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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Tremendous effort by the Springboks 0

Posted on June 29, 2017 by Ken

 

For Springbok captain Warren Whiteley to be ruled out on the morning of the third Test against France would definitely have been quite upsetting for the guys, because it is difficult to lose your captain and leader when they thought that he would play.

So to score those tries and get the points they did at Ellis Park last weekend was a tremendous effort by the Springboks and Allister Coetzee will be really pleased with the defence and work-rate of his team.

There are many ways to score tries in rugby and it was great to see some inventiveness from the Springboks, for example when Jan Serfontein jumped at the front of the lineout and then sent the ball down to Eben Etzebeth, for them to maul the space defended by the scrumhalf, which is so difficult to defend. So credit to the coaching staff for the ideas they came up with.

The first try, by Jesse Kriel, just shows how hard the Springboks were working off the ball, which was one of the most impressive aspects of their performance, it shows the culture of the team. The kick-chase induced an error from the French back three, there was a wild pass and it was pounced on, giving Kriel an easy run-in for what we call a “culture try”.

You can see that the players are in such a good space and it is evident that they enjoy each other’s company. The players have all been so positive about their experiences with the Springboks this year and you can see their happiness by the way they celebrate their tries, for example the Rudy Paige effort off the back of a well-worked lineout drive.

So you have to credit Allister Coetzee and all the coaching staff for how far they have come and how they have turned things around. Warren and Allister and the assistant coaches deserve credit for the culture they’re building.

The country also got behind them and there was a steady increase in the crowd until there were 55 000 people at Ellis Park, which was great.

The Springboks ticked so many boxes in the series against France and they should be full of confidence now for the Rugby Championship. If one compares them with the way Australia and Argentina have performed, then the Springboks are definitely in with a real shout in the Rugby Championship.

The Springboks will have had even more time together before they play Argentina home and away, and they should enjoy the continuity of two-and-a-half months together in one block, which is a major positive.

The big thing for the Springboks will be the three away games in the middle of the tournament, which are always hard. But if they can get two wins on the road, then they’ll definitely be in with a shout. The Lions won all their games on tour and the Sharks won a match as well, while all our SuperRugby teams have done well in Argentina, so that’s encouraging.

The real ones to win though are the New Zealand Tests and I just hope the tournament is not over by the final game as it normally is because the draw usually really suits New Zealand. Let’s hope it all comes down to the Test in Cape Town between the Springboks and All Blacks on October 7.

Some combinations really put their hands up, such as the two locks, with Franco Mostert really announcing himself as a player at this upper level. The quality of his work-rate, tackling and cleaning out was phenomenal and he would certainly have been one of the contenders for man of the series.

As was Jan Serfontein. We’ve always known his ability but he has had a fair amount of injuries over the last few years. He’s such a quiet, down-to-earth guy, but against a player like Gael Fickou, who is a real big unit, Jan put in some massive tackles.

The balance of the back row was also very good and Siya Kolisi had the best three Tests he has managed to string together in his career. He was world-class and not just at the things we know he can do – he always carries well and we know he can stop momentum, but his work on the floor and his effort and skill to get up for that intercept in Durban were exceptional.

Malcolm Marx also really announced himself, he was outstanding in all three games, a beast with ball in hand and his basics were so good too.

Although it was a real advantage for the Springboks to play at altitude, those were three quality wins. France did not really click in the last Test, they obviously had the mindset to try and out-play the Springboks, but the home side’s defence was really, really good. One can say that the French were at the end of a long season, but they were well-beaten in each Test.

To average more than 36 points per game takes some doing at Test level and they scored tries through their defence, set play and kicking game, which was great to see.

The Springboks will be a little riled, however, that the lineout was not at its best at Ellis Park, but again, the late change due to the withdrawal of Whiteley left them with less jumping options. But the lineout did really well in the first two Tests.

Allister could have picked some of the old guard, but he was very consistent in his selection and backed the guys in South Africa, the players who had been at the camp in Plettenberg Bay, and his systems. He also backed key members of his team. For instance, Lionel Mapoe was very good in Durban, but he then rewarded Jesse Kriel for his very good display in the first Test.

Continuity and consistency in selection builds confidence amongst the players.

It was good that he was able to give Ruan Dreyer a start and some experience at international level, and what a reward he got at his first scrum! Those are the little battles that are great for a pack of forwards, like being able to control the ball at the back of a scrum and then scoring.

I still have not heard anyone from SA Rugby congratulate the players or coaching staff on a job well done, which amazes me! Why has nobody publicly congratulated them on the way they played and the manner in which they brought the public back and reinstored belief in the Springbok brand?

France have a lot of work to do, they definitely have talented players, but they need to look at their game plan and conditioning, which was not up to the level required at Test level. But it’s a very long season in France, they basically play from August to June, so they need to look at their structure and contracting of players.

The British and Irish Lions game against the All Blacks was quite a Test and at one stage the Lions had made it quite a tight battle. They had their chances, but against New Zealand you must finish, especially in Auckland.

The Lions’ try from a counter-attack was absolutely brilliant – the run from the back by Liam Williams and the way it was finished, it was one of the great British Lions tries.

But they will be seething that they conceded a very soft try from a quick tap, to allow such a compressed defensive line meant they did not have time to get any width and it was very dozy. In the biggest Test of their careers, there’s no way they can blame fatigue.

The All Blacks were deadly again off turnover and open-field ball and Rieko Ioane produced two special finishes, showing sheer speed.

The Lions also need a bit more to their play than Conor Murray box-kicking, even though that’s probably their advantage over the All Blacks. They got quite good returns from the tactic at the start, with Ben Smith dropping a few, but they did not take all their chances. New Zealand will score an average of three or four tries per game, so you must score tries to beat them.

The highlight of the first Test was the way the All Blacks played against the Lions’ rush-defence: they used the blind side a lot and played close to the ruck off Aaron Smith. They still scored four tries despite all the disruptions to their backline.

Smith also never telegraphed which side he was going to pass to, which most scrumhalves indicate by their body language or the way they stand, and he was constantly testing pillars one to three around the ruck. Because it was never clear which side he was going to play, it was very difficult for the defence to get set. So the All Blacks were constantly getting momentum and tiring out the Lions forwards, which is why they were so passive in the set-pieces.

There has been a lot of talk about Jerome Kaino preying on Murray’s non-kicking foot and it was a tactic that originated with Glasgow Warriors in the Pro12 League. Teams generally put up a wall on the right side of the maul or ruck in order to protect the kick, but the blindside was not guarded and that would also have been Murray’s blind spot.

Steve Hansen and the New Zealand media have vociferously condemned Warren Gatland’s claims of deliberate dangerous play, but there’s no doubt they wanted to make sure Conor Murray always felt the heat. If they touch him after he has kicked then it’s unfair, you are not allowed to play the kicker after the ball has gone. The All Blacks are not always whiter than white!

I hope the second Test is as good though. The Lions need a more athletic pack, with Maro Itoje at lock, and they should stick with Ben Te’o for longer in midfield, he played well. It will be exciting if the Lions can get the win and set up a series finale back in Auckland, but unfortunately I don’t really see it happening.

For South African rugby, it’s back to SuperRugby now and I hope the country will get behind our most realistic winners – the Lions. After the Test series, they are all full of confidence and they have a wonderful run-in to the final games.

I managed to bump into Rudolf Straeuli while I was in South Africa and he confirmed that he is very much looking forward to hosting the New Zealand teams at 3pm in the afternoon!

 

 


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.

 

The John McFarland Column: A special win for the Springboks 0

Posted on June 13, 2017 by Ken

 

It was really a quite special win for the Springboks over France at Loftus Versfeld last weekend, against a side that definitely turned up, were hard to break down and were the best French side available on that Saturday.

The match was brutal on the gain-line, there were double-hits, they smashed the Springboks and the Springboks smashed them, so it was a great Test for the home side to come through, especially with five debutants in the 23-man squad. It’s a great start to their 2017 season.

The match was in the balance at 16-14 and then came the penalty try. Given how quickly the officials made up their minds, it must have been a clearcut decision.

The Springbok attack was definitely based around getting to the middle of the field and there were a lot of tip-on passes from the forward pods, which creates indecision in the defence, one-on-one tackles and lightning-quick ball. It’s quite an effective tactic against a rush defence.

From middle rucks, sometimes the outside back-row forward would come hard off the scrumhalf, who would either play him or go behind his back to Elton Jantjies, which makes the defence sit a bit and creates space.

There was a lot of quality passing from the Springboks, which was not in evidence last year, and there was definitely more attacking understanding and ball-in-hand play.

It was great that Jantjies looked so composed, and he and Ross Cronje, who gave very slick service and was a threat around the edges, directed play well; they always had a couple of options and it created indecision in the French defence. Because Elton is the only specialist flyhalf in the squad, he’s not looking over his shoulder and he feels he has Allister Coetzee’s total backing, he can run the show. It’s the sort of thing a key decision-maker wants.

Andries Coetzee, in his first Test, showed real pace, especially in the outside channels, he showed one or two lovely touches and was willing to run the ball back from deep, he really had a go.

The ball-carries of Malcolm Marx were exceptional and the Springboks made a lot of blindside probes, guys like Marx running a hard line close to the ruck, and he bounced off defenders at will, also creating more space. When was the last time we saw such a physically dominant performance by a South African hooker?

The scrum was very compact, it looked in good shape and form and was used as a good platform. The Springboks had two very experienced props, plus with their locks and loose forwards, there was no shortage of beef behind them.

The lineout also functioned really well, Eben Etzebeth was really good, and the Springboks won most of their pressure throws. There were not many easy balls at number two in the lineout, and it’s very difficult to attack from the front of the lineout. So they were very adventurous with their lineout tactics and Marx’s throwing was spot-on.

It was also a superbly-executed try off a throw to the back, a move which was very difficult to defend against. It’s very special to score those sort of tries at Test level, so credit to the coaches, it takes some doing.

In terms of the kicking game, South Africa cleared their lines very well and were never under pressure from kickoffs, it was just one hit up and then back to Jantjies, who kicked it to halfway. In the middle areas of the field, they would drive to suck in forwards and then Cronje would kick, and there was excellent execution of that too.

It was also a very much improved defensive display from the Springboks, credit to Brendan Venter for the best defensive performance by a South African team this year. There was brutality on the gain-line, great field-coverage and, at the end of the game, their willingness to put their bodies on the line and keep the French out was tremendous.

The defence looked organised and in the French faces for the whole game, and it will only get better as the players settle into the system. What was most impressive was how disciplined they were, so France only had one penalty shot at goal.

A small area of improvement that is needed was that they became a little compressed from wide rucks and were caught a little short on numbers in the outside channels. They came off the line quite hard and if France were able to get the ball behind their first line of attackers then they did find space.

The Springboks also closed very early at fullback, Coetzee came very early into the line, which means you then rely a lot on the scrumhalf for cover. Everyone does it these days, but sometimes perhaps the fullback should not be so quick to come up.

But it was a good start for the first Test and you can see the team is much more bonded, the leadership has set the right tone. Warren Whiteley is so selfless and empathetic, as alluded to in this column when he got the Springbok captain’s job, so he is in tune with his team.

France will obviously be a different animal in Durban, especially because they have just been physically dominated. But the whole Springbok side worked so hard, to keep a Test side pointless in the last 25 minutes at altitude is an amazing effort and it speaks to South Africa having a really strong bench.

It was a really positive start and we hope for more over the next two weeks.

And good luck too to the South African U20s for their Junior World Cup semi-final. It’s going to be a really big challenge against the England U20s, but I hope they can come through.

 

The Lions & the Springboks are totally different environments 0

Posted on August 15, 2016 by Ken

 

So it didn’t quite end in jubilation, but the Lions’ SuperRugby campaign still brought enormous pride and good feeling over their rags-to-riches story, and the public will carry many of those emotions into the Rugby Championship that starts next weekend.

But it is vital to realise that the Springboks and the Test arena are entirely different environments to the Lions and SuperRugby, and comments calling for the whole of Johan Ackermann’s team to be promoted to the national side or for coach Allister Coetzee to simply copy the game plan are ill-informed, ill-judged and have the potential to be divisive.

The health of any rugby team has a lot to do with its unity of purpose and their togetherness as people, and one could sense some frustration this week when the Springbok management and some of the players were constantly asked questions that referred back to the Lions.

Hopefully Lions captain Warren Whiteley, whose hard work on the field and wise words off it are nothing short of inspirational, put that all to bed this week when he highlighted in no uncertain terms that the Springboks are different.

“There’s no debate about using the same playing style, these are two different sides and we are not talking about unions any more. You’re talking about a team at provincial level against a national side. Sure, we as Lions players can bring confidence to the Springboks and there are similarities in the way we are trying to play. But there’s a step up when you come to the Springboks and the intensity and speed with which we’ve been training is at another level to the Lions,” Whiteley said this week.

Last weekend’s column bemoaned the parlous state of the Currie Cup, South Africa’s flagship rugby competition, but the performance of the Lions is one of the reasons for optimism when it comes to South African rugby.

Amidst the ritz and glitz of the Olympics there was another reason for cheer, even if the Blitzbokke flattered to deceive and had to settle for a bronze medal (still a notable achievement and more than New Zealand or Australia could manage). I’m talking about Rasta Rashivenge being given the honour of refereeing the Sevens final, an appointment that continues a long line of excellence when it comes to South African officials.

They receive way more criticism than plaudits simply because of human nature, but our referees and the high standards they maintain is one of the best stories in South African rugby.

Some of the media were privileged this week to be able to sit down with leading referee Jaco Peyper for an information session just to help us scribes better understand why certain decisions are made on the field and how the officials are interpreting the details of the laws these days.

Peyper said a referee makes about 400 decisions in every game and there will always be little mistakes, but the important thing is to ensure these do not have a major impact on the game.

He also said it is important to note that the key focus areas that referees are blowing these days have been decided in consultation with the coaches and other stakeholders, notably medical staff. They have had their say on what the shape of the game should look like and how to make it safer, and the referee’s job is to facilitate that.

Interestingly, there are some well-known phrases in our rugby lexicon, like “downward pressure”, “the direction of the hands when passing” and “bringing the catcher of the ball down safely” that don’t appear anywhere in the laws of the game.

This has led to some confusion amongst the public when watching games and the referees and TMOs don’t take any of those polluting myths into account, most often leading to filthy language in the lounge. For a clear and thorough view of the laws, including the opportunity to discuss issues with leading referees, I would recommend going to http://www.sareferees.com/

 

 

Pieter-Steph du Toit & Warren Whiteley Q&As 0

Posted on June 21, 2016 by Ken

 

Pieter-Steph du Toit

 

Q: How did it feel for the Springboks to be booed off the field at halftime?

PSdT: Well the first half was quite a shocker and being booed, well we fully deserved it. But we were 100% better in the second half and we showed what we can do. It’s difficult to describe the feeling when you get booed like that, but it made me a bit angry, I wanted to show that we are not that bad. If you play good rugby, then the crowd gets behind you.

 

Q: What went wrong in the first half?

PSdT: Us players were all on the field, but we just weren’t playing, we had no energy, we all just seemed a bit tired. I do not know why that happened in the first half, I have no explanation at the moment, except that our game plan was to work around the corner and we didn’t do that as the forwards.

 

Q: How did the Springboks manage to pull off such an amazing comeback?

PSdT: Eben Etzebeth and I spoke about it and we never doubted that we could win, and if you believe it then you can do it. There was a mindshift – we knew we had to win, so we had to lift our game to a different level and the changes helped too, a guy like Ruan Combrinck was man of the match after playing just 40 minutes, so that’s quite an effort. We stuck to the game plan more, the forwards came into the game and we cut out the mistakes. We made a lot of errors in the first half, we didn’t keep the ball, and Allister Coetzee and Adriaan Strauss spoke to us about that and said if this was our last Test for South Africa, how would we play? Of course they were upset.

 

 

Warren Whiteley

 

Q: How satisfying was that second-half comeback and how did you pull it off?

WW: We’re delighted with the win and the character we showed. We definitely felt the momentum swing early in the second half and that gave us a chance. We got quick ball and we were hitting the advantage line and so creating space out wide. We managed to keep that width, make holes in the middle and earn the right to go wide. It means a lot because we were extremely disappointed after the first half, but we showed our character in the second half, which is definitely going to be a massive confidence boost.

 

Q: Did you feel extra pressure coming on straight after halftime in front of your home crowd with the Springboks in a hole, and do you think you’ve secured a starting place now?

WW: Every time I step on to the field it’s a privilege and I try to make sure I use every opportunity. I didn’t feel any extra pressure, but I was highly motivated to make a difference. No, I don’t think I can talk about starting places because there are a lot of very talented loose forwards in the squad – Jaco Kriel hasn’t even played a game yet and there’s a guy like Sikhumbuzo Notshe also waiting in the wings.

 

Q: There’s been plenty of talk already about the win being down to all the members of the Lions team you captain who were on the field in the second half … is that why the Springboks won the game?

WW: There’s no way it was the Lions team who won the game, collectively we worked together on the game plan and the style of rugby we wanted to play. The first week together was tough, we did lots of work but lost, and this week was tough too. But slowly and surely we’re getting into our rhythm, we’re still reading and learning about each other. This was only my fifth Test, I’ve never had to link with Damian de Allende before, I’ve never scrummed behind Pieter-Steph du Toit before, so I’m still learning how to play with them.

 



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