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Ken Borland

The John McFarland Column: SA’s SuperRugby downgrade hard to understand 0

Posted on April 12, 2017 by Ken


Sanzaar obviously had to make changes to SuperRugby because the crowds were not reflecting the status of the competition, but I struggle to understand why South Africa have to give up two teams.

Our previous wins at the Sanzaar negotiating table have been because we could always use the threat of going to Europe and our TV figures to get our own way.

So why do New Zealand keep five franchises and South Africa have just four, but we’re a much bigger nation! I know the argument based on the performance of the teams, but in 2013 we had four teams in the top eight and in 2012 three sides in the top six. So we have had the strength, and the Bulls were a dominant force in SuperRugby from 2005-2010, which is not so long ago!

So I struggle to comprehend how a team like the Cheetahs, who are such a strong rugby region, can be facing the axe. Everyone understands that the Kings will have to go due to their financial woes and because they are propped up by Saru, but it will be very disappointing to lose the Cheetahs after they have been in SuperRugby for so long. And the Free State and Griqualand West region has provided a heck of a lot of players who have gone on to greater things.

What really concerns me is that the Springboks will miss out on an extra 30 players to choose from, while New Zealand will have a pool of 150 SuperRugby players, a 20% bigger selection pool.

And it’s easy to say we will retain more players because we will now have more money, but as Faf de Klerk’s offer from Sale shows, guys can still earn more than triple what they’ll get in South Africa by going overseas. I believe we’ll actually retain fewer players because there will be less opportunity with only four franchises. Our coaching ranks will also be diminished with less opportunity for them too.

The funny thing is, a year ago Sanzaar said everything was fine and a big fuss was made about how the new format would mean much less travel for South African sides – a maximum of two flights overseas.

The tournament did need expansion and Argentina have now been able to keep their best players, they haven’t gone to Europe, because there’s a clear pathway for them to develop and express themselves at the highest level. We’ve seen that with the Sunwolves too.

People say it’s not our job to develop rugby in South America and Asia, but that’s shortsighted. Rugby has to be a global game, if it just stayed within the Commonwealth and Argentina, it would die.

Exposing a team from Japan to higher levels of rugby has certainly brought an improvement to their play. There were 22 000 people at the Bulls game in Tokyo and the excitement was incredible, especially considering that the last game in Tokyo saw the Sunwolves lose 83-17 to the Hurricanes!

But there was a great atmosphere and huge interest in the Bulls game, but more on that shock result later on.

In my view, the SuperRugby format should be a 16-team competition – so five New Zealand and South African franchises, four from Australia and the Sunwolves and Jaguares – with everyone playing everyone else once. You would have two three-week tours as part of that.

Six teams would then progress to the playoffs, with the top two sides initially having a bye straight into their home semis against the winners of the quarterfinals, which would be third versus sixth and fourth against fifth.

This weekend I am really looking forward to the match between the Lions and the Stormers, which should be a high-tempo, all out attacking game, but the side that defends best will win it. For the main Easter weekend game to be between the two conference leaders is going to provide a great spectacle.

The quality and skill level of the Stormers last weekend against the Chiefs shows that they have reached a new dimension and you have to credit Robbie Fleck and his staff, and the players, for their willingness to play like that. It’s really high-risk, high-reward rugby and, believe me, it has to be coached!

What was especially pleasing was the way they really matched a New Zealand team at the back end of the game, when it’s normally been a huge struggle for South African teams.

The Sharks also had a good win, even though they are not scoring a lot of tries. They are playing off the other side’s mistakes, like their spectacular intercept try against the Jaguares.

They hung on in there against the Argentinians and it was an important win for their conference, although they will be a bit disappointed they gave the Jaguares a point. But it’s good that they were able to grind it out, hopefully they can get on a roll and get their confidence going.

The humidity in Durban made the ball very slippery and there were similar conditions for the Bulls in Tokyo, a match I was fortunate enough to attend. It was very wet and the Sunwolves managed the conditions better. The Bulls are not far off but they were simply not good enough last weekend.

They took time to get into their stride, they struggled to get control of the game. But then they had control when they were nine points ahead, they were in the pound seats, but the yellow card obviously had a huge influence.

After that the Sunwolves took a scrum with 10 minutes to go and scored the matchwinning try. The lesson for the Bulls is that when a backline player like Jan Serfontein gets a yellow card, then you must replace him. It’s better to have a full backline because you need that speed on defence. It was standard procedure when I was with the Springboks that if a backline player got a yellow card late in the game then we would take a forward off and replace him. Otherwise you’re defending with six versus seven, which is why the Sunwolves were able to break out so easily.

The Sunwolves were also able to keep the ball in play and did a good job of nullifying the Bulls’ lineout maul threat by standing off. That meant the Bulls had to mostly play from static ball. The home side were also very good with their kicks and chips, while the Bulls could have done much better with their chips, especially the one from their own 22 that led to a try.

The Bulls will be really hurting, but they now have a lot of games at home. No other team in the competition has had such a tough start away from home, and the Bulls will now hope they can get some form and a winning run at Loftus Versfeld.

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.

Good things have happened recently as well … 0

Posted on December 19, 2015 by Ken


Some awful things have happened in South Africa over the last 10 days, reflecting themselves in a depressing pall of negativity over a land that seems to have forgotten the miracle of the Rainbow Nation. Even us sports writers, fortunate as we are to pursue a career in something we love, are affected by the politics of the day.

Of course the results of our sporting heroes – and let’s be honest it’s been a poor year for South Africa – do affect us as well, although I always try to remember that it’s only a game. It’s far more important what sport can achieve in terms of bringing people together and changing lives.

So I’m delighted to report some good news in these tough times, a few encouraging things that have happened.

It is not easy to achieve complete transformation and equality because change is usually met with resistance and there is centuries of injustice to correct. It is difficult to come up with the right answers when one is trying to ensure representivity but also endeavouring to maintain standards and also do the right thing by the people you are trying to uplift.

It was most encouraging then to see our Springbok Sevens team triumph in the Cape Town stage of the World Series and do it with a fully transformed side. Following the blows to rugby’s transformation record at the 15-man World Cup, it was a timely reminder that there is plenty of black talent out there, it just needs to be nurtured.

Cricket had its own transformation scandal during their World Cup earlier in the year but it still seemed a low blow when Mark Nicholas, a former English county cricketer now commentating on Australian TV, suggested that South Africa will be the next international team to be “severely threatened” by the same disintegration that has afflicted West Indian cricket.

The financial situation outside of the Big Three is obviously a concern for Cricket South Africa, although it is ironic that the plummeting of the rand probably helps them (due to the sale of television rights in dollars) while it spells grave danger for rugby. But CEO Haroon Lorgat, a qualified chartered accountant, is a forward-thinking man and the organisation is running in a much leaner, efficient fashion than before.

Whatever White South Africans might think, the future of this country’s sport is Black – it’s simple economics and obvious when one considers the population.

The RamSlam T20 Challenge final at Centurion was a top-class evening, boasting great cricket, a sell-out crowd – one of the best I’ve seen for a domestic match since the days of isolation – and even the hero of the game was a Black player – Mangaliso Mosehle.

For me, the final offered a glimpse of what the future of South African cricket could be – and it took a lot of effort on the part of Cricket South Africa, the Titans and their marketing partners.

A thoroughly New South Africa crowd was entertained by Black Coffee and Euphonik; whereas Steve Hofmeyr would have been favoured by previous administrations.

I can only presume that Nicholas has been spending too much time with some of the expats in Australia who are notorious for broadcasting their opinion that everything is a nightmare in South Africa.

The day after the final, I spent the morning at Killarney Country Club where their Mandela Day fundraising is being put to good use coaching traumatised children in golf and tennis as part of their therapy. The sheer joy of the children and how apparent it was that they loved what they are doing, once again showed how much opportunity there is for sports bodies to tap into the raw talent that is there and hungry to be found.

The RamSlam T20 Challenge final,the Springbok Sevens’ success and the kids at Killarney Country Club showed what can be built when there is a will to be inclusive and a desire to spread the game and utilise the talent present in all communities.




Mapungubwe National Park 0

Posted on June 16, 2015 by Ken

2015-01-25 18.49.22

Maloutswa Pan in the late afternoon light, as seen from the hide

Mapungubwe National Park is renowned for its hostile rocky terrain and hardy baobabs, but at 6.25pm on January 25, the sun is setting and casting its rays over a tropical wetland, reflecting off the water and illuminating the drowned Fever Trees in a magical light.

Through this idyllic setting, two small waterfowl come cruising towards the Maloutswa Pan Hide, easing their way through the vegetation on the water’s surface.

Soon the distinctive small white faces, chestnut breasts and dark green upperparts of the Pygmy Goose became clear – a Lifer and just as I had imagined seeing the most beautiful and exotic of our ducks, and a rather scarce tropical visitor at that.

The illustrations of them in the bird guides have always enthralled me with their beautiful colours, and in real life the Pygmy Goose is even cuter with their bright yellow beaks, drifting serenely through the water lilies.

Maloutswa Pan is a superb spot for birding and typical birds seen are Giant and Pied kingfishers, Threebanded Plover, African Pied Wagtail, Blackwinged Stilt, Diederik Cuckoo, Swainson’s Francolin, Whitefaced Duck, Redbilled Buffalo Weaver, Greenbacked Heron, Egyptian Goose, Wood Sandpiper, African Jacana, Sacred Ibis and Blacksmith Plover.

Numerous other species come and go and on this occasion, a Lanner Falcon was flying along the pan and Abdim’s Stork also flew past, while African Mourning Dove were in one of the dead trees. A male was approaching a female all bowing and cooing and currowling … only for the female to simply fly off! Ah, the perils of courtship.

A large herd of Elephant were making their daily late-afternoon trek from Maloutswa towards the Limpopo River, while a Greybacked Camaroptera was chirping away in an Umbrella Thorn at the hide. The Hadeda Ibis which had loudly announced my arrival had begun to settle down.

Mapungubwe NP is divided into eastern and western sections and Maloutswa is in the western portion, on the Limpopo River floodplain. There is another interesting body of water in the eastern section, a little dam close to the park’s main entrance, and there, along with a Common Sandpiper, was a Common Moorhen.

At first I thought it was a family of Common Moorhen because there were smaller ones with it … Closer inspection, however, revealed a mostly yellow bill, rather than red, and I had a second Lifer, the Lesser Moorhen! Again, it was a fantastic sighting, with the Common Moorhen alongside for comparison.

The brilliant waterbirding in this otherwise dry, hostile environment doesn’t stop there. Between the western and eastern portions of the park lie the Den Staat Wetlands, situated on a private farm but apparently now open to people staying in the park.

The large retention dams with varying levels of water are packed with birds and my late afternoon visit provided African Spoonbill, Ruff, Marsh Sandpiper, African Darter and Fulvous Duck on the water, while the rank vegetation around the dams had Yellowcrowned Bishop just chizzling away, Bluecheeked Bee-Eater, a prowling Burchell’s Coucal, Blackshouldered Kite and Steppe Buzzard.

My visit to Mapungubwe coincided with the place going to seed. But in a good way as the grass had grown to over a metre high in some places, higher than the 4×4’s bonnet and laden with seed.

It soon became apparent that there were quails in there but, as they would fly out for one or two seconds and then disappear into the grass again, identifying them was a near-impossible task. Even in short grass, I would mark the spot where one landed, walk there and find nothing! My best guess, based on the white spots on dark brown I saw when I had a brief glance, was Harlequin Quail.

The frustration of the quails notwithstanding, driving through the Acacia woodland with its lush understorey was extremely rewarding. Wattled Starling were busy and conspicuous, as a Kori Bustard marched sternly through the veld. Less obvious were the Lesser Masked Weaver unobtrusively working its way through the canopy of trees and a Eurasian Golden Oriole silently moving through the same area.

A Booted Eagle came flying out of the woodland, with its distinctive chevron on a dark rump, while Redbilled Helmetshrike, European Cuckoo, Melba Finch, Southern Pied Babbler and Purple Roller were also delightful sightings. A Rattling Cisticola was high up on top of one of the Acacias.

The more open country also held some large flocks of Redbilled Quelea, such a common bird but the breeding males are still so beautiful with their bright pink facial wash and black mask. White Stork and Tawny Eagle were soaring overhead and Whitecrowned Shrike, Common Scimitarbill, Namaqua Dove and Longtailed Starling were also present.

Longtailed Starling

Longtailed Starling

As the sun was setting, a pair of African Hawk Eagle were sitting on a fence (used to keep Elephant out of a regenerating area of woodland), with one descending into the grass next to a big herd of Impala. Ground Hornbill were nearby too.

The Mapungubwe campsite is in the western section and one of the best I have ever had the pleasure of staying in. Mazhou is situated in the dense riverine forest of the Limpopo floodplain and birding is excellent, while various animals also pass through at close quarters.

A pair of Woodland Kingfisher were nesting in a tree at my particular site, with a pair of Crested Barbet in the same tree, in a hole higher up. But they were flying to and from an adjacent tree, so perhaps they had two nests in close proximity, or maybe their trips to the other tree were to divert attention away from their nest?

The delightful White Helmetshrike were visitors to my campsite, one of them struggling to swallow a large caterpillar, while a female Whitebellied Sunbird easily dispatched a spider it caught high in the canopy. A Bearded Woodpecker was also chattering away and easily seen from my chair as was a European Marsh Warbler on my final morning.

When night had just fallen, a Barred Owl flew into a tree above my ‘lounge'; then I heard a ‘chit chit chit’ and the adorable Lesser Bushbaby passed through, leaping acrobatically from tree-to-tree.

From camp it is a short drive to the Limpopo River banks and its huge riverine trees, with Grey Hornbill, Yellowbellied Bulbul and Speckled Mousebird all enjoying the fruiting figs. A Yellowbilled Stork and Bateleur were soaring overhead, while a Nile Monitor pretended to be a log on the side of the road.

Soon the distinctive calls of the African Fish Eagle were heard from overhead, the archetypal riverine raptor also soaring as the temperature reached 36°, the sort of heat that encouraged a Steenbok to go lie under a bush.

For real heat, however, exploring the eastern section, hot, dry and rugged Baobab country with jagged sandstone buttresses, will get you sweating.

Klipspringer, standing motionless like statues, adorn the weathered rocks, while it was so hot (39°) that a Giraffe was lying down under a Baobab chewing on his lunch with his buddy the Blue Wildebeest. It was a very peaceful scene until a biting fly seemingly jabbed the Wildebeest, leading to a typically comical reaction as the Gnu went tearing off in the direction of Zimbabwe.

The Giraffe and the Wildebeest were a slightly odd couple, but there were more regular pairs around like the Black Eagles soaring over a koppie and, at a pan deep in the Mopane in the Kanniedood area, Redheaded Finch amongst a host of queleas. Redbilled Teal were on the water and the surrounding area also held Longtailed Paradise Whydah, Cut-Throat Finch, European Roller and Pale Chanting Goshawk.

Other interesting birds on the “dry” side of Mapungubwe are Monotonous, Sabota and Flappet Larks and Black Kite.

The eastern portion of Mapungubwe also has frontage on to the Limpopo River, with a brilliant treetop boardwalk providing Meyer’s Parrot, given away by its screeching calls before it flew into a tree cavity, meaning it was probably nesting given the time of day. A Marabou Stork was also circling overhead, while beautiful bushveld birds such as the Broadbilled Roller, Brubru, Plumcoloured Starling and Goliath Heron are also present.

Other birds seen in the rich gallery forest were Jacobin Cuckoo, Tropical Boubou and Steelblue Widowfinch.

STAKE-OUT ... An Amur Falcon on the lookout for prey next to a citrus farm.

STAKE-OUT … An Amur Falcon on the lookout for prey next to a citrus farm.

Even the farm roads around Mapungubwe are great for birding with Chestnutbacked Sparrowlark, Whitebrowed Sparrow Weaver, Amur Falcon and African Cuckoo on the dirt road through the agricultural lands and Pearlbreasted Swallow in amongst the European Swallows and Carmine Bee-Eaters all over the telephone wires. Blackchested Snake Eagle also often uses these perches.


Sightings list

Laughing Dove

Whitecrowned Shrike

Natal Francolin

Longtailed Starling

Woodland Kingfisher

Redbilled Hornbill

Redbilled Hornbill

Redbilled Hornbill

Vervet Monkey

Crested Barbet

Redeyed Dove

Tree Squirrel

Whitebacked Vulture

Spotted Flycatcher

Forktailed Drongo

Tawny Eagle

Redbilled Quelea

Whitefronted Bee-Eater

Blue Waxbill

Redbacked Shrike

Southern Greyheaded Sparrow

Common Scimitarbill

Namaqua Dove

Blue Wildebeest



Plains Zebra

Redbilled Oxpecker


Lilacbreasted Roller

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

White Helmetshrike


Whitebellied Sunbird

Cape Turtle Dove

Cape Turtle Dove

Cape Turtle Dove

Bearded Woodpecker

European Swallow

Carmine Bee-Eater

Boulenger’s Garter Snake

Chacma Baboon

Southern Masked Weaver

Redbilled Helmetshrike

Crowned Plover


Cattle Egret

Rattling Cisticola

Greybacked Camaroptera

Hadeda Ibis

Whitefaced Duck

African Mourning Dove

Redbilled Buffalo Weaver

Greenbacked Heron

Egyptian Goose

Wood Sandpiper

African Jacana

Nile Crocodile

Abdim’s Stork

Sacred Ibis

Blacksmith Plover

African Hawk Eagle

Ground Hornbill

Barred Owl

Jameson’s Firefinch

Whitebrowed Scrub Robin

Jacobin Cuckoo

Grey Hornbill

Yellowbellied Bulbul

Speckled Mousebird

Tropical Boubou

Blackeyed Bulbul

Cardinal Woodpecker

Steelblue Widowfinch

Blackbacked Puffback

Whitewinged Widow

Southern Yellowbilled Hornbill

Yellowbilled Stork

Nile Monitor


Grey Heron

Redbilled Woodhoopoe



African Fish Eagle

Wattled Starling


Kori Bustard

Slender Mongoose

Longbilled Crombec

Lesser Masked Weaver

Eurasian Golden Oriole

Banded Mongoose

Harlequin Quail

White Stork

Booted Eagle

European Cuckoo

Melba Finch

Purple Roller

Fantailed Cisticola

Lanner Falcon

Giant Kingfisher

Pied Kingfisher

Threebanded Plover

African Pied Wagtail

Blackwinged Stilt

Diederik Cuckoo

Pygmy Goose

Swainson’s Francolin

Lesser Bushbaby

Whitebrowed Sparrow Weaver

Chestnutbacked Sparrowlark

Amur Falcon

Pearlbreasted Swallow

African Cuckoo

Yellowthroated Sparrow

Monotonous Lark

Sabota Lark

Marsh Terrapin


Cinnamonbreasted Rock Bunting

Rock Dassie

Tawnyflanked Prinia

Broadbilled Roller

Meyer’s Parrot

Southern Black Flycatcher


Plumcoloured Starling

Wiretailed Swallow

Goliath Heron

Marabou Stork

Redwinged Starling

Flappet Lark


Black Eagle

Black Kite


Redheaded Finch

Redbilled Teal

Longtailed Paradise Whydah

Cut-Throat Finch

European Roller

Goldenbreasted Bunting

Pale Chanting Goshawk

Helmeted Guineafowl

Common Moorhen

Lesser Moorhen

Common Sandpiper

Grey Lourie

Blackchested Snake Eagle

African Spoonbill


Marsh Sandpiper

African Darter

Fulvous Duck

Yellowcrowned Bishop

Bluecheeked Bee-Eater

Burchell’s Coucal

Blackshouldered Kite

Steppe Buzzard

Southern Pied Babbler

European Marsh Warbler


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