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Ken Borland



Springboks suffering due to lack of solid structure below them 5

Posted on October 17, 2016 by Ken

 

The Springboks’ humiliating defeat in Durban last weekend was a painful reminder of the gulf in quality that exists between the administration and structure of the game in New Zealand and back here in South Africa, with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen making sure to mention the decision-makers in their rugby when he was asked for the reasons behind their world record equalling run of 17 successive wins.

A solid structure from schoolboys to the Springboks is what is needed for our rugby to remain amongst the best in the world, not yet another overhaul of the national team and their coaches; that’s just treating the symptom, shuffling people around, and does not address the root cause of our problems.

And, as great as next week’s Rugby Indaba sounds – except for the unfortunate two coaches who have their preparations for the Currie Cup final disrupted (another example of Saru’s awful treatment of their flagship competition) – it’s not going to address our real problems either. There might be some good ideas about game plans and what-not, but the coaches and the franchise CEOs do not have the power to change the structural failings in rugby, that lies with the South African Rugby Union and their turkeys who will steadfastly not vote for Christmas.

Below the national sides, there should just be six teams playing fully professional rugby based in the major cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein. And those six unions should have the power in South African rugby, not the eight lesser unions, largely amateurish and as relevant as dinosaurs, which are currently the tail that wags the dog.

Below that, all 14 unions can have semi-professional teams, but the amount of money that can be saved by only having six fully professional teams and by eight economically unviable organisations no longer drawing over R20 million a year in Saru grants could go a long way towards keeping our players in the country.

Just like in New Zealand, talented rugby players must fight for a limited number of professional contracts through their performances at club level, that lead to them playing for their provinces and then being chosen for a Super Rugby deal.

The vast majority of schoolboy players in New Zealand don’t become professional rugby players when they finish their education. They go to university and play rugby there, or play for their local club side while working, which is why so many All Blacks have had interesting occupations like lumberjack, piano mover or, as in the case of Aaron Smith, apprentice hairdresser.

It’s a system that builds character and ensures only the fittest and hungriest players survive to reach the top.

Good schoolboy players in South Africa should be lauded in their school hall and with selection for provincial and national schoolboy teams; not with professional contracts and way too much exposure on television.

There is far too great an emphasis on schoolboy rugby in South Africa and that just creates entitled, spoilt players, wastes a lot of late-developing talent, kills our clubs and also gets in the way of transformation in many cases.

This is not to say that our current Springboks and their management are beyond blame. The All Blacks have a relentless drive to improve on and off the field every day, they see every challenge as a means of getting better.

Do our Springboks and their coaching staff have that same hunger? The same desire to do whatever it takes? Because it will also come down to that if they are going to close the gap with the All Blacks.

Any top professional sportsman worth his salt would turn a record 57-15 hammering at home into motivation to lift their conditioning and skills to new levels.

The South African cricket team has just completed an historic 5-0 series whitewash of world champions Australia, with captain Faf du Plessis saying a culture camp they held before the start of the summer has ensured that they are now playing as a team again and, most importantly, are really challenging each other to be better.

Now that’s the sort of indaba that could be useful for our rugby players and coaches, but the administrators still need to make the major, unselfish changes that will really benefit the game in this country.

 

Hockey is far from dying 0

Posted on May 08, 2016 by Ken

 

We are constantly being told that hockey is a dying game in South Africa, unloved by the politicians that run sport in this country and struggling to stay afloat as an amateur pursuit in this professional day and age.

But when I spent last week at the Senior Interprovincial Nationals – the most prestigious interprovincial tournament – in Randburg, I was delighted to be reacquainted with a vibrant sport that has passionate followers and a festive culture of its own.

At the top level, where our best hockey players continue to be denied opportunities to play on the biggest stages like the Olympics, there are obvious frustrations, but hockey is the epitome of a mass-participation sport at school, university and club level.

I was told stories of how traditional rugby schools are now finding greater numbers of children wanting to play hockey rather than the oval-ball game.

And in terms of transformation, the South African Hockey Association (Saha) have a good story to tell with numerous players of colour involved at IPT, including several Black coaches. The SA U21 team that made the men’s final included eight players of colour, including six Black Africans.

Saha’s wise policy of humouring and engaging with Sascoc and the minister of sport has paid off with Fikile Mbalula announcing a R10 million injection into hockey’s coffers two weeks ago.

Hockey has been operating on shoestring budgets ever since I began reporting on it back in the early 1990s, so any financial input is most welcome. It’s a well-known fact that our top players have been paying their own way to compete and represent South Africa, something Tubby Reddy and Gideon Sam of Sascoc should choke on the next time they sit down for their sumptuous dinner on their next first-class flight to their next jaunt.

Due to these financial constraints, hockey, at top level, has been forced to become a sport for the young. Once the stars leave their places of tertiary education, the demands of work make it just about impossible for them to dedicate the time they need to remaining in peak shape for the game. It was noticeable how young most of the teams at IPT looked, to such an extent that it reminded me of an U21 interprovincial.

A handful of internationals have been able to become professional players in Europe.

Like cricket, it’s probably fair to say that hockey had its stronghold in English-speaking areas like Natal, Cape Town and Johannesburg, but this has changed dramatically. Northerns, with many Tuks students in their ranks, won the women’s IPT and Afrikaans schools have taken to the game with gusto, as they have to cricket. There is already an explosion of interest amongst the Coloured and Black communities.

In terms of marketing, hockey has much going for it. It has a strong youth flavour (which is always attractive) but it is a sport entire families can participate in, with leagues running from the youngsters through to the Masters, from highly-competitive to social. It is also a game that is evolving into a high-speed, highly entertaining spectacle thanks to the work of the FIH, the international body, in tinkering with the rules.

Saha president Mike du Plessis was telling me about the exciting plans they have for festivals of five-a-side hockey in which the whole family can be involved at the same venue.

Hockey should not be embarrassed that it needs money, sometimes the local game suffers under the impression that they are the ugly step-child of South African sport.

I say they should be bold about their needs, because they have much to offer and there are certainly exciting plans in the pipeline.

Schalk Burger doesn’t tell how to do it, he does it! 0

Posted on July 21, 2015 by Ken

New Springbok captain Schalk Burger is not the sort of leader who will tell his team to run through brick walls; instead, he will run through first and lead the way for his charges.

Burger, who was named as South Africa’s 55th Test captain on Tuesday for the Rugby Championship match at Ellis Park against New Zealand on Saturday, is the epitome of “leading from the front” and one could tell it was a special moment too for Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer when he announced the appointment of the 32-year-old.

“A Springbok captain needs to lead from the front and Schalk’s play speaks for itself. He’s not a big talker but he brings calmness and experience and I’m 100% certain I’ve made the right decision by appointing Schalk. He’s a warrior and a born leader and it just shows that one should never give up on your dreams; he’s an inspiration for the team, for the country and for me,” Meyer said.

Burger himself said he would not be doing too much speaking ahead of the clash against the old foe.

“I’m not going to talk too much, leading from the front is just the way I play. Obviously there’ll be a lot of emotion involved, playing in front of a full house at Ellis Park in one of the games you dream of playing in. I don’t think it will affect my game because, whether I’m captain or not, I have a leadership role in the team. And there’ll be a big group of leaders around me as well on Saturday,” Burger said.

It is actually a surprise that one of the legends of Springbok rugby, someone who has been wearing the Green and Gold since 2003, hasn’t captained the team before, but it is entirely fitting that Burger gets the honour in a match against the All Blacks, the arch-rivals and with whom there is much mutual respect.

“I don’t think the challenge can get any bigger. As a youngster, everything revolves around you playing against the All Blacks, in the wet Cape Town winter, it was always a Test against New Zealand that you were playing. It’s going to be a big responsibility, but I won’t be leading alone, there are other senior players around me. But it’s a big honour which I thought was neusie verby [an opportunity no longer available] for me,” Burger said.

As for Saturday’s Test, Burger said there was much to learn from the Springboks’ last-minute loss last weekend to Australia as well as their 79th-minute win over the All Blacks in the corresponding match at Ellis Park last year.

“You have to play at a high level for 80 minutes against the All Blacks, you have to keep playing. Last week we didn’t consciously take our feet off the pedal, it was just that we couldn’t get any field position in the last 20 minutes. We weren’t as accurate as we wanted to be in that final quarter,” the stand-in captain for Victor Matfield said.

But Burger has seen many disappointments during his career and there are not many players who are better than him at bouncing back from adversity.

There are not many current international players who finished a Test with a broken neck and have returned to the highest level as good a player if not better.

Laureus awards are highly sought-after in the world of sport and Burger richly deserved his for Comeback of the Year having recovered from a life-threatening bout of bacterial meningitis in 2013. He made his return to the Springboks last season after a three-year absence and now he is finally going to lead them out on to the field.

“Obviously when I was that ill, I was just begging to play one more Test. It probably sounds like a fairytale,” Burger said.

As last week’s bitter defeat in Brisbane showed, experienced players and leaders are vital for a successful World Cup campaign and Meyer’s planning has revolved around that.

“I was thinking what if Jean de Villiers can’t make it to the World Cup and then Victor gets injured, so I wanted to give someone a go because I don’t want to appoint a new captain at the World Cup.

“Games in the World Cup will go down to the wire and you have to go to that tournament with experience. The pressure showed in the SuperRugby playoff the Stormers lost and for us in Brisbane in the last 20 minutes.

“I never thought I’d be in this position in a World Cup year, having to use new players and there could be one or two more new caps this week. I always said I wanted everyone to have 30 Tests going into the World Cup, like Eben Etzebeth and Marcell Coetzee do. Having players with 50-60 Tests makes a huge difference and I would love to have that,” Meyer said.

As the coach said, the Springbok captain also needs to be a role-model off the field and in Burger he has one of the most popular and respected people in rugby. Whatever the result on Saturday, there’s no doubt the team would have run through walls for the veteran loose-forward.



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