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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column – The intent is obviously there 0

Posted on March 03, 2017 by Ken

 

Judging by the quality of the games last weekend, I am really looking forward to this weekend’s SuperRugby action, with the Stormers, Bulls and Lions looking like South Africa’s three major contenders.

Last weekend we saw very different South African derbies to what we normally see and the will to attack was clearly there. The intent was obviously there to play with ball in hand and the teams played with real speed in terms of tempo, and pace, which made a heck of an impact.

An example of this was when the Stormers took a quick tap and scored seven points against the Bulls; they, in particular, showed more intent than they have in the past.

The effects of the new tackle law, meaning players now have to go lower with their hits, were also evident in that there were more offloads. Attacks can now continue through the tackle because the arms are free and the tall guys can get the ball above the tackle. It keeps the ball alive and it has led to a lot more continuity.

What was really impressive to me was how lean some of the leading Springboks looked. Guys like Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Siya Kolisi looked in great shape and the speed they played at was a direct consequence of their fitness levels.

There’s definitely been a huge emphasis on conditioning through the franchises and it could mean the end of the New Zealand and Australian sides feeling that a high ball-in-play figure is their secret to success because the South African teams will tire.

While the Stormers were fantastic, what was encouraging about the Bulls was that they never gave up, which is huge. They denied the Stormers a bonus point, which at the end of the day could be vital; from 24-0 up at halftime, the Stormers really needed to get that bonus point. The second half would have provided a huge swing in confidence for the Bulls.

In the Cheetahs versus Lions game in Bloemfontein, the visitors really got out of jail, but if you can score three tries away from home then you deserve your victory.

Rohan Janse van Rensburg showed his finishing power and speed, while the Lions’ try down the short side to win the match showed again that rugby is about defending the full width of the field, even if you only have two or three metres to touch.

The penalty try given off a driving maul was a game-changer; most referees would have copped out and just given a penalty, but if the maul is set and moving forward then it deserves that decision, so credit to referee Quinton Immelman for his brave call.

The Southern Kings looked better and scored some really good tries, but again conceded turnovers at crucial times. During the first half they were in control for long periods, but a yellow card really cost them and prop Ross Geldenhuys was lucky not to get a red card, which a knee to the back should be penalised with.

The major talking point of the last week in the rugby world, however, was Italy and their decision not to contest rucks against England.

I had lunch with Brendan Venter last week and he mentioned that they were going to do it. Any tactic that is new and innovative has to be applauded and it certainly took England a long time to cope with it, so credit to Brendan and the rest of the Italian coaching staff and players for that.

But I believe World Rugby do need to look at the law. As defence coaches, we encourage players to get back on their feet and in the defensive line, but now teams might just try to herd the attacking team into a small radius of the ruck, which would not be good for the game.

It would take a full week of coaching to get a game plan against Italy’s tactic. It was  a real shock-and-awe strategy and difficult to adapt to on your feet. In fact, England played into Italy’s hands with their counter to it, so it clearly worked as a tactic.

 

 

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 defence coach John McFarland’s six solutions for the Springboks 0

Posted on September 22, 2016 by Ken

 

It was very hard to watch the Springboks v All Blacks game last weekend because there were a mountain of mistakes. You could see the players were really trying, but very often that’s not good enough against a quality side like New Zealand.

There were many system and individual errors within the Springbok defence, but the good news is that they can all be fixed, they can be corrected through good coaching. So I would prefer to talk about solutions rather than showing what went wrong.

Because I was in charge of the Springboks’ defence and kicking game for four years, I obviously know the pressure the coaching staff feel and have experienced this many times myself in my coaching career. You don’t coach for 21 years at a professional level without experiencing setbacks, so you must know how to fix them, plus the players pick up on your body language, passion and intensity.

Since I left the Springboks, I’ve been lucky enough to be working in Japan at the Kubota Spears. The Springboks defence was taken over by Jacques Nienaber, who was obviously being lined up for the full-time job.

He coached the defence in the Ireland Tests as a consultant for five weeks. Chean Roux worked hand-in-hand with him at the MobiUnit and was then earmarked to carry on his structures and principles as seamlessly as possible.

As a coach in this situation, you can’t just point the finger at the players. It’s important to have solutions and you need to look at yourself as well, take responsibility for the performance and fix it. Heyneke Meyer and Frans Ludeke always knew that I would take responsibility for the defensive performance, win or lose.

It’s very easy to point out what went wrong against the All Blacks, but it’s far more important to identify solutions. So here are six simple things that the Springboks can fix.

 

  • The passive defence system. Over a period of time it has come through that line integrity is the key. But at the moment the Springboks are not coming off the line and pressurising the attacking team, or if they are, it’s in single fashion, for example Juan de Jongh trying to cut off the outside options.
    Experience has shown that all this does against the All Blacks is pressure our own inside defence. They are very good at running reverse-lines at the shooting defender.
    A 75% tackle success rate at Test level shows that this system is not working. Too many good defenders are making errors and missing tackles because we are allowing the attack to dictate to the defence.
    On the Sam Whitelock try, it came from width and the spacing of the defensive line was really poor – there were only three defenders covering 30 metres of space, they were far too tight to the ruck, which pulled the wings in.
    If you have a passive defence, like the Springboks had, then it highlights if anyone breaks the system. With a passive defence, the whole object is to push the attackers towards the touchline, so it’s never a good idea if everyone is drifting and one player comes in on a read.

 

  • Winning the gain-line. I don’t think the Springbok backline once won the gain-line off first-phase ball, especially off the lineout. We call it ‘winning the race’ – if the defender can hit the ball-carrier behind the gain-line, it’s so much easier to set your defensive pillars in place. But if you allow the opposition to get easy yards over the gain-line as we did at the weekend, then it’s very difficult to get your pillars in place. The attack just rolls forward, gaining momentum … and confidence and belief.
    It’s quite simple: You have to close the space from the set-piece a lot quicker. You have to close the space (press) on the first receiver when he has the ball.

 

  • Blindside defence. As alluded to in earlier columns, this was the same part of our defence that was exploited by Australia from the lineout and from a scrum, and was mercilessly exploited by New Zealand on Saturday. The key is that the hooker and blindside wing have to communicate the reversing of play and the players have to look up before folding to the openside. The Springboks’ blindside defence has to be much, much better than it was against the All Blacks.

 

  • Scrumhalf channel off scrum. New Zealand also ran at this channel and since 2014 they’ve been doing the same thing against us. So as a defence coach that would have been my first port of call – making sure that the defence of the scrumhalf channel was really strong in Christchurch.
    But Aaron Smith punched through that channel so the scrumhalf and the flank have to work together. The first defender has to adjust and basically they have to play flat after that.
    The scrumhalf must defend the ball – after all nobody has ever scored a try without the ball!

 

  • High balls. Every All Blacks high ball went on Francois Hougaard, so that was obviously seen as a mismatch for Israel Dagg to exploit. To be fair, Francois dealt with it well, but the Springboks need to be able to play from the retreating ruck post-kick.

 

  • Kicking game. The kicking game is really quite simple and I believe we over-complicate it to a large degree. The key is that a kick is only as good as its chase, so the work-rate has to be much higher. If the kick is long, then the harder the chase, the easier it is to catch the opposition further back, to separate the counter-attacking wing and fullback from their cleaners/forwards. So the chase has to be a heck of a lot better and more aggressive from the Springboks.
    Tactically, the Springboks should be in a strong position because they have right-footed and left-footed options at flyhalf and fullback, because all they have to do then is get into the middle of the field and the right-footer [Johan Goosen] can go on the right side of the ruck and the left-footer [Elton Jantjies] takes the left. That will create indecision in the opposition back three as to who will exit. It will also affect the All Blacks’ pressure plan because the key guys trying to charge down the kick are always Aaron Smith or TJ Perenara and Brodie Retallick – it will be more difficult for them to pick up who is going to kick.
    Because the Boks have such a good mauling game, the box-kick from 9 is vitally important and needs to have an organised chase and contest, so they need to select wings that go up in the air.

 

These are the solutions to the defensive problems which I know I would be asking questions about if I were in the same situation as Chean Roux.

Just on Malcolm Marx and his alleged throwing woes, I think the criticism is incredibly unfair. People just look at the stats and not at what actually went on. It’s easy to say we lost four lineouts and blame the hooker, but if you look through all our games against New Zealand over the last four years, we’ve always lost four or five lineouts against them in the second half, because at halftime, whatever they talk about, they come out differently in the second half.

The World Cup semifinal last year against the All Blacks was decided because we lost five set-pieces around the halfway line. So to come out firing against a young hooker in his first Test is really not fair.

And I’ve looked at his throws – the first one was not straight, that was obvious and an error on his part because his alignment and set-up were wrong. But the two other lost throws were directly because of poor lifts by the back supporter, he was late.

And then at the lineout on the line, the triggers were not right as to when the hooker should throw in. At the top level, the hooker always has a trigger telling him when to throw, it tells him when to begin the throw. It comes from the jumper and it’s important to get it right.

The positive is that in rugby you always get another chance and I really think the Springboks will be so much better at home, they always do play better back here.

I really hope the Springboks and their coaching staff will bounce back well against Australia. I’m sure they will because there is too much hurt and as a group they know their responsibility is to give the country hope. I believe they will do that in these two home Tests.

Allister Coetzee is also a highly-experienced coach who everyone seems to forget won the World Cup in 2007. He’s been in these situations many times and he will know how to get out of it. We just need to give him and the Springboks our backing and support.

 

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.

Gold not hiding his disappointment even after Sharks win 0

Posted on July 12, 2016 by Ken

 

Despite the Sharks keeping their SuperRugby playoff hopes alive with their 26-10 win over the Cheetahs in Durban, coach Gary Gold did not try to hide his disappointment with the quality of their performance, with many feeling it was a fortuitous escape for the home side.

“I was disappointed in the performance, especially in two areas – the number of errors and our discipline. We kept the Cheetahs in the game by doing things like dropping the kick-off or kicking straight into touch, and we also wasted a couple of try-scoring opportunities.

“We didn’t get our territory game going, our set-piece struggled, our maul was penalised and our kicking game wasn’t good enough. We also conceded quite a soft try from our perspective. We said before the match that we didn’t want to get into a game of touch rugby with them, but that’s what happened,” Gold said after the win, which leaves the Sharks with a two-point lead over the Bulls as the hunt for the third South African qualifying place enters its final weekend.

Gold did, however, praise the character of his team, especially during the middle of the first half when captain Tendai Mtawarira was yellow-carded for slapping an opponent and they conceded three scrum penalties in a row on their own line.

“It was a test of character today and it was critically important the way we defended, especially during that period when we were already 7-3 down. If the Cheetahs had gone to 14, we would have had a real dog-fight on our hands. It’s not the glamorous part of rugby, but we had to really dig deep in the face of a potential penalty try. We defended really nicely then and I thought Andre Esterhuizen did particularly well. It would have been very difficult to have come back from conceding another try then,” Gold conceded.

While the Sharks, who play the lowly Sunwolves in Durban next weekend, are the favourites to claim the third SA qualifying berth, Gold said they really needed to up their game and produce a carbon-copy of the efficient performances they produced in New Zealand.

“We’ve been stuttering since the break and we need a properly good performance just to get our confidence going. To just win against the Sunwolves won’t be good enough, we need a clinical performance, like we had in New Zealand, and to really put them to the sword.”

Gold said the team was disregarding what the Bulls did and were focusing on their own game.

“We thought the Bulls would win, but we were focusing on this game because it was a potential banana skin. If we’d lost, everything we’d done in the last 13 weeks would have been in tatters. The fan would have been really dirty … ”

Crusaders are inspired but no miracle comeback for Cheetahs 0

Posted on June 20, 2016 by Ken

 

Riaan Smit almost nailed a touchline conversion to complete a miraculous Cheetahs comeback against the Brumbies, but that Vodacom SuperRugby qualifying playoff was dwarfed in quality and importance by the inspired performance dished up by the Crusaders in hammering the Reds.

The only team probably celebrating the Cheetahs’ loss in Canberra more than the Brumbies will be the Bulls, because it means they will now host the Australians this weekend in Pretoria, instead of facing the Crusaders, whose current form suggests it would take a miracle to beat them.

They dismantled the Reds, the 2011 champions, 38-9 in Christchurch, scoring four tries to none, with ace flyhalf Dan Carter contributing 20 points.

“We were just outclassed. The Crusaders were exceptional and I am sure they will be very hard to beat in the finals,” Reds scrumhalf Will Genia admitted.

Carter showed that he was back to his best ahead of the Rugby Championship, controlling the Crusaders game plan superbly and constantly probing the Reds defence as he took the ball to the line.

In contrast, much-hyped Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper was anonymous. Although he was impaired by the back-foot ball his forwards gave him, the fancy tricks his fans are so fond of look great but unless they’re produced on the gain-line and actually put other players into space, they are irrelevant. His critics will be able to point to what influence he actually has on the game.

An impressive start to the match saw the Crusaders take the ball through 15 phases and win an early penalty, and the display of precision led to an understandable nervousness amongst the Reds. That led to an abundance of basic errors by the visitors and then to a definite sense of panic.

An amazing exhibition of running lines and support play by the Crusaders – both forwards and backs – then exploited the holes in a retreating, disorganised defence.

The Crusaders pack was like an armoured vehicle ploughing through the Reds, such was their cohesion and the sheer ferocity they brought to the collisions and breakdowns.

The Crusaders also had the security of knowing that the Reds were really struggling to make any inroads against a steely defence that conceded just four line-breaks, allowed just four offloads and had a 92% tackling success rate.

In contrast, the Crusaders enjoyed making 15 line-breaks and 22 offloads.

If the Crusaders were an armoured vehicle, then the Cheetahs and Brumbies looked like milk delivery vans instead.

The Brumbies eventually won a messy, scrappy encounter 15-13 but the game never rose to any great heights.

The Cheetahs, playing in their first SuperRugby knockout game, seemed to freeze in a chilly Canberra and a host of errors meant they did not obtain any attacking momentum until the final quarter, by when they had left it too late.

Dropping the kickoff and then seeing star eighthman Philip van der Walt go down with a knee injury (he stayed on but was clearly hampered by it) and conceding a penalty all in the first minute made for a nervous start for the Cheetahs.

The game was there for the seizing by the Brumbies, but they were also unimpressive, wasting the possession and territorial advantage they had and only managing to score two penalties in the first half, with Christian Lealiifano missing another two shots badly.

There was one bright moment for the Cheetahs, however, with outside centre Johann Sadie crossing for a try after wing Raymond Rhule had burst through in midfield. There had been a forward pass from Willie le Roux in the build-up, but it was still a try of vision and clinical finishing.

There was little else in terms of attacking spark though from the Cheetahs. Scrumhalf Piet van Zyl was having an off-day and flyhalf Riaan Smit was not able to stamp his presence on the game either.

But then the platform given to the half-backs was not great either. The scrum was not the area of dominance for the Cheetahs it was expected to be and the apparent lack of homework done on the Brumbies scrum was disappointing.

Loosehead prop Coenie Oosthuizen was a pale shadow of the man who has buckled tightheads, carried the ball strongly and put in crunching tackles this season and there was no one in the starting line-up able to ignite the Cheetahs on the biggest day of their history as a franchise.

Until Van Zyl, having had no impact for an hour, was eventually replaced by Sarel Pretorius and no sooner had the livewire substitute scrumhalf come on than the Cheetahs suddenly roared into life.

They finally backed themselves with ball in hand and scored their second try when the inspired Pretorius threw a great pass out wide to replacement wing Rayno Benjamin, who knifed over in the corner.

Smit’s conversion attempt from the touchline to send the game into extra time looked a beauty, but it kept swinging until it passed outside the left upright by no more than a foot.

It was an agonising ending to the game for the Cheetahs, but the result was no more than they deserved after producing one of their worst performances of an otherwise wonderful season.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-07-22-superrugby-what-the-heck-happened-to-the-cheetahs/#.V2fZhvl97IU



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