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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Looking back at the fantastic Newlands Test 0

Posted on October 13, 2017 by Ken

 

What a fantastic game of rugby it was at Newlands, with the incredible atmosphere, the pace, intensity and physicality making it real Test match rugby.

Unfortunately the Springboks lost, but they gave a huge performance and the All Blacks will know they were lucky to win. It was so pleasing to see the Springboks go from 57-0 to losing by just a point, but they should have won.

Of course the game could have been different had Nehe Milner-Skudder’s break been finished off or Rieko Ioane had not been tackled over the goal-line by Jesse Kriel, those 14 points could have deflated the Springboks. But it was also the home side’s own mistakes that gave the All Blacks the points they needed.

Even the last-minute controversy was avoidable because it’s always a risk rushing for the charge down; you need to come at an angle so you don’t hit the kicker head-on. It’s to protect the kicker and Damian was too square-on. He did manage to put Lima Sopoaga off his drop kick, but he also would have known he was late and risked sanction, and conceded the penalty anyway. It wasn’t the best moment in Damian de Allende’s rugby life and it changed the complexion of the game because the All Blacks were then two scores clear and with just 14 men on the field, it was an uphill task for the Springboks.

The breakdown turnovers were the key and you could see the reaction of the team after Malcolm Marx and Francois Louw stole the ball. The mix of the back row Allister Coetzee chose came in for a lot of criticism but it was done for a reason.

Siya Kolisi and Francois Louw were the two breakdown players, which you need to disrupt the All Blacks’ attacking pattern, and Pieter-Steph du Toit provided physicality and bolstered the lineout.

In terms of the Springbok kicking game, they kicked a bit more than previously, although I find it strange that the crowd boos our own scrumhalf for kicking box-kicks, while the New Zealand scrumhalf is applauded for doing it. The plan was clearly to have contestable kicks to test the All Blacks back three. In the last World Cup semi-final, Milner-Skudder dropped a few high balls and was eventually moved away from the wing, so that was clearly part of the Springboks’ plan at Newlands.

You can’t just run willy-nilly from your own half, sometimes you’ve got to kick. It must either be long into the 22, which gives you time to build a chase line or force the catcher to kick out and give you a lineout; or he will kick long which gives you the chance to put the running bomb up; or it must be contestable. If you’re accurate enough then you have a 50/50 chance of winning the ball back, or you can put in a dominant tackle, get a turnover or just slow their ball down.

That did not happen in Ross Cronje’s box-kick that led to Damian McKenzie’s spectacular try, but to be fair, David Havili was allowed too much space and time to run across the field. The Springboks have struggled with guys running across their defensive line, it raises doubts as to whether the outside defender should turn in or trust the player on the inside. It’s something the Springboks have got to tighten up.

What was probably most pleasing of all – and credit must go to their conditioning for this – was that the Springboks were much stronger at the end of the game, both physically and mentally. Playing at sea level, as predicted, was also important because it makes it a level playing field.

The performance of the pack was magnificent, they were bristling on the gain-line, they won the collisions and they really gained confidence from the lineout. The Springboks went for four-man lineouts and then the short ball, which ensured they were able to win quality possession. The maul try they scored was also really pleasing.

The forwards seem to be in that special zone right now where they are full of confidence and intensity and they are really playing for each other.

We should also not underestimate Francois Louw’s calmness and experience and just his assurance, which definitely has an impact on his fellow forwards on and off the field.

Elton Jantjies’ kick at goal that he didn’t put over was also important and at international level you’ve got to convert those chances.

The main problem with the backline was that they were a little too deep and too lateral. Everyone wishes they can have a flat attack, because that’s what causes the defence the most problems, and it was better when Handre Pollard came on. Then again, there has to be quick ruck ball for the number 10 to take the ball into the jaws of the defence.

Ironically, the shorter lineouts do actually cause a problem for the backs because then there’s not much chance for them to have a one-on one. It’s good that Allister Coetzee is backing combinations because that induces trust, but he needs to be aware if, over a period of time, players aren’t really performing.

With the backs being a bit too lateral and too deep at Newlands, it allowed the All Blacks to pick off the carriers in the backline. It was interesting when Pollard came on that he played much flatter to the gain-line, which brought his forwards more into play, for example when Malcolm Marx hit the hole and set up the try for Jean-Luc du Preez.

For the end-of-year tour it will obviously be different conditions to South Africa, especially compared to on the highveld.

Both the matches against Ireland and Wales will be played in stadia with roofs, which makes a difference. Hopefully the Springboks have now found the formula that works for them.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

The Currie Cup has fallen from its perch 2

Posted on August 22, 2017 by Ken

 

There can now be no doubt that the Currie Cup has fallen from its perch as one of the most respected domestic rugby competitions in the world to an afterthought, something that seems to have become a burden for SA Rugby rather than a jewel in the crown.

While rugby romantics who grew up on the grand old tales of the Currie Cup and its great provincial rivalry will just have to get used to the fact that most of SA Rugby’s resources will now be poured into SuperRugby and the Springboks (and even the Pro14 seems to have jumped the queue in importance), there is one important factor that needs to be dealt with – SuperRugby franchises still get their players from the Currie Cup.

The Currie Cup is still a vital stepping stone from which so many players graduate into the next year’s SuperRugby competition, and most of the franchises will tell you they have half-an-eye on the Sanzaar tournament throughout all their Currie Cup activities.

And, as Jake White has pointed out, what happens now in the Currie Cup affects the Springboks in five years’ time.

“If you look at the kind of players who are playing Currie Cup now, with the Springboks and internationals away, we are saying that the Currie Cup is not what it used to be, and my fear is that we’re accepting mediocrity. When I was a youngster, the likes of Hennie Bekker, Schalk Burger Snr and Henning van Aswegen were playing for Western Province. How many 19-year-olds played then? None. And how many of the youngsters playing today would make that Western Province team? None.

“That’s a worrying sign because whatever is happening now, there’s no doubt it will impact where we will be in the next five years. There are a lot of factors – overseas players, spreading the talent base – but I don’t think people want to admit that the consequences are going to come back to bite us,” White told All Out Rugby.

The downgrading of the Currie Cup is a serious concern that is reflected in attendance figures, but how are people meant to get excited about a tournament that started while SuperRugby’s exciting climax was hogging all the attention? Watching second and third-string teams play is really only going to excite the family members and close friends of the players involved.

One of the biggest questions the current Currie Cup breeding ground is not answering is “Where are we going to get all our future props from?”

It is a disgrace that the Currie Cup is practically the only premier rugby tournament in the world that is still using 22-man squads, which forces most teams to choose only one prop replacement. When it happened last year it was almost forgiven because of the chaotic preparation for the 2016 Currie Cup [http://kenborland.com/2016/08/6043/], but making the same mistake again has drawn fully justified criticism from Sharks coach Robert du Preez and Nollis Marais of the Blue Bulls.

The reason for not moving with the times and having 23 players – which allows a full front row of replacements – is apparently financial. But given that it costs probably R6000 per player per match (and only the visiting team needs a flight and hotel), so with three games per weekend, that’s an extra R18 000 for the 23rd player.

With the Currie Cup being played over 14 weeks, that’s an extra cost of about R252 000. Surely SA Rugby can get that money from cost-cutting other areas that aren’t so vital for the welfare of the game?

It also avoids the unsavoury sight of uncontested scrums, which are open to abuse whenever a side is under pressure in that set-piece. The scrums are such a vital platform these days for front-foot ball and earning penalties and uncontested scrums are clearly unfair on the dominant team.

Speaking about the welfare of the game, women’s rugby in this country has taken a knock by it not being involved in the ongoing Women’s Rugby World Cup which has reached the semi-final stage in Ireland. The decision was made by SA Rugby to rather invest in the grassroots of women’s rugby, the U16 and U18 championships, to try and broaden the base, rather than sending a team to the World Cup to finish 10th.

While the reasoning is understandable, the enormous strides made by our national women’s cricket team shows that investing heavily at the elite level can also bring rewards.

SA Rugby needs to weigh up the merits of providing opportunities with the harsh economic realities of our time, but at the moment it seems the money men are calling all the shots.

When there are problems in a relationship, people start looking elsewhere 0

Posted on August 08, 2017 by Ken

 

When the chief executive of SA Rugby talks about “problems in Sanzaar” and feeling “shackled” by the southern hemisphere rugby body, then it is clear South African rugby sees its future as lying elsewhere.

But while Jurie Roux admitted to SA Rugby’s relationship with Sanzaar not being ideal, he stressed that there were no plans to leave the alliance with New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, even though South African rugby will be dallying elsewhere with northern hemisphere competitions like the Pro14.

“This is a very exciting time for South African rugby. We feel shackled in Sanzaar but now we have the opportunity to go north. It gives us options. People think that the Pro14 move is just about the Cheetahs and Kings, but it’s so much more than that.

“With the world calendar not aligned, we were all signing six or seven-year deals that were out of sync with each other. But now we have so many more opportunities and options. I’m super-excited for the Pro14. It’s an elegant solution for our Sanzaar problems,” Roux said on Monday at the announcement of FNB becoming a sponsor of the Springboks.

“We don’t have options in Sanzaar, which means you’re actually nowhere and that’s not where you want to be. But we are really good for each other, so we will still participate in Sanzaar; we are strong because we play against Australia and New Zealand.

“But we can never have eight franchises in Sanzaar, we can have four or five maximum and maybe we’ll even go down to three. But at least we now have options. We still need to play against Australia and New Zealand to be the best, so I don’t see the relationship ending. It’s just the way and how we play that will change. And we’ll have more international exposure up north,” Roux said.

The CEO added that the whole structure of South African rugby competitions would change in 2020 when the global calendar kicks into play.

Roux admitted that the Kings and Cheetahs were like guinea-pigs as they take the first steps into the brave new world of European rugby.

“The Kings will be ready, but it will be a very tough first year for them, although they’ve gone through that before and done pretty well, with Deon Davids one of the most under-rated coaches around; you must watch them from the second year onwards. The Cheetahs are more established and will be there or thereabouts.

“We needed to go north at some stage and we’ll have proof of concept now, you’ll be able to see if it works,” Roux said.

http://citizen.co.za/sport/sport-rugby/1602552/jurie-roux-suggests-the-sanzaar-marriage-is-on-the-rocks/

SuperRugby final a benefit for entire city – Lions CEO 0

Posted on August 02, 2017 by Ken

 

Saturday’s SuperRugby final that the Lions will host at Ellis Park against the Crusaders is going to benefit not just the rugby franchise but the entire city of Johannesburg, according to CEO Rudolf Straeuli.

A sell-out crowd of more than 60 000 has already been confirmed for the showdown as the Lions look to complete their fairytale resurgence by beating the most successful team in SuperRugby history and becoming only the second South African side to win the southern hemisphere franchise competition.

“Hosting the final is going to be a huge benefit for everyone who finds value at Ellis Park. It’s not just the union that benefits, it obviously also helps the Ellis Park Stadium Pty and it’s a huge marketing opportunity for the Lions company and a great honour to host the final. There’s the money from the tickets and hospitality and some extra reward in the form of the prizemoney. None of that was budgeted for, so it’s a bonus.

“But it’s also a big positive for Johannesburg, the whole city, and especially the Ellis Park precinct, all our neighbours. We are really blessed to be able to host such great events, we’ve had the All Blacks here before and the Test against France this year was also a big success,” Straeuli told The Citizen on Tuesday.

The Lions have not only established themselves at the pinnacle of South African rugby, but have also had to manoeuvre themselves out of troubled financial waters in the last five years.

“You can’t take anything away from the team because they are our flagship, and our juniors have done very well too with our Craven Week side being the best and our U21s and U19s winning their competitions last year. But a few years ago we were a business that was having retrenchments. But some staff took pay-cuts and simplicity has been key to our operations.

“We don’t have a big staff for the big area we have to manage and we have had to cut our cloth according to our needs. But there’s a really positive mood and success breeds further success. Plus people like Kevin de Klerk (president) and Altmann Allers (vice-president) are serious businessmen. If we didn’t have them behind us and their business acumen and that of the board, never mind their own money they have put in, then we wouldn’t be here,” Straeuli said.

http://citizen.co.za/sport/sport-rugby/1595200/super-rugby-final-will-be-a-boost-for-joburg/



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