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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column – Not enough emphasis on defence 0

Posted on May 09, 2017 by Ken

 

To see so many tries scored against the South African teams in SuperRugby last weekend – 26 in all – was disappointing and it’s not great when your top franchises are conceding so many tries in particular, but the problem is that there has just not been enough emphasis on defence.

Look at the value SA Rugby put on defence after Jacques Nienaber left halfway through 2016: they appointed Chean Roux in his position and he will freely admit that he was an absolute rookie defence coach at that stage. What does that say about how they rate defence and defence coaches?

We’ve now had the national indaba and the Springboks are on to their fourth defence coach under Allister Coetzee, but I’m sure Brendan Venter will do a really good job because he has the experience and the skills, and was the architect of the Saracens defensive system that has taken them to the European Champions Cup final.

But there was no national defence coach when the indaba was convened, so I wonder if there was input on defence at that gathering? After conceding a record score against New Zealand, defence was an obvious area that needed fixing.

It’s not Allister’s fault of course because he was handed his staff; now he has been given the staff he wants and I expect to see a massive improvement in the Springboks this year.

There are problems, but the people who coach defence in the franchises will, of course, care deeply about the defensive performances. In 2013, I remember when the Springboks conceded five tries against the All Blacks at Ellis Park, but we needed the bonus point to win the Rugby Championship and we played a high-tempo game, which a lot of people said was one of the best Test matches ever played. But I stewed over those five tries for a month; but then at least we only conceded one try, to France, on the whole European tour thereafter.

So our defence in general is not in a great situation at present and whether it is due to conditioning problems or the speed of the modern game is open to debate. But you can never win a rugby match if you are conceding that many tries.

There’s obviously currently an emphasis on attacking skills but I’m certain the defence coaches are still being given sufficient time with their teams, and they would have done a lot of work on certain aspects of how the opposition attack. Like the Australian middle ruck attack, for instance, where the flyhalf goes hard for the line with a wing or centre like Israel Folau hard on their shoulder.

It’s no surprise when the New Zealand teams employ the kick-pass, especially the Hurricanes.

They employ the rush defence, therefore their wings have to be high and so there is always space behind them. Beauden Barrett would have had a lot of practice doing the kick-pass in training because he would see and have a high understanding of that space all the time.

The Stormers left too much of the field free, nearly 20 metres of space, and with players set in the wide channels, that’s not the smartest move.

In order to make sure you cover the width of the field, you need your tight five to work really hard close to the ruck, to set the breakdown correctly with good placing between the three pillars, and then the outside backs go wider.

The Bulls obviously had problems with their defence and if you said it started with their conditioning then you would not be far off. They also have folding problems, they’re just not setting the breakdown around the corner and so they end up with insufficient numbers.

They were also caught out by grubbers and so one has to ask questions about the back three’s positional play. They need to co-ordinate better to cover those and they need a much higher work-rate.

The Southern Kings have also had defensive problems and so it is only really the Lions and Sharks, who are defending in the same fashion as always, who can be satisfied with their defence.

The Lions have shown a great defensive improvement and one must credit JP Ferreira for improving their consistency in this regard.

The Lions are rolling through nicely and it will be a phenomenal tour if they can beat the Brumbies, which will make it probably the first unbeaten tour by a South African team – a tremendous achievement, and they’ve been winning with bonus points!

We know Australian rugby is at an all-time low and they have even more defensive problems, but their forwards are really their soft underbelly and the Lions have exposed that to great effect.

And the quality of finishing this weekend by Courtnall Skosan and Sylvian Mahuza was top-class. As we get closer to the Springbok selection, it’s a good time for players to remind the national coach that they are out there by scoring skilful tries like that.

In South Africa, skills development seems to be more coach-driven, but in New Zealand, the players take personal responsibility for it. An example at the Kubota Spears is Patrick Osborne, who has played at the top level as a wing, but he works hard on his kicking. He’s playing as a right-footer on the left wing, so he’s constantly working on his left-footed grubbers and other kicks, he does that consistently.

To see a top New Zealand SuperRugby player take individual responsibility like that was quite an eye-opener.

 

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.

Saru have enough money to throw at the Springbok problem 0

Posted on December 08, 2016 by Ken

 

That the South African Rugby Union have a major problem with their flagship product – the Springboks – is undeniable, and it’s going to take all their wisdom and sound judgement to make the right decisions to fix the mess. One thing in their favour though is that they have enough money to throw at the problem.

Their latest financial statements, for the year ending 2015, show that Saru had revenue of close to a billion rand, with R249 million spent on the rugby department, under which all the national teams and their management fall.

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has made his fair share of blunders and his ability to inspire his current group of players is debatable, but there is no doubt that he was given the job with one hand tied behind his back by not being able to choose his coaching staff.

Forwards coach Matt Proudfoot was the one exception, while he inherited Johann van Graan from the previous era of Heyneke Meyer, so at least he had experience of working at international level. But for all their promise, the likes of Mzwandile Stick, Chean Roux and Louis Koen have only coached at much lower levels. Apart from Proudfoot, and Franco Smith, a belated addition to the squad after just one season of Super Rugby, who amongst his assistants has experience of running a top franchise?

Compare that to the All Blacks’ situation, where assistant coaches Ian Foster, who spent eight years in charge of the Chiefs and three with the New Zealand juniors, and Wayne Smith, who guided the Crusaders to two Super 12 titles and is a former All Blacks head coach, are vastly experienced.

Perhaps the primary problem affecting the Springboks is the lack of attention Saru have given them; can they truly say the wellbeing of their national team has been their priority?

So many incidents suggest not: from Meyer having to go begging to Gavin Varejes to pay the salary of breakdown specialist Richie Gray up until the parlous decision to appoint, on the cheap, the majority of Coetzee’s backroom staff, Saru are not backing the Springboks as they should.

Are the Springboks not CEO Jurie Roux’s new sweetheart? Before he joined Saru, Roux was able to source R35 million to beef up the Stellenbosch University rugby team. Why is he not willing to put big money towards finding the best assistant coaches possible or keeping more players on these shores?

I also wonder what Rassie Erasmus, still the flavour of the month in many quarters, actually achieved in terms of boosting the Springboks during his four-year tenure as Saru’s high performance general manager before ducking to Munster?

While mapping out new structures for SA rugby and running the Mobi-Unit of specialist coaches, Erasmus’s detractors, some of whom were and are intimately involved with the Springboks, say everything he did was geared towards making himself the next national coach.

But when it became clear that Saru would have to speed up transformation within the Springboks in order to get the government out of their hair, Erasmus suddenly turned his attention overseas. His about-turn led directly to Coetzee’s appointment being made very late, just a couple of months before the first Test.

Just to be clear, I don’t believe transformation is the foe of Springbok rugby, in fact it’s the game’s best long-term survival plan.

According to reports this week, Coetzee will remain as national coach next year, but will now be able to choose his own support staff as Saru have belatedly realised the error of their ways.

Well duh.

It reminds me of Kim Kardashian suddenly deciding she wants to withdraw herself and her children from the spotlight after they were robbed in Paris in early October; she decided to flaunt her lifestyle, bling and children on reality TV, why is she surprised it attracted nefarious attention?

The hapless Springboks are the way they are at the moment for many reasons, but it all comes down to haphazard decision-making by Saru.

‘Staid attack was Proteas’ biggest problem’ – Donald 0

Posted on April 11, 2016 by Ken

 

South African fast bowling great Allan Donald believes a staid attack was the Proteas’ biggest problem in their failed ICC World T20 campaign in India.

“The batting was mostly wonderful, but where we lacked was in our bowling – there was no serious x-factor in the attack, that was missing and you could see it a mile away. There was a lack of imagination with the ball.

“That’s a serious team that went over there but one thing it lacked, if we analyse it honestly, was x-factor. When it came to crunch time with the ball, we couldn’t come up with something while other teams always found a way and there was some amazing death bowling in the tournament.

“We just couldn’t seem to find that way to step up during the big moments, which was particularly heartbreaking against England. We needed someone able to change the course of the game, that’s what we were missing,” Donald told The Citizen.

South Africa’s former bowling coach wondered whether Dale Steyn, the one fast bowler with the skill and prior experience of turning games around, should rather have just stayed at home given that he only bowled six overs in the tournament.

“Why does Dale play so little if you take him to the world cup, I didn’t quite get that. You choose a guy after one club game but then you hardly use him, as a champion fast bowler should you not back him?

“Kagiso Rabada is still a puppy, Chris Morris is making his way, he’s learning but is an exciting prospect. But that x-factor ability to change games comes with experience, you have to have the nous, the ability to suss the game out, see what’s going to happen four or five overs ahead of time, like a Shane Warne or Glenn McGrath for example,” Donald said.

As a recent member of the Proteas management, Donald said he did not want to carp about the performance of coach Russell Domingo.

“The coach has to make some tough selection decisions and Russell is quite smart in what he wants, he’s quite astute and has a good understanding of the game. I’m not going to give him heaps when it’s the team that hasn’t produced the goods. It’s very tough for a coach in those circumstances, it’s the toughest job in the world when things go wrong. Russell has enough on his plate dealing with all those pressures,” Donald said.

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    1 Corinthians 3:3 - "For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?"

    One of my favourite U2 songs is a collaboration with Johnny Cash called The Wanderer, and it features the line "they say they want the kingdom, but they don't want God in it".
    Many people say they believe in God, but they don't experience his loving presence. They may be active in Christian work, but only if they have their way. If they cannot be leaders, they refuse to be involved.
    Because they refuse to allow God to fill their lives with his love, they remain weak and powerless.
    Spiritual maturity means developing a greater love for others.

    "When the love of Christ saturates you, immature attitudes such as pettiness, jealousy and strife are dissolved.
    "It is only when you have an intimate relationship with the Lord that you receive sufficient grace to rise above this immaturity and enjoy the solid food that the Holy Spirit gives you." - Solly Ozrovech, A Shelter From The Storm



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