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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Let’s get real about the Currie Cup 0

Posted on November 02, 2017 by Ken

 

The Currie Cup final was a real spectacle, but it is a competition that SA Rugby really needs to sort out and it doesn’t any longer have any real bearing on Springbok selection for the end-of-year tour.

The Currie Cup staggered to the playoff rounds, when there was far more interest, but the competition cannot overlap with SuperRugby, teams can’t be playing three games in a week and we can’t have the situation we had this year with the Free State Cheetahs starting with a team on fire, winning five of their first six games, but then having to go and play in the Pro14.

SA Rugby needs to get the crowds back to the Currie Cup, it is the most traditional South African tournament and every player and coach, when they set out on their career, they want to win it. The basis of South African rugby is unions, not franchises, that’s how they run it, so the Currie Cup should be SA Rugby’s main competition.

One must commend the two smaller unions, the Pumas and Griquas, for showing how much they belong in the tournament. The Pumas hammered the Blue Bulls by 50 and Griquas beat eventual champions Western Province, and both teams gave some of the other sides real frights.

The Springboks have shown good continuity in their selection – Lukhanyo Am has been recalled after being in the squad in June, Louis Schreuder was there already and Warrick Gelant has been part of the training camps. You don’t want to keep starting again with new players and you don’t want the situation where guys have to fly in and out because of the game against Wales on December 2 falling outside the international window.

Allister Coetzee has been pretty consistent in selection this year and the players have responded because it shows the coach has belief in them, after a good run in which the only team to beat them has been the All Blacks.

Ireland, they’re first up, will be the toughest game for the Springboks on their tour, because of where they are after a stellar year, but I expect South Africa to beat France, Italy and Wales. If the Springboks can win all four tour games, it would be a very good year indeed.

Against Ireland, the Springboks will need a solid lineout and a bit of size around the field, which is why I think Pieter-Steph du Toit will be chosen as a back-row forward from now on. They will need to dominate the set-pieces and have a good kicking game on those fields. The back three will need to absorb pressure and put it back on Ireland because Conor Murray kicks 70% of the time for Munster and kicking from scrumhalf, there’s always a good chase.

The Springbok team is always chosen before the Currie Cup final so that you don’t make emotional decisions, so there are no late inclusions and no outsiders suddenly selected. International rugby is really high-pressure and you need guys who have played well consistently.

Curwin Bosch showed some great moments of class in the final, especially with his kicking game – that drop goal was particularly brilliant. But he’s been in the system since he was 16, part of South African rugby’s elite programs, flagged as a major talent. But it’s obvious he has a weakness in defence, in fact it’s his only real weakness.

This will obviously have to be worked on during the end-of-year tour, but why hasn’t it been worked on already? There are no small centres in international rugby anymore and if he’s going to play in the flyhalf channel then he has no choice – he has to fix his defence or move to fullback.

Robert du Preez certainly put his hand up in the final and I am sure he will get his chance with the Springboks. He now needs a good SuperRugby season.

In the game itself, the other big defensive lapse came when Nizaam Carr picked up against the wheel of the scrum and there was very poor defence by the Sharks flank, it was their dominant scrum but he still allowed the Western Province eighthman to get around him and set up the try.

The final showed the value of a great set-piece and forward-dominance. Western Province were completely in charge from the time their front row was dominant.

The Sharks were maybe a little over-confident after their scrum demolished the Blue Bulls in the semi-finals, but hats off to Wilco Louw and JC Janse van Rensburg.

Wilco has received plenty of deserved plaudits, but hats off to JC as well, who is a real stalwart, especially at the scrummage. Many a tighthead has come off second-best against him and he is unfortunate not to have a Springbok cap, although he did go on tour with us to Great Britain in 2012.

It was a clear turning point in the game when Western Province scored a try just before halftime, with Damian Willemse having the vision to evade Kobus van Wyk’s spot-tackle. There are always risks to rushing out like the Sharks wing did, and Western Province kept the ball for a number of phases after the break by their fullback and the try left them only five behind going into the second half, when Western Province just completely pegged down the Sharks through the dominance of their pack and set-piece.

The Sharks were probably the better team in broken-field play, they have quite exciting backs, and they got a lot of mileage from the kickoffs. That’s a basic thing, but it seems most locks in the Currie Cup were not able to catch the ball! So that’s a work-on for South African teams ahead of SuperRugby.

For the Sharks, they can still approach 2018 with some confidence. They chose not to pick the experienced Chiliboy Ralepelle in their squad for the final, and they’ll have him and Beast Mtawarira back in the front row. They’ll also have some nice physicality in the backs with Robert du Preez arriving at flyhalf and Andre Esterhuizen, Lukhanyo Am, Marius Louw and Louis Schreuder around him.

 


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: Looking back at the fantastic Newlands Test 0

Posted on October 13, 2017 by Ken

 

What a fantastic game of rugby it was at Newlands, with the incredible atmosphere, the pace, intensity and physicality making it real Test match rugby.

Unfortunately the Springboks lost, but they gave a huge performance and the All Blacks will know they were lucky to win. It was so pleasing to see the Springboks go from 57-0 to losing by just a point, but they should have won.

Of course the game could have been different had Nehe Milner-Skudder’s break been finished off or Rieko Ioane had not been tackled over the goal-line by Jesse Kriel, those 14 points could have deflated the Springboks. But it was also the home side’s own mistakes that gave the All Blacks the points they needed.

Even the last-minute controversy was avoidable because it’s always a risk rushing for the charge down; you need to come at an angle so you don’t hit the kicker head-on. It’s to protect the kicker and Damian was too square-on. He did manage to put Lima Sopoaga off his drop kick, but he also would have known he was late and risked sanction, and conceded the penalty anyway. It wasn’t the best moment in Damian de Allende’s rugby life and it changed the complexion of the game because the All Blacks were then two scores clear and with just 14 men on the field, it was an uphill task for the Springboks.

The breakdown turnovers were the key and you could see the reaction of the team after Malcolm Marx and Francois Louw stole the ball. The mix of the back row Allister Coetzee chose came in for a lot of criticism but it was done for a reason.

Siya Kolisi and Francois Louw were the two breakdown players, which you need to disrupt the All Blacks’ attacking pattern, and Pieter-Steph du Toit provided physicality and bolstered the lineout.

In terms of the Springbok kicking game, they kicked a bit more than previously, although I find it strange that the crowd boos our own scrumhalf for kicking box-kicks, while the New Zealand scrumhalf is applauded for doing it. The plan was clearly to have contestable kicks to test the All Blacks back three. In the last World Cup semi-final, Milner-Skudder dropped a few high balls and was eventually moved away from the wing, so that was clearly part of the Springboks’ plan at Newlands.

You can’t just run willy-nilly from your own half, sometimes you’ve got to kick. It must either be long into the 22, which gives you time to build a chase line or force the catcher to kick out and give you a lineout; or he will kick long which gives you the chance to put the running bomb up; or it must be contestable. If you’re accurate enough then you have a 50/50 chance of winning the ball back, or you can put in a dominant tackle, get a turnover or just slow their ball down.

That did not happen in Ross Cronje’s box-kick that led to Damian McKenzie’s spectacular try, but to be fair, David Havili was allowed too much space and time to run across the field. The Springboks have struggled with guys running across their defensive line, it raises doubts as to whether the outside defender should turn in or trust the player on the inside. It’s something the Springboks have got to tighten up.

What was probably most pleasing of all – and credit must go to their conditioning for this – was that the Springboks were much stronger at the end of the game, both physically and mentally. Playing at sea level, as predicted, was also important because it makes it a level playing field.

The performance of the pack was magnificent, they were bristling on the gain-line, they won the collisions and they really gained confidence from the lineout. The Springboks went for four-man lineouts and then the short ball, which ensured they were able to win quality possession. The maul try they scored was also really pleasing.

The forwards seem to be in that special zone right now where they are full of confidence and intensity and they are really playing for each other.

We should also not underestimate Francois Louw’s calmness and experience and just his assurance, which definitely has an impact on his fellow forwards on and off the field.

Elton Jantjies’ kick at goal that he didn’t put over was also important and at international level you’ve got to convert those chances.

The main problem with the backline was that they were a little too deep and too lateral. Everyone wishes they can have a flat attack, because that’s what causes the defence the most problems, and it was better when Handre Pollard came on. Then again, there has to be quick ruck ball for the number 10 to take the ball into the jaws of the defence.

Ironically, the shorter lineouts do actually cause a problem for the backs because then there’s not much chance for them to have a one-on one. It’s good that Allister Coetzee is backing combinations because that induces trust, but he needs to be aware if, over a period of time, players aren’t really performing.

With the backs being a bit too lateral and too deep at Newlands, it allowed the All Blacks to pick off the carriers in the backline. It was interesting when Pollard came on that he played much flatter to the gain-line, which brought his forwards more into play, for example when Malcolm Marx hit the hole and set up the try for Jean-Luc du Preez.

For the end-of-year tour it will obviously be different conditions to South Africa, especially compared to on the highveld.

Both the matches against Ireland and Wales will be played in stadia with roofs, which makes a difference. Hopefully the Springboks have now found the formula that works for them.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

John McFarland Column – SuperRugby format definitely needs to change 0

Posted on March 16, 2017 by Ken

 

There has been some real conjecture and speculation about how SuperRugby is going to change in 2018, but the one thing that is clear is that it definitely needs to change – declining viewing figures and attendance at the games proves it.

While the administrators took the wrong direction when they changed the format back in 2015, the move to expand was the right decision. Promises had obviously been made to the Southern Kings and a Japanese team is vital if they are going to maintain the improvement they have shown and grow the sport in that country.

Argentina also now have a great development program and they’re no longer losing as many top players to Europe, so it’s vital they stay in as well.

The problem is I don’t think the administrators knew what they let themselves in for travel-wise. The Sunwolves are 10 hours from Australia so they should be in that conference and then they would travel a lot less.

The Southern Kings are probably going to be judged on the basis of their results, bankruptcy and as money-makers, but they did really well initially in terms of getting numbers to games. They have performed better this year, so credit must go to the coaching staff for that improvement, but they still have not really moved forward, there is still a big difference between them and the other teams.

Normally during the time of SuperRugby negotiations, there are people saying that South Africa will go play in Europe but that hasn’t happened that much this time around so we are obviously committed to SuperRugby and the three conferences.

It will be very disappointing if we lose the Cheetahs, but I expect to see a deal in our favour, especially since last time we managed to get two home semi-finals. The SA Rugby Union negotiators must stand up for what they believe in and push for what they want.

I don’t think the players are averse to travel, but being away for five weeks in Australia and New Zealand as the Bulls were in the past is a heck of a trip and that’s why it was virtually impossible for a South African team to win SuperRugby, having to play five matches overseas.

This weekend we have our first Friday night SuperRugby game when the Bulls host the Sunwolves, which is hard to believe considering the six hours of rugby we’ve had to sit through on Saturdays. People want to watch rugby when they come home on Friday evening around a barbecue, but unfortunately the TV schedules have not allowed it.

On a happier note, I was fortunate to attend the Springbok Sevens training for a couple of weeks and was able to see first-hand what good coaching, spirit and attention to detail there is in that set-up. The Blitzboks’ culture is second to none, the way they back each other, encourage one another and work in the training sessions is outstanding.

That’s their strength as well as continuity. Someone like conditioning coach Allan Temple-Jones has been there forever and does a superb job – the Springbok Sevens are the best-conditioned team on the circuit and they are reaping the benefits of that.

What is most encouraging is that people are talking about Sevens and what the Blitzboks have done, and watching the games.

They are also never scared to use specialists – Richie Gray was brought in to work on the breakdowns before the Olympics and Dawie Snyman, the former Western Province coach, is doing a lot of work on their footwork and coaching them in sidestepping. You can see that coming through in the way they are beating people, so credit to him.

Neil Powell is overseeing it all and is handling the job with great dignity, so I really hope they come through and win the series. England are the only team with the continuity to push them and will be their biggest competition.

Continuity breeds confidence in any high-performance sport.

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.

 

 

Beware the slip-up as Springboks take on Argentina 0

Posted on December 09, 2016 by Ken

 

The Springboks open their Rugby Championship campaign with a game against Argentina at the FNB Stadium on Saturday that has huge potential to be a real banana peel of a match – everyone expects South Africa to maintain their unbeaten record against the Pumas, but a slip-up and a defeat on home turf is still a definite possibility.

Duane Vermeulen, a powerful, physical eighthman, returns to the back of the scrum after a season once again disrupted by injury, while Juandre Kruger, a brilliant lineout organiser and jumper, is back in the number five jersey.

There are a couple of new faces on the bench as well – although the actual visages of scrumhalf Fourie du Preez and prop Gurthro Steenkamp are famous all over the rugby world as experienced former World Cup winners.

Vermeulen comes in for the injured Pierre Spies, the Bulls’ eighthman whose abilities are way more highly rated by the Springbok management than by those who base their opinion on televised displays.

 

“Duane can bring something different, he’s physical and unbelievably good on the ground, he’s like an extra openside flank because he competes very well for the ball. He’s good in the lineout too and I expect a good performance from him,” Meyer said on Wednesday.

Kruger, a good communicator in the lineout, returns in place of Flip van der Merwe, who moved from his normal number four position to number five to add some fire to the pack for their last Test against the combative Samoans in June.

For the time being, Meyer has decided to ease the Japan-based Du Preez into action off the bench, with Ruan Pienaar again the starting scrumhalf.

While we all wait with bated breath to see whether the talismanic 31-year-old can still dominate proceedings on the field as he did during his prime, there is no doubting Du Preez’s off-field value in guiding and motivating the Springboks.

“It would be unfair to expect and a lot to ask for Fourie to come straight in and start during his off-season, and it’s the right thing for the team for him to ease back in. He will definitely get game time and that’s a lot of experience to bring on,” Meyer said.

Meyer said Pienaar’s retention in the number nine jersey was all part of his desire for continuity.

“Ruan is the number one choice, he’s the guy in the saddle and we’ve opted for continuity.

“I don’t want to chop and change every week, we’ve won six Tests on the trot and we want to take that momentum forward. We’ve only had one week’s proper preparation for this Test, so that’s why I wanted to keep continuity. Because we’ve had very little time to prepare, continuity has been the deciding factor in selection,” Meyer said.

Because of this policy, the in-form Adriaan Strauss also retains the number two jersey ahead of the benched Bismarck du Plessis, who is considered the best hooker in the world.

The other key features of the selection are Meyer placing his faith in Willie le Roux at fullback and Bjorn Basson on the left wing, while the scavenging skills of Siya Kolisi see him earn the loose forward reserve’s spot on the bench ahead of ball-carrier and tackler Marcell Coetzee, a result of the coach’s new emphasis on the breakdown.

The defensive frailties of Basson are a concern and the awful mistake he made in the Bulls’ 22 during the SuperRugby final led to the match-winning, last-minute try by the Brumbies. JJ Engelbrecht, the outside centre for Saturday’s Test, has also shown a propensity to rush out of the defensive line, and the cut-throat intensity of international rugby means such mistakes can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

“We’ve only had one defence session during the week and it’s difficult to fix things like that in that time. But they are both great players and I have a lot of confidence in our defence, we’ve only been conceding a little more than one try per Test on average.

“Bjorn and JJ are both brilliant attackers and that means the other guys need to defend too. I want an attacking mindset, they say the best form of defence is attack, and even the best backline in the world will make mistakes now and then,” Meyer said.

Kolisi confirmed that the breakdown would be his key focus.

“I want to become more of an openside flank and I’ve been working hard on slowing down the ball and getting to the ball first. Richie Gray [the Springboks’ new breakdown consultant] really knows what he is talking about and he’s had us getting quickly off the ground.

“These days you can’t play with nobody for the breakdown, you need quick ball in order to score tries, and we’re looking forward to getting better in that department.

“It’s my first game in the Rugby Championship, so it’s huge for me. I don’t feel entrenched in the squad because there are a lot of good loose forwards, and I must perform well every week to stay part of the 23,” Kolisi said.

Meyer said pace to the breakdowns would be crucial against Argentina because they employ similar tactics to the All Blacks.

“Argentina give you the outside gaps and then counter-ruck you, like the All Blacks do. So cleaning out at the rucks is very important,” Meyer said.

Meyer will hope for the same precision and attention to detail in all facets of the game if the Springboks are to avoid turning the celebrations of Nelson Mandela’s birthday into a sorry start to the Rugby Championship.

Team: 15-Willie le Roux, 14-Bryan Habana, 13-JJ Engelbrecht, 12-Jean de Villiers, 11-Bjorn Basson, 10-Morne Steyn, 9-Ruan Pienaar, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Willem Alberts, 6-Francois Louw, 5-Juandre Kruger, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Adriaan Strauss, 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: 16-Bismarck du Plessis, 17-Gurthro Steenkamp, 18-Coenie Oosthuizen, 19-Flip van der Merwe, 20-Siya Kolisi, 21-Fourie du Preez, 22-Pat Lambie, 23-Jan Serfontein.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-08-15-rugby-championship-boks-lineup-will-have-its-hands-full-against-argentina/#.WFPh-rJ97IU



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