure we dominate that because the referees tend to favour the side with territory. And then we need to hang on to the ball,” Van Graan said.

Against unpredictable opposition and possibly unfathomable refereeing, it is probably wise for the Springboks to rely on their tried and tested approach, but even then it will not be easy to get on top of the Samoans.

“Every game has its own personality and every week we get something different from the referee. And there are a few big challenges in the Samoan pack too – Census Johnston is a world-class prop, Jack Lam is well known for his work in the Hurricanes loose trio and their lock, Kane Thompson, has also played SuperRugby.

“Their backs have good running lines, they’ve already had some big scrums in this series and they can stop our maul,” Van Graan warned.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-06-19-boks-broke-down-at-the-breakdown/#.VsHJaPl97IU

Morkel having a great time with ‘dream’ Titans 0

Posted on December 11, 2015 by Ken

 

Albie Morkel says he has thoroughly enjoyed his time as captain of the Titans, calling them a dream T20 outfit as they prepare for the RamSlam T20 Challenge final against the Dolphins at Centurion on Saturday.

Morkel, who has played more T20 matches (284) than anyone except for West Indian Kieron Pollard (299), was a slightly surprising choice as limited-overs captain of the Titans given that his last leadership experience was at school, but he has done an outstanding job in leading his team to eight successive wins and top of the log by a mile.

“It’s my first season as captain and I’ve learnt lots and I’m still learning. The biggest thing is to trust my gut feeling, which comes with experience – and I’ve played a lot of T20cricket. When I started I was very hesitant to make funky calls – like using a spinner for the first or third over – but now I really trust my gut feeling. All the former captains I spoke to say you must trust that.

“Also, if you look at the team we’ve got, it’s a really good T20 side: We’ve got eight good bowlers, explosive batsmen and a tremendous opening partnership. What you need is good starts because that allows the bigger hitters the platform to perform,” Morkel said.

The all-rounder pointed to the number of bowlers the Titans have as being a key strength.

“I’ve seen some teams pick just five bowlers, but in my opinion you can’t do that because there’s always one or two bowlers that the opposition gets after. We have eight bowlers, which may even be one too many, including three very different spinners – a wrist-spinner, an offie and a slow left-armer. And none of them are part-timers, they’re all serious bowlers when the conditions suit them. So I’m able to just juggle the bowlers and play what I see in front of me. I mustn’t get emotional about someone not getting an over,” Morkel said.

After their epic victory in the last final the Titans played in – the Momentum One-Day Cup showdown against the Cape Cobras in February – Morkel (the man of the match in Cape Town after his sensational unbeaten century) says the preparation this week is just focused on getting mentally ready.

“In previous years the Titans have maybe stood back a bit in difficult times, but this side has all bases covered. We’ve defended some really low scores, we’ve set high totals and we’ve bowled the opposition out for low scores. I don’t foresee any problems with freezing on the day, our training this week is just about getting in the right frame of mind, re-energising and getting in the right space.

“Finals don’t come around that often, in 12 years with the Titans I’ve only played in two or three, so it’s a great occasion. There’s nothing better than sitting in the changeroom after a very successful campaign … with the trophy of course,” Morkel said.

 



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