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Ken Borland



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.

 

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.

The John McFarland Column: Disappointing Springboks certainly need a win 0

Posted on November 17, 2016 by Ken

 

It was a really disappointing Springbok performance against England last weekend and there’s no doubt about it, coach Allister Coetzee certainly needs a win on Saturday against Italy.

Playing Italy now is probably the right Test for the Springboks, but I think they will take even a three-point win!

It will be interesting to see which players really stand up to be counted but Allister has not really taken responsibility for the results – he’s the guy in charge, it’s his team, his game and his system and obviously it’s not going well.

In the first half at Twickenham, the Springboks were in the game for the first 30 minutes until JP Pietersen dropped the ball, that turnover on the high ball was quickly moved wide, then kicked and a few lucky bounces later, Courtney Lawes scored the try that took the wind out of the Springboks’ sails.

And they then gave away a soft penalty just before halftime at the breakdown and it was always going to be difficult with that side to play catch-up rugby.

The Springboks are on their third defensive coach in a year – JP Ferreira – and there were some things that were very different in the structure of the defence. Individually there was some really good contact made, but at times they did not set the breakdown and England scrumhalf Ben Youngs was able to go through the gaps easily. The Boks’ pillar defence stood wide and took dummies because their spacing was not right, and their communication of roles and responsibilities was obviously wrong too.

To concede two tries through the pillar area is really soft at international level, but we have to give JP Ferreira time. He’s only been in the job for one month, he’s still dealing with the legacy of Chean Roux’s system and he needs time and our backing.

Apart from the defence – they were also slow to get off the line – the most disappointing aspect of the Springboks’ play was the number of handling errors – nearly 20. Those soft moments, added to kicking penalties over the goal-line or halfway drop-outs going too far, put the whole side under pressure and they are fundamental errors.

The Springboks also gave Billy Vunipola a free ride, he was always getting over the advantage line with ease and gave his backs wonderful front-foot ball. He should have had a target on his back, the Springbok forwards should have kept him quiet but instead he got over the advantage line far too easily. (The last time the Springboks played against Vunipola, he was subbed after 40 minutes having made some cardinal errors).

At the end of the day, after 50 minutes the game was effectively over, although the Springbok bench did quite well and scored two well-worked tries.

The set-piece and the lineout were also areas that went well for the Springboks, but you’d expect that with the size and height of the guys Allister Coetzee chose. The Springboks did not contest the England lineout because they gave them number two ball so that they could have numbers on their feet and be stronger in the vacuum.

So England threw a lot where Beast and Adriaan Strauss were standing, they would set the lineout very quickly or they played tempo with balls to the back. England wanted to keep the ball in play, they didn’t want lineouts or high balls from the Springboks. There were a lot of aerial balls because they did not want the ball to go out.

The Springboks need to fix those system errors in defence and maybe freshen the team up against Italy, it’s certainly a Test where you can give one or two players a chance. But you can’t totally change the side because a Test team needs to develop into a rhythm.

Maybe Johan Goosen should come in at flyhalf and Jamba Ulengo could play on the wing, perhaps Rohan Janse van Rensburg will get a shout at centre. I would think about trying someone like Oupa Mohoje as the openside flank or Nizaam Carr, who made his debut two years ago in the number six jersey against Italy. Plus one of the two young hookers in the squad needs more game time.

But how many starting players and experienced guys are the Springboks missing? Bryan Habana, Jesse Kriel, Jan Serfontein, Handre Pollard, Juan de Jongh, Francois Hougaard, Frans Malherbe, Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen would all make a heck of a lot of difference as very experienced, battle-hardened Test players.

The Springboks should and could get good victories in their last two games – Wales are also under pressure after playing so badly against Australia – and that would end the season well. Allister can then start afresh next year when all his players are back.

Test rugby is a very harsh arena in terms of the scrutiny you are under, there’s no hiding place for anybody. The one thing the Springboks did do well was that they kept working, kept trying and kept hitting their opposition, they never gave up.

The Springboks still have plenty to play for and if they can win their last two matches then they will have won two of their three Tests on tour which would be acceptable. Nobody will be more disappointed with the game against England than the Springbok coaching staff, management and players as a group, and they will not want to let the country down again.

 

 

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.

 

 

We are a nation prone to hysteria 0

Posted on January 09, 2016 by Ken

 

The last couple of weeks in social media have shown that we really are a nation prone to hysteria and thoroughly unreasonable presumptions. And I’m not referring to Penny Sparrow or Velaphi Khumalo, both of whose outrageous comments have been met with the storm of disgust they deserve.

Instead, it is the treatment of the South African cricket team, and especially players like Hashim Amla and Temba Bavuma, that has irritated me immensely.

We have a tendency in this country to criticise and call for this person or that person to “Fall”, never considering context, whether there is someone capable of replacing the subject of our derision, or the many great things the person may have done in the recent past.

South African cricket fans can count themselves blessed beyond measure that they have a person like Hashim Amla representing them: a truly great batsman respected worldwide and a person of tremendous fortitude, integrity and decency, a colossal figure in uniting the dressingroom.

But a bad year, capped by a poor performance in Durban in the Boxing Day Test, and Amla was being crucified, so-called Proteas supporters spewing vitriol at one of this country’s finest men. I was not surprised when he decided to relinquish the captaincy; having taken it on reluctantly, doing it out of a noble sense of duty, the hysteric reaction to his mistakes and the struggles of the team would have hurt and almost certainly contributed to his feeling that someone else could do the job better.

I can remember when Graeme Smith – South Africa’s most successful Test leader – started the captaincy: He made mistakes too, but he was given time to grow into the position and learn from those errors. Of course, Smith fitted the public perception that a captain should be square-jawed and vocal, leading from the front; but some great leaders lead by example and are more cerebral, in the mould of Mike Brearley, who turned England cricket around.

AB de Villiers can certainly do the job, but does he have the desire to play in every Test (as the captain must) for the next five years, plus handle the onerous off-field duties of the skipper, having already complained about his workload?

Amla revealed his feeling in his post-match press conference that he was doubted due to his skin colour and despite his domestic figures suggesting he was eminently qualified for the step up. The treatment of Bavuma these last couple of weeks shows that Amla has a point and that old prejudices still run deep.

Bavuma is but at the start of his international career and yet was written off by many critics, few of whom have paid any attention to domestic cricket, where the 25-year-old has consistently been amongst the leading run-scorers in the Sunfoil Series. Bavuma had batted seven times in Tests before his breakthrough, superb century at Newlands, scoring one half-century but showing enough mental grit and adaptability, especially in India, to suggest he could prosper.

Jacques Kallis took eight innings to get past 50 for the first time and made his first century in his 10th knock.

I have the unmistakeable feeling, as one person suggested on social media, that being a player of colour in the national team brings with it an automatic tainting, an attitude that quotas have earned them the place, that they are mediocre until they prove otherwise several times.

Apart from the continued and inexplicable absence of Stephen Cook as a specialist opener, the current players in the South African squad are the best available in the country. The domestic figures show that and perhaps the critics should study the game at all levels and ditch the prejudices of the past.

In the meantime, we should all savour the magnificent comeback by the Proteas in Cape Town, a sure sign that the spirit and fight remains and the leadership within the squad is still sound.

 

 



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