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Ken Borland



Rugby not expediting much joy for me 0

Posted on December 05, 2017 by Ken

 

I must confess to a certain sense of relief today as our rugby season (the 15-man game anyway) comes to an end this weekend with the misfiring Springboks facing a daunting assignment in Cardiff. Sad to say, but I find myself more and more irritated by rugby these days.

The uninspiring fare dished up by the Springboks, made worse by the tantalising glimpse they gave of what they are capable of in the Newlands Test against the All Blacks, brings little joy and the two domestic sides I cover, the Bulls and Sharks, have had more heartache than cheer this year. Even the Lions’ loss in the Super Rugby final still hurts.

Nevertheless, just to get two last parting shots in before Christmas, rugby made me angry twice more this week.

It’s annoying that Springbok coach Allister Coetzee is not expediting the smooth introduction of the tremendously talented Warrick Gelant into international rugby. Instead of playing him in his natural position of fullback, where change is surely required because the solid Andries Coetzee has done little to suggest star-quality, coach Coetzee has plonked Gelant on the wing for his first start.

The selection of players out of position has become something of a Springbok curse in recent years, but the disappointing treatment of Gelant might also be due to the lack of options Coetzee has on the wing. As at fullback, we can all see change is necessary, but the only other specialist wing in the squad is Raymond Rhule, and would he really improve things?

A rugby sage once told me that Springbok coaches stand or fall by selection and, judging by the number of times Coetzee has replaced an injured player with someone who plays in a different position, the current national coach is obviously failing in this regard. Just on this tour, we’ve had an eighthman, Duane Vermeulen, replacing a prop, Coenie Oosthuizen, and lock Ruan Botha came in for flank Jean-Luc du Preez, which clearly shows he got the initial selections wrong.

But the failure of WorldRugby to honour their own processes and award the 2023 World Cup to South Africa was the low point of the year; at least South Africa’s 57-0 thrashing in Albany came with plenty of wonderful rugby from the All Blacks to admire.

The duplicity and lack of integrity shown by their council members makes the blood boil, and the reputation of rugby took a major hit in London a fortnight ago.

So it was with utter shock that I observed the sheer nerve of WorldRugby this week trying to clamp down on players writing messages on their strapping. The rationale was that WorldRugby had no control over what messaging was displayed and with the pettiness typical of the jobsworths who have more regard for their own positions and privilege than the good of the game, the decision was made to clamp down.

Perhaps WorldRugby should worry more about the game being brought into disrepute by their own administrators; the message sent by the 2023 World Cup decision was far worse than anything a player could fit on to his strapping.

Sport did bring me some happiness this week though. It was wonderful to see a cricketing legend of yesteryear, Mike Procter, team up with one of the country’s most talented young writers, Lungani Zama, to launch an updated autobiography.

Procter, of course, played in an era when someone like Zama, who is a good enough cricketer to have played for the KZN Inland side before they gained first-class status, was not allowed to fully express their talents.

Procter, one of the all-time greats of South African cricket and a former national coach and selector, understands these issues and it is wonderful to see him so actively involved in cricket development through his coaching work at the Ottawa Primary School outside Durban, introducing the game to nearly a thousand underprivileged children.

A cricketer capable of taking the new ball and bowling at 145km/h, with prodigious swing, and a good enough batsman to score 254 against Western Province in a Currie Cup game, Procter was obviously a rare talent and one that the current lovers of the game really need to know more about.

He is certainly one of the contenders for the title of greatest all-rounder the game has known and the story of his playing days is augmented with fascinating accounts of his stint as an ICC match referee, having to deal with the major controversies of Darrell Hair abandoning an England v Pakistan Test match, the Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds ‘Monkeygate’ saga, and the bomb blast that ended international cricket in Pakistan.

As Caught in the Middle details, Procter is one of the heroes of the game still adding value in the present day.

 

Delight & relief off the grid for Coetzee 0

Posted on June 20, 2016 by Ken

 

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee admitted that his delight and relief were both off the grid after his team’s exceptional comeback win over Ireland at Ellis Park on Saturday.

Having lost the first Test in Cape Town last weekend, the Springboks looked almost certain to suffer a rare series loss on home soil when the Irish capitalised on an horrific first half by the home side to lead 19-3 at halftime.

For Coetzee and captain Adriaan Strauss, defeat would have meant immense pressure on both of them as they look to guide South African rugby into a new era. So the stakes were high, even by the do-or-die standards that always suffocate Springbok rugby.

But a remarkable second-half performance saw the Springboks run in four tries in a compelling display of power and pace as they snatched a 32-26 victory.

“Obviously I’m more than 100% relieved and more than 100% delighted with the way we came back,” Coetzee said when he was asked afterwards what sort of mix of relief and delight the triumph had invoked.

“The way we put the second half together is how we planned to play and it was testament to the resilience and character of this team. Resilience is one of the core values of this team and we would never have beaten a quality Ireland side without it.

“When you add the first half to what happened last week, we were in a hole and we would not have worked a way out of it unless this team had something special. When their backs were to the wall, they showed they can fight. I believe that as a team we are on the right track, we are embarking on a journey to becoming a good team. Today was a building block, it showed not to write us off,” Coetzee said.

The new Springbok coach did not shy away from how awful the first half was, though, with the Springboks making a litany of basic mistakes. They again gave away a flurry of penalties in the opening half-hour, allowing flyhalf Paddy Jackson to kick Ireland into a 12-3 lead, and they made a string of passing and handling errors, while also once again showing terrible ball-retention skills in contact. Plus the Irish kicking game produced great dividends due to a number of spilt aerial balls.

“Obviously I’m not pleased with the first half. I don’t think it was a lack of urgency, more a lack of discipline. The guys were over-exuberant, they showed a bit of inexperience, and those penalties just broke our rhythm.

“The impact from the bench turned it around for us, the ball-carries, at the right height, got us momentum. We looked after the ball and we were better tactically. Before that we were losing ball through poor carries and not fielding the high balls.

“The work ethic was terrible in the first half and we had to step up the work-rate in the second half. There were no forwards coming around the corner. But in the second half we lifted the work-rate and we were more accurate,” Coetzee said.

The coach said it was important to keep perspective in the thrill of such an unlikely victory, even though he had allowed the players some post-match jubilations.

“Now we start from zero again. I allowed the players to jump around a bit tonight, but we shouldn’t get too excited about just beating a team. The war has not been won, just a battle. We need to take all the emotion out and improve on tonight’s performance, we have to get the basics right in Port Elizabeth. The next game is the next building block,” Coetzee stressed.

http://citizen.co.za/1168147/delight-and-relief-off-the-grid-for-coetzee/

Relief and a tear in the eye 0

Posted on September 29, 2015 by Ken

 

South Africa’s Rugby World Cup victory over Samoa brought relief but soon there was a tear in the eye as the news filtered through that they had lost their captain, Jean de Villiers, one of the great Springboks, for the rest of the tournament. The man with 109 Test caps, 37 of them as skipper, announced his retirement the next day.

De Villiers had, of course, been the centre (pardon the pun) of intense speculation over whether he deserved his place in the team after a run of injuries and a distinct lack of sharpness in the awful loss to Japan. The 34-year-old was shifted to outside centre for the match against Samoa, with Damian de Allende making a massive impact with his hard, direct running over the gain-line and into space in the number 12 jersey.

While De Allende was the man who made the most difference to the Springbok backline, it was heartening that De Villiers was at least able to go out on a high, leading the Springboks to an impressive win and playing well himself.

The Springboks also gained a considerable amount by having Willie le Roux at fullback – he was able to be a second “general” at first-receiver, taking some of the load off young Handre Pollard, while his ability to read space made his intrusions into the backline in wider positions a consistent threat.

Fourie du Preez also provided a top-class service from scrumhalf – one can scarcely recall a single pass going astray – and the veteran 2007 World Cup winner is not only a brilliant reader of the game but also a fantastic enabler in terms of allowing the team to change their tempo.

But where the turnaround for the Springboks came was up front. I said before the match that grunt and physicality up front would be needed against the big, mean and physical Samoans, who carry the ball with an intent not matched by many, and the Springboks really needed all hands on deck at the gain-line, rather than forwards standing out in the backline.

My wife is no connoisseur of the dark arts of forward play and the tight exchanges, but even she noticed how the Springbok pack “really seemed to be playing” against Samoa.

It was most heartening that the first Springbok to step up and lead the way was Victor Matfield, who was a standout figure in the opening exchanges, leading from the front with the sort of talismanic performance coach Heyneke Meyer was no doubt hoping for.

The Springboks showed that they can use the ball on attack as well as anybody, providing their forwards have laid the platform first; they need to earn the right to throw the ball around and there is no shame (and an awful lot of good sense) in playing to your own strengths instead of trying to copy the All Blacks.

The good news for South Africa is that the damage of the Japan loss has almost been undone with the Springboks sitting on seven log-points, thanks to bonus points, only one shy of where they would have wanted to have been heading into this weekend’s game against Scotland.

The campaign is back on an even keel and the relief and joy in the Springbok camp after the Samoa game was obvious. But the level of performance now needs to be raised another notch against Scotland; the consistency of this Springbok team has been a concern throughout the four years of Meyer’s tenure and hopefully, with the pressure now having eased, they don’t slump back into bad habits.

 

 

Relief & anger in the halls of Loftus Versfeld 0

Posted on September 18, 2015 by Ken

 

There was relief and anger in the halls of Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night as the Bulls edged past the Sharks 43-35 to claim their first Vodacom SuperRugby win of the season, but in controversial fashion.

It was a much-improved display by the Bulls, especially in terms of a much lower error-rate, the intensity of their forwards and the fluidity of their attacking play, but their character was tested as the Sharks overturned a 22-33 deficit on the hour mark to lead 35-33 with eight minutes remaining.

In the end it was the Bulls who were celebrating not only a victory, but also a four-try bonus point.

For the Sharks, however, there was nothing but anger, most of it directed at TMO Johan Greeff, whose abysmal decision to award the opening try to the Bulls after a blatant forward pass must surely go down in the halls of shame for South African officiating.

“We’ve had a directive that we’re not allowed to comment publically when we’re massively disappointed about the performance of the officials, so I’m not going to comment,” was Sharks coach Gary Gold’s clever way of expressing his disgust.

The Francois Hougaard try in the 25th minute was an inexplicable error but the Sharks also felt hard done by when Greeff disallowed  a 66th-minute dot-down after Odwa Ndungane was ruled to have knocked-on in leaping for a Pat Lambie cross-kick, and then allowed Jan Serfontein’s injury-time try that gave the Bulls a bonus point and denied the Sharks one.

“We’re told there was no clear evidence for an obvious forward pass and then Odwa gets called for a knock-on where the evidence wasn’t clear either. All we want is consistency,” Gold said.

There were only a handful of scrums in the game, but the Bulls won the set-piece battle thanks to the towering presence of Victor Matfield in the lineouts, and flank Lappies Labuschagne was an immense presence both in defence and carrying the ball.

Scrumhalf Rudi Paige then used the front-foot ball crisply and intelligently.

“We had quality possession and we squeezed them in the lineout, but it was a huge team effort. One of Rudi Paige’s strengths is that he allows others to play off him, he has good decision-making and it was great to see him make a huge difference. Lappies was also outstanding and is forming a great combination with Deon Stegmann and Pierre Spies, the balance is there,” Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said.

The Bulls front row, who managed to largely avoid a potentially awkward scrum contest due to there being fewer errors, were also pillars of the defensive effort and the strong driving play of the home side.

“It was an outstanding performance to cope with that pressure, it was great that we kept our composure although we went behind, and we always knew we had this in us. We were also more accurate at the breakdowns, which were a huge contest, and the players responded to Pierre because he led by example,” Ludeke said.

Captain Spies acknowledged that “a few 50/50s went our way compared to the last two weeks” and that the team would enjoy the win but would have to “stay balanced and focused”.

 

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    James 1:5 - "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."

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