for quality writing

Ken Borland



John McFarland Column – Defence and touring are the talking points 0

Posted on March 30, 2017 by Ken

 

Two of the main talking points among South African SuperRugby followers at the moment are the apparent slackening in the defence of the local franchises and the resting of players for the away matches against the Jaguares and Sunwolves.

Questions have been raised about the defence of the South African franchises, especially after the Bulls leaked six tries against the Blues in Auckland last weekend. But it’s not just the Bulls – there are a lot more tries being scored this year in general.

The reason is that over the last year the attack has gone a lot wider and there are more players behind the ball. Sure, the rules have changed a bit, like the tackle law favouring more offloads, but the game has changed over the last year with people more willing now to leave forwards in the wide channels.

Most teams now play 2-4-2 or 1-3-3-1 with their forwards spread out across the field, and we are seeing more loose forwards standing in the backline.

In terms of the tries the Blues scored against the Bulls, we often saw two forwards in the outer extremities running against backs. When you have a big man on a smaller man, you’re more likely to be able to get an offload away. The Blues were able to score either because the Bulls simply ran out of numbers or they were able to effect excellent offloads by having support players behind the ball.

Three or four years ago, teams would have their forwards in two pods of four, but now they leave them in channels across the field and you will often see a hooker or back-row forward in the 15-metres-from-touch zone. The All Blacks have been doing this for the last five years and England did it between 2000 and 2003.

The reason it’s being done is because it’s now been proved, thanks to every player being fitted with a GPS that measures how many metres they have run and at what speed, that a lot less energy is used if the forwards are spread across the field than if they follow the ball. That’s how this new trend has evolved.

I actually thought the quality of the Bulls defence was very good in the first half, but they were found out in the second half when they just ran out of steam, too much juice had been taken out of their legs. That meant the Bulls’ backs and wings were always in a numbers situation, they could not get their width back and get back into line, so they were always under pressure.

To be fair though, the try from the restart was because at the kickoff you usually leave players back – the three outside backs and the scrumhalf on the chip-kick – and with four players out of the defensive line you will be vulnerable. But it was a good try and the Blues’ first try also featured fantastic offloads.

It’s difficult to stop offloads in the wide channels because you’re also dealing with footwork because of all the space available out there.

We always faced these same difficulties against New Zealand sides and some days we were more successful dealing with them than on others. The keys are a high level of conditioning, especially amongst the forwards, and to work hard at the breakdown. If you can’t get tacklers over the ball to slow it down, then the opposition just gets quick ball and quicker ball, and momentum, and then it’s difficult to set a defensive line. That’s what happened to the Bulls and it put Jamba Ulengo under real pressure on the wing.

But Pine Pienaar is an experienced defensive coach, now in his fourth year in the job, and he will be very aware of all this and will know how to fix it. After all, the Blue Bulls made the Currie Cup final last year and you don’t get there without having a good defence.

Handre Pollard had a better game and I’m looking forward to him coming through, he’s going a level up every week.

But it’s an horrendous draw for the Bulls to have all those away games up front, it’s the hardest draw in Super Rugby because you can never get on the front foot. Even a brilliant coach like John Plumtree was let go by the Sharks in 2013 after that sort of draw, and Allister Coetzee also had a season starting with numerous away games with the Stormers.

So it can happen that you get on a downward spiral. Super Rugby is such a tough competition that you always go through crises, but it’s how you deal with them that counts.

There have been suggestions that South African teams are concentrating more on attack to the detriment of their defence, but they will always get enough time during the week to work on their defence, that will never change. Generally teams train for 50 minutes on the Monday, then Tuesday is virtually a full session, the major day for defence, with contact. Then on Thursday attack will be the focus, but it’s not true that teams are concentrating too much on attack!

Each coach will have equal time to work within that on their area, teams split their time evenly between attack and defence.

In terms of weakened teams going to play the Jaguares in Argentina, that would have been pre-planned. Teams have to rest their frontline players in accordance with the Saru guidelines and it’s a helluva trip. You leave on the Sunday morning, flying 10-11 hours to Sao Paulo, where you have a three-hour wait before flying for four hours to Buenos Aires, only arriving on Monday afternoon, so you can’t train then. Teams will have a light practice on the Tuesday, with just one major session on the Thursday.

And coming back from Argentina is even worse!

What coaches like Johan Ackermann and Franco Smith have done is look at their next games and those have been vital, the problem with travelling to Argentina is always the game after that one, but that’s just the nature of the competition.

Singapore is also 10 hours away and it’s very humid and hot there. The Stormers took it as a chance to get some fringe guys some rugby.

Teams are merely following medical advice on how to keep their players fresh and get their best rugby out of them, plus players are more susceptible to ailments on these long trips.

The Lions proved last year that you need home advantage to win SuperRugby, but they needed to be at their best in the knockout games, hence their decision to rest players for their last round-robin game in Argentina.

 

 

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.

Former Springboks defence coach John McFarland looks at this weekend’s SuperRugby quarterfinals 0

Posted on July 19, 2016 by Ken

I know Johan Ackermann is now coming in for criticism for resting his first-choice players for the game against the Jaguares in Argentina, which saw the Lions lose first place on the log, but I actually think he’s been quite clever and it’s not a bad thing that they finished second.

I know people talk about momentum being crucial going into the knockouts, but sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. In 2007 the Bulls had to win by a huge margin in the last league game and we did it [beating the Reds 92-3] against an Eddie Jones coached team because we wanted to stay in South Africa, we really didn’t want to travel. But in 2010 we played a weaker team against the Stormers in Cape Town and lost, but the next week at Orlando Stadium we beat the Crusaders in the semi-finals and then beat the Stormers again in the final.

The big thing is Ackers has been able to rest his top guys, they’ll be able to have a full week’s training, without any niggles and physically or mentally there won’t be any fatigue. They’ll have a great mindset going into the playoffs.

If they had all gone to Argentina then they would have been back at the hotel after playing around midnight and then woken up at 4.30am for a four-hour flight to Sao Paulo, where you have to wait to fly out again. So they’d only be back in South Africa on Monday morning and they wouldn’t have been able to train or start their preparation until Tuesday.

Instead Ackers has a fresh team, which is a real positive, and there are no injuries.

Looking at the SuperRugby games last weekend in New Zealand, they were like the South African derbies of old in terms of their intensity and collisions.

I say of old because the Lions have been so dominant in the last 18 months, they’ve been winning derbies well by 50 points. Everyone – including here in Japan – has been watching the New Zealand teams with envy because of the intensity and pace with which they’re playing, the skill set is just so high.

But why are the Lions so good?

Because they play with a lot of width, they have game-breaking centres and wings, they really challenge the defensive line – 71 tries is quite a record, they never give up, they have a strong set-piece and an exceptional scrum.

You have to give credit to Ackers for bringing through guys like Malcolm Marx and Rohan Janse van Rensburg this year. It may have been a bit early for the Lions players last year, their roll of dominance in South Africa really started at the end of SuperRugby,  players like Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Lionel Mapoe and Jaco Kriel now have experience and belief to win playoff games, which began with the unbeaten run in the Currie Cup.

There’s such a belief in the side, they have a tremendous record against South African sides over the last 18 months.

They also have a fantastic back row, Jaco Kriel is a real warrior and leader, and he makes sure the standards are kept, Tecklenburg works all day long and Whiteley, if fit, always puts in an honest shift and sets a real example for his team.

But in knockout games it’s the halfbacks that make the real difference.

Everyone is starting from zero and you have to control the game a bit more tactically. All the great SuperRugby teams had exceptional halfbacks – the Crusaders had Andy Ellis and Dan Carter, at the Bulls we had Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn or Derick Hougaard. You’re not going to win playoff games without great halfbacks, the Highlanders have got Lima Sopoaga and Aaron Smith and the Hurricanes have TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett. You have to dictate the pace of the game and territory, and those guys can all do that.

So that’s going to be the challenge for Elton and Faf, they’ll have to step up tactically especially in the kicking game, which they didn’t really do in the June internationals. There wasn’t enough distance to their kicks against Ireland, so the Springboks were always under pressure. It’s how you relieve pressure that is so important in the SuperRugby playoffs or in Test rugby.

But I think the Lions will beat the Crusaders, who won’t have Nemani Nadolo or Andy Ellis. Their flyhalf, Richie Mo’unga, is in his first season of SuperRugby and they’ll be playing their second-choice scrumhalf. They lost the territory battle against the Hurricanes, they couldn’t exit and the Hurricanes just put penalties to touch and kept them in their own half defending. The Crusaders had no field position and could not dictate territory.

The Sharks though are facing an altogether different battle against the Hurricanes in Wellington, with no Pat Lambie. Stefan Ungerer and Garth April will find it really hard to relieve the pressure and dictate the territory game, and the Sharks were very unconvincing against the Sunwolves.

The one positive though for the Sharks is that they beat the Hurricanes earlier in the season, they were able to outmuscle them, pile on the pressure, use their maul, win turnovers and scored a great intercept try and they took their points. It was a really good defensive effort, but the Sharks haven’t been that convincing since the break and they were monstered in the scrum in the Lions game.

It’s a hard ask for them, but travelling on Tuesday won’t be so bad, at the Bulls we used to do it and at the Boks last year we arrived in Argentina on a Wednesday. The players just sleep on the flight over and stay on their normal body clocks and it means they can get a lot more quality training at home.

I think the Brumbies v Highlanders quarterfinal will be much closer than people think, but I think the Highlanders will scrape through. The wings will make the difference because there’s no Henry Speight nor Joe Tomane for the Brumbies, their forwards just haven’t been firing recently – especially the lineout maul without Pocock – and the Highlanders’ kicking game is very good. Ben Smith is in the form of his life and the Highlanders forwards always give a great platform and work behind this kicking game.

As far as the Stormers go, I think it will be harder for the Chiefs in Cape Town than a lot of people think. They won’t have Liam Messam and the Stormers’ set-piece is always strong, plus they’ll have a fresh Frans Malherbe and Vincent Koch available. The Stormers also have the best defence in the competition.

The Stormers are in a good space, they’ve been putting sides away and there’s been a definite pick-up in intensity with Schalk Burger as captain. The players respond to him, he’s so calm but he always gives 100%, there’s just an aura about him that says “follow me”.

The Stormers have been in better form since he took over the captaincy, they had really good wins over the Rebels and Force. I think with their set-piece and the passionate Cape Town crowd, the Stormers should be too much for the Chiefs, who have too many injuries especially in the backs.

 

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.

 

 

6 weeks in a row for Bok trio but Sharks say they will honour Saru agreement 0

Posted on February 12, 2016 by Ken

 

Director of Rugby Gary Gold said on Thursday that the Sharks will honour the agreement they entered into with the South African Rugby Union (Saru) over the resting of Springboks, despite naming Marcell Coetzee, Pat Lambie and Cobus Reinach in the starting line-up for the sixth week in a row for their crunch match against the Chiefs in Durban on Saturday.

Saru confirmed this week that the agreement with the franchises that key Springboks would not play for more than five consecutive weeks and that they would have rest weeks during the tournament was “the ideal” and was not legally binding.

With the Sharks having endured a difficult start to the season, Saturday’s match against the powerful Chiefs is a key one as they look to close the five-point gap between them and the Stormers in the South African Conference, and Gold said the selection should be seen in the light of this.

“Our view is that we’re 100% behind the Boks in resting players, I think it’s the right thing to do and we’ve agreed to a plan. But we have a different challenge on our hands that other Unions don’t have. We have the most number of Springboks and our first bye is only in Week 11. So when other teams get that bye, they have the break within the five weeks.

“Where it becomes problematic is not being able to meet that five-week period this week. We haven’t been given the benefit of a bye which three of the five South African franchises have already. But as of last week, we’re the only team to have rested Springboks.

“It’s a challenge, but it’s something we’re committed to. It’s the right thing to do, I think the Springboks do need to get some rest time, and I want to make it very clear that we’re committed to that agreement. No-one wants the Springboks to win this Rugby World Cup more than me after going through the disaster of 2011,” Gold, who was the assistant coach when South Africa were eliminated at the quarterfinal stage of the last World Cup, said.

The selection of the current national players means there is just one change to the Sharks team that won so convincingly last weekend in Bloemfontein, with Marco Wentzel, capped as a Springbok in 2002, named as the replacement for the injured lock Pieter-Steph du Toit.

The in-form Du Toit’s knee injury is not as serious as first feared, with the 22-year-old now being ruled out for three months.

After such a good performance as the one in Bloemfontein, Gold said it would be silly to now make changes.

“The guys took a lot of confidence out of a tough game, the Cheetahs are not a roll-over. We played in tough conditions and we’re able to keep continuity going for the same guys in the same positions. From next week we’re going to have to look at jiggling things,” Gold said.

 



↑ Top