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Ken Borland

Whatever they say, Lions prove travel is hard & territory is vital 0

Posted on July 29, 2017 by Ken


Whatever anyone may say, there are still two inviolable truths that apply in rugby – travel is hard and territory is vital – as the Lions proved in their remarkable 44-29 win over the Hurricanes in their SuperRugby semifinal at Ellis Park on Saturday.

It was an incredible victory because the Lions were trailing 22-3 after half-an-hour. Whatever mistakes they made, under the immense pressure of a Hurricanes side that was in their faces, were punished by the visitors, whose every touch turned to gold.

But a try just before halftime, prop Jacques van Rooyen carrying a hapless defender with him as he barged powerfully over the line, gave the Lions hope and, more importantly, showed them how to play in the second half.

The try had come after a penalty was kicked to touch and a couple of lineout drives had the Hurricanes back-pedalling. It was noticeable that flyhalf Elton Jantjies was twice pushed back from over the line when he tried to go it alone, but give the ball to a big, strong forward to carry and it was a totally different story.

The Lions had tried to beat the Hurricanes at their own game in the first half, taking quick tap penalties and spreading the ball wide, and they were being destroyed.

But, to their immense credit, those plans changed in the second half.

There was a much greater emphasis on territory, with the big boots of wing Ruan Combrinck and fullback Andries Coetzee playing a key role, they drove from the lineout and used the set-pieces to get the Hurricanes on the back foot.

As the altitude and travel kicked in, the Hurricanes wilted and they barely fired a shot in the second half, all the momentum going the Lions’ way.

The Hurricanes are absolutely ruthless on turnover or openfield ball and, after Jantjies had kicked an early penalty set up by the forwards, the visitors quickly reminded the Lions of that fact.

A pass from Jantjies missed scrumhalf Ross Cronje on a wraparound move and Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara twice kicked the ball through before winning the race for the touchdown.

But the Hurricanes are also extremely efficient at creating tries and a turnover from impressive eighthman Brad Shields enabled them to do just that in the 11th minute.

It was a disappointing defensive read from the Lions after the lineout, with too many defenders bunched in midfield, allowing flyhalf Beauden Barrett to come roaring through a big hole on the wraparound, and then freeing wing Wes Goosen on the outside for the try.

On the half-hour, there was a particularly poor moment of bad decision-making by the Lions as they were awarded a penalty inside their own half, but instead of kicking to the corner and squeezing the Hurricanes, they played into their hands by taking a quick tap and trying to run.

There was a hint of Cronje being played at the ruck as lock Sam Lousi knocked the ball out of his hands, but there was no doubt about flank Ardie Savea’s finishing ability as he pounced on the loose ball and roared away.

There was an early chance in the second half for the Lions to make amends, as they won a penalty. This time they set the lineout and then a midfield ruck, which created some space on the left. Cronje, who handled with aplomb the obvious pressure there was focused on him at the breakdowns, dived over from a ruck close to the tryline.

Jantjies, who put the disappointment of his poor goalkicking against the Sharks in last weekend’s quarterfinal behind him by nailing a solid six-from-eight against the Hurricanes, added the conversion and suddenly the Lions were just 17-22 behind and one could sense the momentum shift.

If there is one criticism of the Hurricanes side, it would be that they are not the most patient side and, with the Lions bossing territory through the boots of Combrinck and Coetzee, the frustrated visitors tried a dinky little chip kick from their own territory.

It was gathered by Combrinck, who burst into the Hurricanes’ 22 and forced a penalty for offsides. The Springboks are surely going to have to recall the powerful wing now that he is back to his best after injury.

The Lions once again set the lineout and hooker Malcolm Marx carried strongly to force his way over for the try, Jantjies’ conversion coming off the post to leave the scores level at 22-22.

But the kickoffs and exits are such vital parts of the game these days and, when the Lions dilly-dallied after receiving the kickoff, a well-timed counter-ruck by the Hurricanes turned over possession, which was then simply shipped down the backline until there were no more defenders left and outside centre Ngani Laumape was able to cross for the try.

Fullback Jordy Barrett converted, but they would be the last points the Hurricanes scored as the last 20 minutes were one big hiding for the defending champions.

Combrinck again broke clear but was tackled deep inside the Hurricanes’ 22, with flyhalf Beauden Barrett then playing the ball on the ground and being yellow-carded by referee Jaco Peyper. It was such a cynical foul in the red zone that there could be no buts about it, and Jantjies kicked the penalty to close the gap to 25-29.

The Lions then roared back on to attack; their efforts looked a little aimless at times, but at least they kept the ball alive and Cronje eventually found centre Harold Vorster coming through on a good line for the try that gave the Lions the lead for the first time since the fifth minute.

When flank Kwagga Smith misread a ruck for a collapsed maul and was penalised for hands-in, it meant Jordy Barrett would have his fifth and final shot at goal, but crucially he missed and the Lions’ momentum was not broken.

The Lions have one of the best scrums in the competition and they used it in the 73rd minute to destroy the Hurricanes set-piece and provide fantastic front-foot ball for the backs, which Jantjies used to go sniping over for another try, his conversion stretching the lead to 39-29.

It meant the Hurricanes would have to play from their own territory and a long pass from Perenara was duly intercepted by replacement hooker Akker van der Merwe, who was pleased to have Smith roaring up in support just as the attack seemed to be dying, the flank crossing for the final try.

This time there was no conversion from Jantjies, but there was no denying the Lions as they completed their remarkable triumph.

They showed once again that once the tide is with them, when they have the bit between their teeth, there is no stopping them.


LionsTries – Jacques van Rooyen, Ross Cronje, Malcolm Marx, Harold Vorster, Elton Jantjies, Kwagga Smith. Conversions – Jantjies (4). Penalties – Jantjies (2).

HurricanesTries – TJ Perenara. Wes Goosen, Ardie Savea, Ngani Laumape. Conversions – Jordy Barrett (3). Penalty – Barrett.

Super summer for Proteas, never mind your last game 0

Posted on April 17, 2017 by Ken


They say you’re only as good as your last game, but that would be an unfair measure of the Standard Bank Proteas’ brilliance over a remarkable summer during which their resurgence left them as the number one ranked side in ODI cricket and the nearest challengers to India for supremacy in the Test format.

Of course, their second-placed ranking in Tests is thanks to them beating New Zealand 1-0 in their series that ended last week, with the Proteas escaping probable defeat in the final Test thanks to rain on the last day.

Then again, this Proteas side has shown before that they are at their best under pressure and who knows what Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock, with the help of the tail, might have achieved on the fifth day in Hamilton.

South Africa’s next assignment is the major challenge of a tour to England, but they can take heart from the fact that the conditions they overcame in New Zealand are probably the nearest to what they will experience in the United Kingdom during their visit for three ODIs, the Champions Trophy, three T20 internationals and four Tests, starting on May 19.

“We feel nicely set up for England having won all three series in New Zealand, which is not done often down there. Obviously we’re all gearing up towards the Champions Trophy and the fact that we won the ODI series 3-2 by winning what was like a final at Eden Park will be good going forward.

“Conditions were probably closest to what we will find on the England tour, there was always seam movement but not excessive bounce, which is what we expect in England. We’ve used various combinations and we have an idea for what works. We’re particularly pleased that all-rounders came to the fore and that batsmen in the lower-order were winning us games,” assistant coach Adrian Birrell said upon the Proteas’ return to South Africa.

For the Test matches, there are question marks over opener Stephen Cook and veteran middle-order batsman and part-time off-spinner JP Duminy. It will be interesting to see whether the selectors will branch out towards a new-look future team by making a couple of changes to the batting line-up.

But to make a change at the top of the order for the third Test in Hamilton, and introduce a debutant in Theunis de Bruyn batting out of position in place of Cook, was probably not the wisest move, and senior opener Dean Elgar spoke about how such selections cause uncertainty in the batting line-up.

“We had a good thing going but selection is out of the players’ control, it’s one of those things. It’s not easy for Stephen, I’ve been through it before and you can go into a dark place. The team has still been winning though, so it’s very difficult, especially when you know how much hard work he has put in and he’s a massive team guy.

“But the general thing with batsmen is that if you think you’re safe, you’re not. Your head is always on the chopping block and a good ball or a bad decision could cost you your spot. It’s unsettling that a guy like him can be left out when he’s been working his butt off,” Elgar said.

Cook will be preparing for the England tour by playing for Durham in the County Championship, while De Bruyn, who predictably failed in Hamilton having not been given the best chance to succeed, should be chosen for the SA A tour that precedes the Proteas’ trip, allowing the selectors to compare their form.

Or will Aiden Markram, also surely a certainty for the SA A squad, be the bolter who makes his debut in the first Test at Lord’s from July 6?

Or does De Bruyn not deserve another chance given that nobody should be dropped after just one game?

These are the questions that the selectors have left themselves with.

South Africa will certainly go to England with a settled attack though.

Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander had the Black Caps batsmen under constant pressure, relieved only by the sheer class of Kane Williamson, and spinner Keshav Maharaj will go to England raring to go after a stellar tour of New Zealand in which he topped the averages with 15 wickets in three Tests at an average of just 19.93.

There is a chance, however, that the Proteas will go the route of four seamers against England, in which case Chris Morris, full of runs and wickets at the back end of the summer, should be turned to as an all-rounder.

As brilliantly as the players have performed, enormous credit must go to coach Russell Domingo and his staff.

Nine months ago, it did not seem likely that Domingo would be taking the Proteas to England. Whether he is going to continue after the tour is another uncertainty hanging over the Proteas, but Elgar has no doubt he is the man to take the team further forward.

“If I can say one word to sum up the summer it’s that we are grateful. A year ago we were fading away, worrying about our own performance, but since then we’ve started playing for the badge and the environment has a big role in making it all possible. The last year has been amazing, but we must stay humble because we’re still not number one in Tests.

“But personally I would love to see Russell stay on, he’s still got the best years of his coaching career ahead of him over the next couple of years. He’s getting better with age. I’m a big Russell Domingo fan and I’d be more than happy if he stayed on.”

A weekend in August the most important in SA cricket’s turnaround 0

Posted on January 01, 2017 by Ken


It was the year of the remarkable turnaround in South African cricket and perhaps the most important weekend of 2016 was the one the national team spent at a “culture camp” in Johannesburg in August.

South African cricket was seemingly in freefall before that, the number one ranking in Tests lost due to a series defeat at home to England, yet another disappointment in a major ICC tournament as the Proteas were eliminated in the first round of World T20 in India and their ODI form was also ropey as they failed to make the final of a triangular series in the West Indies.

There was an atmosphere of doom and gloom, as transformation became an easy scapegoat, and national coach Russell Domingo was not expected to survive the year. An independent review was instituted and then scrapped.

Far more importantly, the greater squad got together and pledged that they had to be better, that ProteaFire was being extinguished and the flame needed to be rekindled. The players themselves took the responsibility to challenge each other and be better.

After flirting with the captaincy of Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis taking the reins of both the Test and ODI side was also crucial and, being a more natural captain drawn to the job, he got the team going in ways that have not been seen in the last couple of years.

The Proteas were glorious in the second half of the year, winning their Test series against New Zealand and then becoming the first team to ever whitewash Australia in a five-match ODI series, before going across the Indian Ocean to their great rivals and winning the first two Tests to claim the series and become the first side since the great West Indies outfits of the 1980s/1990s to win three successive rubbers on Australian soil. You have to go back to the early days of Test cricket between 1884 and 1888 to find the only other team to achieve that feat – England.

If the year itself was memorable for the amazing turnaround in their fortunes, then the one match that epitomised the unity of purpose in the Proteas was the first Test against Australia in Perth.

After choosing to bat first, South Africa batted poorly, only reaching 242 thanks to Quinton de Kock’s 84 and a half-century from Temba Bavuma. Australia had raced away to 158 without loss in reply, before Dale Steyn dismissed David Warner but injured himself in the process, a fractured shoulder bone ruling him out of the rest of the season.

But with just two fit pacemen and debutant spinner Keshav Maharaj weighing in with three wickets, they managed to dismiss Australia for just 244. Du Plessis spoke later about the opposition being “shocked” by the comeback and the resolve shown by the Proteas, who dominated the rest of the game and won the second Test in Hobart by an innings.

De Kock was the Proteas’ outstanding player of 2016, scoring 695 Test runs at 63.18, second only to Amla’s 729 at 48.60, and continuing to plunder ODI runs such that he was named the ICC’s player of the year in the 50-over format.

On the bowling front, Kagiso Rabada continues to grow and ended as the Proteas’ leading wicket-taker and amongst the top six globally, while the excellent form of Vernon Philander and Kyle Abbott suggests that the end of Steyn’s great career, whenever it may come, will not necessarily leave a vacuum.

Time for a daring change in ODI captaincy? 0

Posted on May 08, 2013 by Ken

As South African cricket spends the week celebrating the remarkable leadership career of their greatest Test captain, Graeme Smith, it is perhaps time to also consider a daring change in captaincy for the limited-overs team.

When the first Test against Pakistan starts at the Wanderers on Friday, Smith will head out for the toss for the 100th time, the first captain in the history of the game to reach the milestone. He will turn 32 on the same day and Smith is universally respected as a leader and batsman, even more so outside of South Africa.

While the focus will rightly be on how Smith has led South Africa to the pinnacle of Test cricket, it is worth remembering how it all started.

In March 2003, then selection convenor Omar Henry announced that the 22-year-old Smith, who had played just eight Tests, would be the successor to Shaun Pollock following the dismal showing at the World Cup South Africa hosted.

It was a daring gamble, but the physically imposing Smith had already shown the strength of character that marked him out as a leader of men. Nearly 10 years later, he is still at the helm of a ship that has survived some stormy seas to become the undisputed champion of Test cricket, as dominant away from home as they are in South Africa.

After leading South Africa in 149 ODIs, Smith handed over the reins to his anointed successor, AB de Villiers, 18 months ago.

De Villiers, one of the finest batsmen of the modern era, a team man to the core and blessed with a certain charm, has little previous captaincy experience, however, and whether he is the right man to be Smith’s long-term successor is now in doubt.

De Villiers, selection convenor Andrew Hudson and coach Gary Kirsten all believed  AB could do the job, but there is no harm in admitting that was a mistake and moving on to allow him to concentrate on being a key, match-winning batsman for South Africa and keeping wicket in the limited-overs games.

Choosing leaders can be hit-and-miss – Mark Boucher, Nicky Boje and Jacques Kallis have all tried their hand at it when Smith has been injured – and this is also proven by the case of Hashim Amla.

A leader all through his school days at Durban High School, Amla captained the Dolphins when he was just 21 and national recognition followed suit in 2011 when he was named vice-captain of the Proteas.

But yesterday Amla confirmed that he was seriously considering relinquishing that post, because he was not willing to be captain of the team when the selectors turned to him in the wake of the suspension of De Villiers for a slow over-rate offence.

“I’m considering stepping down from the vice-captaincy, there’s no point in being vice-captain if I’m not willing to be captain. I turned down the captaincy when AB wasn’t there because I wanted to concentrate on my batting,” Amla admitted in Sandton on Tuesday.

There is a maze of on-field and off-field responsibilities a captain has to negotiate and the local boo-brigade that consistently snipe away at Smith will hopefully realise just what a phenomenal skipper he has been when they consider he has carried that burden for 10 years, while the likes of Amla and De Villiers, both quality men, are struggling with it after just 18 months.

The ODI series against New Zealand saw De Villiers go on record as saying he found it tough to concentrate on all the decisions he had to make in the field (as his over-rate disaster showed) as well as keep wicket and focus on his key batting role.

Faf du Plessis stood in when De Villiers was suspended after the first game and perhaps that is the route the selectors should now go down on a permanent basis when the Proteas are in green. It wouldn’t even be as much of a gamble as Smith’s appointment was.

Du Plessis was AB’s captain at Afrikaans Hoër Seunskool (Affies) and was impressive in leading the SA A side last year, and was cool and calm in the field against New Zealand last week.

With Du Plessis taking over the captaincy, De Villiers could play as the limited-overs wicketkeeper/batsman because that move was a success, the 28-year-old averaging 77 since taking over the gloves, while South Africa have won 32 of the 42 ODIs they’ve played with him behind the stumps.

The Test captaincy is another matter and Smith can hopefully soldier on until 2015 – the year of the next World Cup, when he may well hang up the boots. De Villiers is also then likely to have to fill the number four batting slot vacated by the retirement of Jacques Kallis, so the task of keeping wicket as well will surely be too much for someone who will be 30 and does not have the most stable of backs.

And if De Villiers is not ready then for the skipper’s armband, Du Plessis will have had two years of experience in the limited-overs game.

There has also been plenty of gnashing of teeth over what will happen to the South African team when the awful day of Kallis’s retirement finally dawns, and De Villiers doing the wicketkeeping job permanently has been mentioned as one of the cures to losing such an incredible all-rounder.

But De Villiers should rather have the responsibility, because he has the ability, to replacing the thousands of runs Kallis scores.

The Australians dominated world cricket in the 1990s and 2000s without a genuine all-rounder and the Proteas should look to specialists to do the same. Six specialist batsmen (Dean Elgar, Alviro Petersen, Amla, De Villiers, Du Plessis and JP Duminy; the latter pair both part-time bowlers too), a wicketkeeper/batsman (Thami Tsolekile or one of the younger contenders), and four specialist bowlers (Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel) will give South Africa a team that is still highly capable of being the best in the world.

Their current captain, Graeme Smith, has laid the platform for a period of sustained dominance, but what of the person behind all those runs (the most ever in successful fourth-innings run-chases) and victories?

Kallis is eminently qualified to speak on Smith’s character: “It’s incredible to achieve what he has, after taking over at his age. He has proven a lot of people wrong, he has faced down so much criticism and he has always led from the front. I don’t think 100 Tests as captain will ever be done again.

“If he says the team needs to do something, he’s always the first guy to go and do it. As the opening batsman, he sets the tone, he takes on challenges and he never backs down. At certain times he’s in the opposition’s face and at others he’s just absorbing pressure. He’s learnt which character to be at certain times, and that’s the biggest improvement in his captaincy,” Kallis said on Tuesday.

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