for quality writing

Ken Borland



Lions have earned universal respect despite failing to make playoffs 0

Posted on November 24, 2016 by Ken

 

The Lions may have failed to make the SuperRugby playoffs after their dramatic weekend draw against the Stormers, but the Johannesburg-based franchise has certainly earned the respect of all their opponents this season.

Just two years after they were controversially relegated from SuperRugby, the Lions have clinched second place in the South African Conference and boast an almost identical record to the Brumbies, who have snuck into the playoffs ahead of them because of bonus points.

They have maintained their positive style of play with ball in hand, but where they have improved most is defensively, boasting the best tackling success rate in the competition. The Lions play at the highest tempo of all the South African sides as they swarm around in defence and always have great intensity on the ball. Their powerful scrum has provided a solid platform and their lineout has also been efficient.

“It’s all about playing with intensity and hunger, and we have to up our performance every week. There are plans in place, but I also allow the guys to be free spirits and you have to live with the small mistakes that come from that,” coach Johan Ackermann says. “Obviously I’m very proud of the team, it must be one of our best years and it shows that hard work is worth it.”

The Lions have certainly deserved all the praise that has come their way, beating the qualified Waratahs and Highlanders in the last five weeks and showing all season that they are never out of the contest with some superb second-half comebacks.

“There’s great belief within this side, a real hunger. We want to close down the opposition’s space and put them under pressure. We’ve built our physicality in defence, we want to be in their faces and not stand back,” captain Warren Whiteley says.

Their impressive performances have seen several of their players grow into Springbok contenders. The most likely Lions player to feature in Heyneke Meyer’s Springbok World Cup squad is flyhalf Elton Jantjies, who dares to take the ball flat and attack the opposition line, has superb hands and is a strong defender, as well as kicking well this season.

Eighthman Whiteley is competing with Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Burger for a place at the World Cup, but he gets through a mound of work and is the only player in SuperRugby this year to have made more than 200 tackles, while also being highly effective in a linking role, possessing great skill and vision as befits a Springbok Sevens player who helped win the Commonwealth Games gold medal last year.

He is also adept at interfering with the opposition lineout, where Franco Mostert has also been a key performer for the Lions, as well as in the loose.

Warwick Tecklenburg has been outstanding in doing all the Lions’ dirty work, being second only to Whiteley in terms of tackles made, but fellow flank Jaco Kriel has been the most impressive forward.

A constant nuisance at the breakdown, he oozes raw talent in offence, having phenomenal pace, strength and hands, and has more often than not been able to spark the most sensational counter-attacks by the Lions.

Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe have proved to be two powerful centres, while scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and wing Ruan Combrinck are two other backs who have announced themselves as future Springboks this year.

Despite their success over the last two years, Ackermann says at the moment they are just playing pretty rugby and haven’t won anything yet, there is more growing to do.

“We can look back on a good season regardless of missing the playoffs. The players know where they stand with me and they know my expectation on deserving the jersey. As long as they do that, I can’t ask for more. The growth from last year is definitely there, but there is still a lot of work to do.

“Nobody has achieved anything yet. We are not in the playoffs, we haven’t won the Currie Cup yet, we haven’t won any trophies yet. But if you ask me if there is a lot of growth, both for me as coach and for the team, then definitely if you look where we started in January 2014 until where we are now,” Ackermann says.

 

Between AB & Atta, all we need is just a little patience 0

Posted on September 06, 2016 by Ken

 

Between them, Adriaan Strauss and AB de Villiers have generated numerous headlines and many words of copy over the last couple of days, but whatever one thinks of their sporting achievements, what is more important is that they are both fine men who enjoy enormous respect from everyone who works with them.
Unfortunately, South African sports fans being what they are, both have also had to face enormous vitriol and unfair denigration on social media, especially Strauss in the last couple of weeks.

Of course we are all disappointed with how the Springboks have been performing lately and Strauss’s own form has not exactly been inspirational, but so much of the criticism is uninformed and ignores the core roles he performs in the scrums and lineouts. As for his leadership, the players go out of their way to say what a good captain he is.

With so many veteran Springboks departing the scene in between the Heyneke Meyer and Allister Coetzee eras, this is a new-look team that is going to take time to settle, especially since they are trying to forge a new game plan. The side that started in Salta had only six players with more than 40 caps in the 23.

Even the Lions took three years to settle into their new style of play, so the most important thing the Springboks need right now is patience. They are in a transitional period, which is perhaps why Coetzee chose someone like Strauss to be the captain for the first year, seeing as though he knew at the time of the appointment that the hooker would be retiring from Test rugby at the end of 2016.

By the end of this year, Warren Whiteley could have made himself a definite starter at eighthman plus Pat Lambie could well have returned.

I know patience is not something South African sports fans are particularly known for, but there are very few successful teams who don’t go through bad patches. Before they won the 1995 World Cup, the Springboks were no great shakes either and Jake White nearly lost his job in 2006, a year before lifting the biggest prize in rugby.

Removing Coetzee from his post anytime soon will serve absolutely no purpose and should not even be considered.

Such bad patches also happen on an individual level as De Villiers, now considered by many to be the best batsman in the world, himself described at the launch of his autobiography this week. Between 2005 and 2008, he played 17 Tests without scoring a century and made just six half-centuries.

“I’m always very scared of failing before I go out to bat and there used to be ducks at international level and I’d be in tears in the shower. One of the low points came in 2006 at SuperSport Park, my home ground, when coach Mickey Arthur told me I was running out of chances after another soft dismissal, and in 2007 I was just surviving, I probably should have been dropped.

“I’d had a taste of the dream and I was going to throw it away. But then came a huge moment in 2007 when Jacques Kallis approached me and told me that to earn his respect I have to find some consistency. He was willing to work with me, especially on my defence,” De Villiers said.

Even the most naturally gifted, world-conquering sports stars have their dips in form. The Proteas have seen their patience with De Villiers rewarded many, many times over, never mind how many spectators he has thrilled beyond measure in that time.

Similarly, Allister Coetzee and the Springboks need to be allowed time to find their groove together. Hysteria and short-term thinking will do their cause no good at all.

Officials bring Olympic honour to SA hockey 0

Posted on August 27, 2016 by Ken

 

The national men’s and women’s teams may not have been competing on the field, but tremendous honour and respect still came out of the Olympic Games for South African hockey thanks to the outstanding efforts of their officials.

That South African umpires are at the very top of the game was confirmed by John Wright and Michelle Joubert being appointed to handle the respective men’s and women’s finals.

For Wright, it capped a stellar career as it was the fifth Olympic Games he has officiated in and the second time he has been awarded the final, on what is likely to be his last umpiring stint at the global sporting showpiece.

“I was very pleased with the way things went, the Olympic Games has been the pinnacle of my career and it was a lovely way to end off. I’m very grateful that I have been given all the opportunity I could ever have wanted,” Wright said.

“It was a wonderful experience and I’m just so grateful for all the kind words and support from back home,” Joubert said. “It was a dream come true, just so exciting and I had a perfect time in Rio with so many happy memories.”

The experienced Wright had some kind words to say about his colleague as well.

“I believe Michelle is by far the best women’s umpire in the world and she had an exceptional tournament, even though she was battling injury. It did not hamper her in the final though, where she had a 26-year-old co-umpire, and she made a 100% correct call on the penalty stroke. Michelle has really come on leaps and bounds,” Wright said.

Joubert, the International Hockey Federation’s (FIH)’s 2015 Women’s Umpire of the Year, and Wright weren’t the only South Africans to feature in an Olympic hockey final as Deon Nel was the men’s video umpire.

Behind the scenes, Sheila Brown was the women’s tournament director and Marelize de Klerk the umpires’ manager.

A former umpire herself who was ranked number one in the world and was the first woman to officiate in 200 internationals, De Klerk blew in three Olympic Games from 2000-2008 before retiring in 2011 and becoming an umpires coach and recently a manager.

Brown is a stalwart of South African hockey and a veteran technical official and leading administrator. Her appointment was one of the highest honours in hockey and an enormous responsibility as the final authority at the event.

Brown, a colonel in crime intelligence, made her international debut as a judge in 1996 and was tournament director of the All-Africa Games in 2003. Since then she has been in charge of two World Cups. Brown was the assistant tournament director at both the Beijing and London Olympic Games.

Former national captain Marsha Cox nee Marescia may no longer be active as a player, but she was in Rio de Janeiro bringing over 300 international caps worth of experience to her new roles as a member of the appeal jury and the FIH’s athletes’ commission.

“I was really excited to be part of Rio 2016. Not only to be a part of the Olympic Games, but also to experience a country which I have never been to before. The logistics around the event itself definitely were not without their challenges, however I have no doubt that it’s these experiences which adds to the memories which will last a lifetime.

“In my personal preparations for Rio, my aim was to at least get to the semi-finals. We were told by our umpire’s managers that we would all average more or less four games in the tournament. I was appointed to the very first game of the women’s competition, and by the quarterfinals stage, I was on my fourth game already. Although I was happy with my own performances up to then, I knew that there were many other great umpires within our group and that appointments could go to anyone. I was also struggling with injuries on both my feet which left me doubting my future appointments for the last days.

“Upon receiving my appointment to the semi-finals, I was obviously delighted and happy that I was one step closer to my ‘real’ dream, which was the final. I had to get my mindset right to focus only on the semi, make sure I managed my injury and make sure I gave my best performance to at least be in the running for the final day’s appointments.

“Then the final day’s appointments came out. I had so many mixed emotions which ranged from feeling ecstatic about this achievement and also what it meant for South Africa and hockey in Africa. I felt empathy and disappointment for those who didn’t achieve their own goals and in that moment really lived their emotions as if they were my own. The feeling at that stage to me was bittersweet.

“I was also delighted for my appointed co-umpire for the final, Laurine Delforge, who has shown everyone that with talent, hard work and dedication, you do not always need years of experience in order to achieve success.

“The finals – wow, what an experience, what a game and what an atmosphere to be a part of! Both Laurine and I knew it would be a tough game, but we also understood that our game plan had to be slightly different to that of any normal game. We had to manage the game in such a way that hockey, as a top-class international sport, should be advertised and that we could be a part of its success or failure. We both enjoyed the match, the experience and obviously the actual appointment to the final of Rio 2016,” Joubert added.

http://www.sahockey.co.za/tournaments/ipt-women/253-sa-hockey-officials-at-the-olympics

Reading cricket at Tuks 0

Posted on October 19, 2015 by Ken

 

Posh universities talk about “reading” a subject at their academic institution so, because I have such great respect for what TuksSport  are doing, it is only fair to say that some of the most talented young men in this country are reading cricket at the University of Pretoria.

And they are doing it most successfully judging by the accolades that keep coming the way of the Tuks team so ably coached by Pierre de Bruyn, who has great assistants and backroom support. The Tuks cricket team have just landed in India to represent South Africa as the defending champions in the Red Bull Campus Cricket Finals, a global competition for tertiary institutions that has seen more than 200 teams from eight countries try to qualify. It has been called the Student World Cup.

Tuks won the title in fine style in England last year, but this time they travel to India – a new challenge which De Bruyn and his players embrace. Much has been written about playing in the sub-continent, but having completed their usually thorough preparation, De Bruyn says success will come down to the usual factors.

“Although we have six new faces in the team, we have a very nice senior core which the youngsters can feed off. The guys must just express themselves, you can easily over-analyse the conditions and then it becomes overwhelming. It’s about getting the roles right, good discipline and decision-making,” De Bruyn said.

Tuks will surely rely a lot on players who have experienced those conditions before, like captain Aiden Markram, canny seamer Corbin Bosch and off-spinner Ruben Claassen, who is another rising star.

They won’t however, have the explosive batting talents of Heinrich Klaasen, who is on duty with the Titans team.

Franchises are probably going to be relying more and more on players from tertiary institutes, simply because they generally have the financial resources to develop cricketing talent, and there are some university administrators who believe their clubs deserve more than just a pat on the back for their great work. The idea of a “development fee” to be paid whenever a player signs a contract with a higher team, whether that be franchise or national, has been mooted.

While that is a worthy idea, there is always the danger of widening the gap between those who already have and the have-not clubs, of which there are so many in this country in these troubled economic times.

But Cricket South Africa are currently working on a plan to try and support and incentivise clubs, especially those community clubs which cannot rely on strong backing from the structures that exist in tertiary institutes.

The thinking is to replicate the Blue Chip Schools programme which will be announced in the coming weeks with the Blue Flag Cricket Clubs incentive scheme.

The idea, according to the general manager of CSA, Corrie van Zyl, is that clubs gaining a certain percentage on the Clubs Index – which will list desirables like a qualified coach, a constitution, strong membership contributions, maintenance of facilities – will be awarded a Blue Flag designation and receive money as an incentive.

The finer details still need to be worked out, but the money will go direct to the clubs, as opposed to the money CSA normally pours into club cricket which is given to the Affiliate body to distribute.

The clever people at CSA seem to have come up with a good scheme to help the club structures – one of the key foundations of the game – so I guess it’s fair to say they are reading cricket pretty well too.

 



↑ Top