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Ken Borland



Failure to pitch a recipe for disaster for Boks 0

Posted on February 01, 2017 by Ken

 

Meeting a fired-up Argentina team on their home turf is never an easy prospect, regardless of what happened the previous week, so when the Springboks decided not to “pitch” physically for their Rugby Championship Test in Mendoza at the weekend, it was always going to be a recipe for disaster.

For whatever reason, the Springboks failed to match the intensity and physicality of the Pumas and for long periods it just looked as if they weren’t “up” for the game.

With Argentina attacking the collisions and breakdowns with tremendous ferocity, it meant the Springboks were always on the back foot and had little decent ball to actually launch the attacking side of their game, which had been so impressive the weekend before back in Johannesburg.

The Springboks eventually won the Test 22-17 with two late penalties by Morne Steyn, but it was hardly an authoritative performance. The massive physicality that had blown the Pumas away at the FNB Stadium and set up the record 73-13 victory a week earlier was as absent this weekend as the president of the South African Rugby Union.

The home side pressed forward from the outset and, after robbing scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar of possession at a ruck – he endured a torrid day as he was hassled throughout at the breakdowns – they scored the opening try through flank Juan Manuel Leguizamon after just two minutes.

It meant the Pumas’ prayers were answered in terms of getting their passionate crowd behind them and they enjoyed a 10-3 lead after 10 minutes as Felipe Contepomi and Steyn traded penalties.

Centre Contepomi was then partly to blame for the Springboks’ only try, in the 14th minute, as he failed with a clearance kick, gifting the ball to the Springbok backs. Willie le Roux – he didn’t have the best of games overall – then showed tremendous hands to put wing Bjorn Basson away for the try.

But the Springboks’ hopes were severely dented just before half-time when centre Marcelo Bosch crashed through to score Argentina’s second try.

The Pumas had generally tried to avoid lineouts – a Springbok strength – in the first half, but eventually they had one inside the 22, only the third of the match. From there, another direct attack with short pop passes led to Bosch powering over.

The Argentine loose forwards continued to rob and spoil the Springboks’ ball in the second half and their more direct approach with ball-in-hand also hurt the South Africans. But there is something almost naive about this Springbok side in that they sometimes give the impression that they expect the opposition to be placid, to allow them an easy stroll through a game. And so not enough numbers were committed to the breakdowns or the defence close-in and the Pumas were adept at exploiting the gap in the first channel from the ruck.

The Springboks were, frankly, being bullied and they even sought referee Steve Walsh’s attention, alleging eye-gouging and biting. Two Argentinean loose forwards, Leonardo Senatore and Pablo Matera, would later be cited for foul play, but the whistleman’s focus during the match seemed to be on all sorts of peripheral things rather than keeping the breakdown contest tidy and enforcing offsides lines.

The Pumas’ ill-discipline was eventually punished by Walsh, allowing Steyn to kick four second-half penalties that won the game.

Questions, though, will be asked over some of coach Heyneke Meyer’s decisions, such as leaving the struggling Pienaar on for the entire game or not giving the more physical Flip van der Merwe a longer run in the second row.

But it’s the failure of the Springboks to lift themselves – having spoken all week about how they expect the Pumas to bounce back ferociously – that is perhaps of most concern.

They will now travel to Australasia next weekend for their two Tests against the Wallabies and the All Blacks and they are not going to win those unless their pack rediscovers the fire they showed at the FNB Stadium.

The Springbok backline are not going to be able to win those Tests on their own; the forwards are going to have to do the gruntwork and lay the foundation.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-08-26-rugby-boks-win-but-without-conviction/#.WJHMPVN97IU

Boks honour Madiba with inspired rout of Argentina 0

Posted on January 20, 2017 by Ken

 

Captain Jean de Villiers praised “Madiba Magic” for once again inspiring the Springboks as they registered a record-breaking 73-13 annihilation of Argentina in their opening Rugby Championship game at FNB Stadium on Saturday.

The Springboks returned to Soweto to be part of Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture Day to honour the unwell Father of the Nation. The tremendous atmosphere undoubtedly inspired them as they played in front of an audience that was far more representative of the demographics of the country than usual, thanks to Bafana Bafana playing before them in a 2-0 victory over Burkina Faso.

“The atmosphere was fantastic and we definitely enjoyed it. Today was about more than just rugby and sport, it was about the whole of South Africa, uniting the nation and celebrating someone who did that so well. The Madiba Magic worked for us again,” De Villiers said.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer also tapped into the occasion in motivating his team.

“The team talk was simple: I told them it was a special occasion and they should produce a big performance to make Madiba proud, and also to show a lot of soccer supporters who haven’t seen us play before what we can do,” Meyer said after the game. “It was one of those days when everything went right, what stood out was how clinical we were and we built an innings well.”

But the biggest victory in the history of the Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship didn’t just happen thanks to everything coming together magically day-of. Meyer is renowned as a tactician and strategist and plenty of homework has gone into this year’s Sanzar tournament, with the coach pointing out how much more time he has had to prepare this time around.

The attention to detail was most obvious in the scrum laws, where a new engagement sequence was being used for the first time. Far from the new laws hurting the Springbok forwards, as some quarters in Australia have suggested, it seems South Africa, under the astute guidance of former French prop Pieter de Villiers, might well be pioneers in this new era of scrummaging. The highly respected Pumas scrum was dominated throughout and they even conceded a try from a tighthead late in the second half.

As Meyer pointed out, the entire coaching team deserved credit for the impressive performance. Meyer has made it his mission to fix the Springboks’ breakdown woes, the main cause of the controversial quarterfinal exit from the 2011 World Cup, and the acquisition of Scottish breakdown expert Richie Gray has clearly paid dividends as South Africa were far more efficient in the rucks than when they last played Argentina and were held to a messy 16-16 draw. Four of the nine Springbok tries came from rolling mauls, the speciality of forward coach Johan van Graan, while the lineout was imperious and the defence excellent under John McFarland. The backs, under the guidance of Ricardo Loubscher, played with an air of adventure and intent that has not always been apparent.

Meyer is a strong proponent of laying a solid platform in a Test, building pressure, and the Springboks eased into Saturday’s match with three penalties in the first quarter from Morne Steyn, all from a long way out. The in-form flyhalf would go on to miss just one of his 13 kicks at goal as he netted 28 points – the third most in a Sanzar Test – and he also distributed slickly, a lovely inside pass for Duane Vermeulen’s try and the counter-attack he sparked that led to JJ Engelbrecht’s touchdown shortly before half-time being the highlights.

It was Vermeulen’s break on the half-hour that led to the Springboks’ opening try, the eighthman making an impressive return to top-flight rugby after a knee injury. After several penalties, and seeing several rolling mauls pulled down, referee Chris Pollock, in conjunction with the TMO, had little choice but to award a penalty try and a yellow card after Pumas hooker Eusebio Guinazu deliberately slapped down a pass to prevent Ruan Pienaar from scoring a try in an overlap.

Engelbrecht’s try, after Steyn’s counter-attack and a deft chip by Willie le Roux, was the Springboks’ second, but they proceeded to run riot in the second half as seven further tries were scored to break the previous Sanzar record of eight (scored by South Africa against Australia at Loftus Versfeld in 1997).

The massive victory had its foundation in the ability of ferocious ball-carriers like Eben Etzebeth, Willem Alberts, Vermeulen and Adriaan Strauss to smash their way over the advantage line from the steady supply of front-foot balls they were allowed to enjoy by the Springboks’ dominance in the scrums and lineouts.

Apart from the magnificent performance of the pack, Meyer will also have to mull over selection because alongside as the starting XV played, there were some performances off the bench that were equally compelling.

What wonderful depth the Springbok coach has at his disposal when Strauss – named man of the match – can be replaced by the best hooker in the world in Bismarck du Plessis, while the two substitute props, Gurthro Steenkamp and Coenie Oosthuizen, seamlessly continued the great work of Tendai Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis.

While Etzebeth stole the show with his rampaging display, Juandre Kruger was superb in the lineouts and the Springboks don’t lose much when Flip van der Merwe enters the fray. Siya Kolisi was all energy when he came on in the 65th minute, while Pat Lambie and Jan Serfontein both made telling runs that led to tries in their short cameos.

But it was the 25-minute display by substitute scrumhalf Fourie du Preez that had most tongues wagging. It’s a great pity that his Japanese club, Suntory Sungoliath, will only allow him to play in the Springboks’ home fixtures, because the 2007 World Cup hero oozed class and he also seems to get the best out of starting halfback Pienaar.

“I’m very happy with both the scrumhalves. That was Ruan’s best performance since I started coaching him, while Fourie showed he still has a lot of speed, he was brilliant and he still managed to pick up the tempo even more. I think he brought out the best in Ruan, and Jano Vermaak and Piet van Zyl must step up now too.

“One of our really strong points was our unbelievable bench. Usually things become loose when you bring on a lot of replacements, but the subs were awesome today. I was even able to take my captain off with 25 minutes left,” Meyer said.

While 52,000 people at the FNB Stadium were treated to a wonderful main show on a great day, the scary thing is the Springboks could well have won by more. In the first half especially, their backs fluffed chances due to poor handling and a lack of cohesion.

“We still didn’t use all our opportunities, we created a couple that we didn’t capitalise on. And to put everything in perspective, we were playing against a team that had two yellow cards and we scored an intercept try,” De Villiers admitted.

“We expect a totally different beast in Mendoza, they’ll be hurting. But we need to enjoy this win, days like this don’t come along very often, and we have some confidence to build on.”

We will have to wait until the Springboks have played a couple more games in this tournament before we have enough evidence for a final verdict on their ability to unseat the world champion All Blacks, who ensured a torrid debut for Ewen McKenzie as Wallabies coach as they thumped Australia 47-29 in Sydney.

It was a very poor night for the Pumas, who were also disrupted by losing two key players in lock Patricio Albacete and fullback Juan Martin Hernandez in the first half. How much of that was down to the Springboks’ brilliance is difficult to quantify. But the portents are good for a much stronger South African challenge in this year’s Rugby Championship.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-08-19-springboks-pummel-pumas/#.WIH421N97IU

Beware the slip-up as Springboks take on Argentina 0

Posted on December 09, 2016 by Ken

 

The Springboks open their Rugby Championship campaign with a game against Argentina at the FNB Stadium on Saturday that has huge potential to be a real banana peel of a match – everyone expects South Africa to maintain their unbeaten record against the Pumas, but a slip-up and a defeat on home turf is still a definite possibility.

Duane Vermeulen, a powerful, physical eighthman, returns to the back of the scrum after a season once again disrupted by injury, while Juandre Kruger, a brilliant lineout organiser and jumper, is back in the number five jersey.

There are a couple of new faces on the bench as well – although the actual visages of scrumhalf Fourie du Preez and prop Gurthro Steenkamp are famous all over the rugby world as experienced former World Cup winners.

Vermeulen comes in for the injured Pierre Spies, the Bulls’ eighthman whose abilities are way more highly rated by the Springbok management than by those who base their opinion on televised displays.

 

“Duane can bring something different, he’s physical and unbelievably good on the ground, he’s like an extra openside flank because he competes very well for the ball. He’s good in the lineout too and I expect a good performance from him,” Meyer said on Wednesday.

Kruger, a good communicator in the lineout, returns in place of Flip van der Merwe, who moved from his normal number four position to number five to add some fire to the pack for their last Test against the combative Samoans in June.

For the time being, Meyer has decided to ease the Japan-based Du Preez into action off the bench, with Ruan Pienaar again the starting scrumhalf.

While we all wait with bated breath to see whether the talismanic 31-year-old can still dominate proceedings on the field as he did during his prime, there is no doubting Du Preez’s off-field value in guiding and motivating the Springboks.

“It would be unfair to expect and a lot to ask for Fourie to come straight in and start during his off-season, and it’s the right thing for the team for him to ease back in. He will definitely get game time and that’s a lot of experience to bring on,” Meyer said.

Meyer said Pienaar’s retention in the number nine jersey was all part of his desire for continuity.

“Ruan is the number one choice, he’s the guy in the saddle and we’ve opted for continuity.

“I don’t want to chop and change every week, we’ve won six Tests on the trot and we want to take that momentum forward. We’ve only had one week’s proper preparation for this Test, so that’s why I wanted to keep continuity. Because we’ve had very little time to prepare, continuity has been the deciding factor in selection,” Meyer said.

Because of this policy, the in-form Adriaan Strauss also retains the number two jersey ahead of the benched Bismarck du Plessis, who is considered the best hooker in the world.

The other key features of the selection are Meyer placing his faith in Willie le Roux at fullback and Bjorn Basson on the left wing, while the scavenging skills of Siya Kolisi see him earn the loose forward reserve’s spot on the bench ahead of ball-carrier and tackler Marcell Coetzee, a result of the coach’s new emphasis on the breakdown.

The defensive frailties of Basson are a concern and the awful mistake he made in the Bulls’ 22 during the SuperRugby final led to the match-winning, last-minute try by the Brumbies. JJ Engelbrecht, the outside centre for Saturday’s Test, has also shown a propensity to rush out of the defensive line, and the cut-throat intensity of international rugby means such mistakes can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

“We’ve only had one defence session during the week and it’s difficult to fix things like that in that time. But they are both great players and I have a lot of confidence in our defence, we’ve only been conceding a little more than one try per Test on average.

“Bjorn and JJ are both brilliant attackers and that means the other guys need to defend too. I want an attacking mindset, they say the best form of defence is attack, and even the best backline in the world will make mistakes now and then,” Meyer said.

Kolisi confirmed that the breakdown would be his key focus.

“I want to become more of an openside flank and I’ve been working hard on slowing down the ball and getting to the ball first. Richie Gray [the Springboks’ new breakdown consultant] really knows what he is talking about and he’s had us getting quickly off the ground.

“These days you can’t play with nobody for the breakdown, you need quick ball in order to score tries, and we’re looking forward to getting better in that department.

“It’s my first game in the Rugby Championship, so it’s huge for me. I don’t feel entrenched in the squad because there are a lot of good loose forwards, and I must perform well every week to stay part of the 23,” Kolisi said.

Meyer said pace to the breakdowns would be crucial against Argentina because they employ similar tactics to the All Blacks.

“Argentina give you the outside gaps and then counter-ruck you, like the All Blacks do. So cleaning out at the rucks is very important,” Meyer said.

Meyer will hope for the same precision and attention to detail in all facets of the game if the Springboks are to avoid turning the celebrations of Nelson Mandela’s birthday into a sorry start to the Rugby Championship.

Team: 15-Willie le Roux, 14-Bryan Habana, 13-JJ Engelbrecht, 12-Jean de Villiers, 11-Bjorn Basson, 10-Morne Steyn, 9-Ruan Pienaar, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Willem Alberts, 6-Francois Louw, 5-Juandre Kruger, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Adriaan Strauss, 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: 16-Bismarck du Plessis, 17-Gurthro Steenkamp, 18-Coenie Oosthuizen, 19-Flip van der Merwe, 20-Siya Kolisi, 21-Fourie du Preez, 22-Pat Lambie, 23-Jan Serfontein.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-08-15-rugby-championship-boks-lineup-will-have-its-hands-full-against-argentina/#.WFPh-rJ97IU

Former Bok defence coach John McFarland on why the bench will be crucial in Brisbane 0

Posted on September 08, 2016 by Ken

 

The impact of the Springboks’ 6-2 bench is going to be of the utmost importance in their Rugby Championship Test against Australia in Brisbane on Saturday, because of a combination of who the referee is and who they are playing against.

Nigel Owens is a fantastic referee and there tends to be a very high ball-in-play figure whenever he’s in charge. Australia have also always had a very attacking mindset in all the games against the Springboks and with their two flyhalves, they will also want to keep the ball in play.

So the ball-in-play figure could be 40-45 minutes, which is the norm against Australia when Owens is the referee but about 20% more than average, which is the reason why Allister Coetzee has gone for six forwards on the bench.

If you look at our recent Test matches against Australia, the Springboks have been comfortably in front for 60-65 minutes but have not finished the job because of a lack of bench impact.

So it’s obvious that having impact players on the bench will be vital and the bench this year has definitely added value– guys like Jaco Kriel, the two props and Pieter-Steph du Toit have provided real grunt up front.

The key for the Springboks is to have 23 players to play for the full 90 minutes. Three forwards will possibly play the full 90 minutes – Strauss, Whiteley and Etzebeth, for whom it is a tremendous achievement to reach 50 caps so young.

Victor Matfield made a very relevant point on SuperSport when he said that the Springboks didn’t have a single driving maul in Salta. Their lineout is so dominant that they must use their maul. Even the Lions do – they have a strong set-piece and maul, it’s a very solid part of their game.

Juan de Jongh and Jesse Kriel will make quite an exciting centre pairing. It’s a bit harsh though on Damien de Allende and Lionel Mapoe because they’ve seen very little ball on the front foot, but obviously Allister has decided that it’s time for a shake-up. It’s especially difficult at outside centre if the midfield is not operating and you get the ball up against a defensive wall, you’re very influenced by what happens on your inside.

The advantage of Juan and Jesse is that they are better communicators in defence and attack, and both have amazing sidestepping ability and run hard reverse lines against the defence. Jesse scored two wonderful tries stepping from centre in last year’s Rugby Championship and they will pose a different attacking threat against Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley.

Allister has obviously also gone for this pairing because Australia don’t have the same size in the midfield as other teams like New Zealand do. Australia will have a very small midfield, which provides the Springboks with the opportunity to run at them and expose their defensive weaknesses.

Australia mix their backs around defensively, they are not always in the channel you’d expect them to be, for example Cooper does find himself at fullback or blind wing sometimes on defence, so then you can use the high-ball kicking game on him from lineouts.

The obvious reason for Australia to go with two flyhalves is that it puts a lot more width on their passing game and they can use a lot more second-man plays from wide channels. The other advantage is they can split their backs on a middle ruck and have two sides to attack.

The other big selection issue has been Adriaan Strauss. Allister obviously wanted his experience and wisdom  and Adriaan is a quality Test performer. His accuracy at the lineout is second to none as is his scrummaging, so his set-pieces are always at a high level and he contributed around the park.

I guess the results haven’t been as he would have expected and it’s been a difficult year. But he cares deeply about the game. He’s not a tub-thumping sort of captain, but he speaks intelligently and demands high standards.

The Springboks have just not been able to get their all-round game going but the set-pieces have been really solid, so he has done his job.

For Saturday, the defence of the Springboks really has to improve. The work-rate has to be a lot higher to set the breakdown pillars properly before the attack gets in place. The ability of the defence to force turnovers will be crucial because Australia will take the ball at the Boks in hand. The side they have picked is very attack-minded.

The other really huge battle of the game will be the lineout.  New Zealand really exposed flaws in the Australian lineout in the two Bledisloe Cup Tests and the Springboks definitely have an advantage having picked four lineout jumpers to combat three.

I would expect us to continue to produce good ball on our own throw and hopefully disrupt their lineout to give them poor set-piece ball to attack from.

In 2013, the Springboks broke the Brisbane hoodoo, scoring four tries to zero. Hopefully on Saturday they can do the same again.

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.

 



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