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Ken Borland



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.

 

Former Bok defence coach John McFarland previews the Springboks v Argentina Test 2

Posted on August 19, 2016 by Ken

 

 

It’s always exciting when the Rugby Championship starts again and I fully expect the Springboks to win and win well over Argentina in Nelspruit, and that’s because Argentina have scored an own goal against themselves.

We beat them convincingly in our last two meetings, but everyone still talks about how they beat us in Durban last year when our guys had just run too many kilometres in training. But they have often given us tough games and that’s because their strengths were Juan Imhoff on the wing and Marcos Ayerza, who made a huge difference in the scrums and always gave our tightheads a tough time, even if whether it was legal or not is another question.

But Ayerza is a very strong scrummager and Imhoff has pace to burn and he made the difference in Durban last year when they beat us 37-25, scoring a hat-trick, but they’re both not playing in Nelspruit because Argentina have decided not to choose any overseas-based players. It’s a big loss for them and their own ruling, in contrast to South Africa and Australia, who have gone down that route of choosing overseas players.

You only have to look at how the Jaguares did in SuperRugby, they were pretty poor and in fact their rugby went backwards. The vast majority of that side are now in the Argentina team, so they’re coming from a losing culture even if they’ve had a change in coaching.

They’ve travelled the world and earned a fantastic amount of air miles, but not a lot of wins. I think they didn’t expect the travelling in SuperRugby to be so hard. But they have the talent and the basis for success, and from now on it will be easier for them to keep their best players at home.

But they’ve also lost some world-class players since the World Cup like Marcelo Bosch in the backs and flank Juan-Martin Fernandez Lobbe. So they’re without Imhoff, who is their finisher, Ayerza, the core of their scrum, and Lobbe, who was their heart and soul. Those absences will have a big influence on the game.

In terms of the Springboks, it will be interesting to see what their defence will do. It was very passive in the June Tests and it will be interesting to see what system they use, what new defence coach Chean Roux’s principles are on his debut as a defence coach.

Allister Coetzee has alluded to them wanting to work harder on their line speed and if they get it right then it can be a wonderfully destructive tactic as the Hurricanes proved when they destroyed the Lions attack in the SuperRugby final. It can put the opposition on the back foot, take away their Plan A and then you see what they have for a Plan B, which is what the Lions struggled with in the final.

But it will also be interesting to see how the Springboks react to the Pumas’ line speed. If the referee is laissez-faire at the breakdown and with their penchant for leg-tackles, it could be a long afternoon for the Boks.

Argentina are clever about what they do, at the middle rucks they hold and block the defenders and pillars, and flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez and the back three then exploit the space. So the referee has to be awake to that and if the referee allows them latitude then it will be difficult for the Springboks.

But Glen Jackson was the referee in our game against Argentina last year in Buenos Aires and he did really well. He generally wants the game to flow and is not scared to make the tough calls, so that’s in their favour.

But if Sanchez is on his game then he can kick drop goals, Juan-Martin Hernandez as well. They kicked four drop goals between them when they won in 2014 against France in Paris, so that’s a major strength of theirs as well.

They’re also good when it comes to ball-movement and using their wings to create confusion.

It won’t work for the Pumas though to stay out of the breakdown because then if the Springboks get second runners off number nine, it will be difficult for them to get their line set.

In terms of the Springbok selection, you’re obliged to have some experience and even though Bryan Habana is 33 he can mentor Johan Goosen and Ruan Combrinck. Bryan’s always so passionate and committed and he will provide a really valuable example and experience for the youngsters. I hope he goes past David Campese on the try-scoring record list in this game [they are both on 64 international tries, five behind world record-holder Daisuke Ohata of Japan].

Jesse Kriel was stellar last year both in attack and defence, he cut both Australia and New Zealand apart and even in the tightest games he was secure defensively. So I’m sure his chance will come.

The other thing to note about the selection is that the Kubota Spears have more players in the Springbok team than either the Cheetahs or the Kings! We have two players – Jaco Kriel and Lionel Mapoe!!

In terms of tactics, Allister Coetzee doesn’t like to chase the game, he doesn’t want to play catch-up. Giving away soft penalties will lead to you chasing the game and Chean Roux always used to pride himself on making sure the side doesn’t give away penalties in the first 10 minutes or the first 10 minutes after halftime. Allister will want the Springboks to get in front and build up the scoreboard.

It should be a great game in Sydney first up, that always lays down a marker for the tournament, and then we get our chance in the afternoon. There will definitely be a step up from the June internationals because the coaches have now had their teams for a month and they’ll have a bit more continuity, which makes a difference.

So I expect the Springboks to win by 20 points but it’s going to be a different game for the Springboks next weekend in Salta, which is also at altitude and it can be blindingly hot. Rugby is very tough there and Jerome Garces will be the referee in Salta.

The All Blacks don’t quite have the depth they had before at centre, but Beauden Barrett is in the form of his life.

Australia have backed tried-and-tested players like Matt Giteau, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Will Genia, who are all quite fresh and have had a break. So I expect a fast and open game in Sydney but I see the All Blacks winning it.

 

 

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.

 

The Lions & the Springboks are totally different environments 0

Posted on August 15, 2016 by Ken

 

So it didn’t quite end in jubilation, but the Lions’ SuperRugby campaign still brought enormous pride and good feeling over their rags-to-riches story, and the public will carry many of those emotions into the Rugby Championship that starts next weekend.

But it is vital to realise that the Springboks and the Test arena are entirely different environments to the Lions and SuperRugby, and comments calling for the whole of Johan Ackermann’s team to be promoted to the national side or for coach Allister Coetzee to simply copy the game plan are ill-informed, ill-judged and have the potential to be divisive.

The health of any rugby team has a lot to do with its unity of purpose and their togetherness as people, and one could sense some frustration this week when the Springbok management and some of the players were constantly asked questions that referred back to the Lions.

Hopefully Lions captain Warren Whiteley, whose hard work on the field and wise words off it are nothing short of inspirational, put that all to bed this week when he highlighted in no uncertain terms that the Springboks are different.

“There’s no debate about using the same playing style, these are two different sides and we are not talking about unions any more. You’re talking about a team at provincial level against a national side. Sure, we as Lions players can bring confidence to the Springboks and there are similarities in the way we are trying to play. But there’s a step up when you come to the Springboks and the intensity and speed with which we’ve been training is at another level to the Lions,” Whiteley said this week.

Last weekend’s column bemoaned the parlous state of the Currie Cup, South Africa’s flagship rugby competition, but the performance of the Lions is one of the reasons for optimism when it comes to South African rugby.

Amidst the ritz and glitz of the Olympics there was another reason for cheer, even if the Blitzbokke flattered to deceive and had to settle for a bronze medal (still a notable achievement and more than New Zealand or Australia could manage). I’m talking about Rasta Rashivenge being given the honour of refereeing the Sevens final, an appointment that continues a long line of excellence when it comes to South African officials.

They receive way more criticism than plaudits simply because of human nature, but our referees and the high standards they maintain is one of the best stories in South African rugby.

Some of the media were privileged this week to be able to sit down with leading referee Jaco Peyper for an information session just to help us scribes better understand why certain decisions are made on the field and how the officials are interpreting the details of the laws these days.

Peyper said a referee makes about 400 decisions in every game and there will always be little mistakes, but the important thing is to ensure these do not have a major impact on the game.

He also said it is important to note that the key focus areas that referees are blowing these days have been decided in consultation with the coaches and other stakeholders, notably medical staff. They have had their say on what the shape of the game should look like and how to make it safer, and the referee’s job is to facilitate that.

Interestingly, there are some well-known phrases in our rugby lexicon, like “downward pressure”, “the direction of the hands when passing” and “bringing the catcher of the ball down safely” that don’t appear anywhere in the laws of the game.

This has led to some confusion amongst the public when watching games and the referees and TMOs don’t take any of those polluting myths into account, most often leading to filthy language in the lounge. For a clear and thorough view of the laws, including the opportunity to discuss issues with leading referees, I would recommend going to http://www.sareferees.com/

 

 



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