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Ken Borland



Concerns through the team for Meyer ahead of quadrangular 0

Posted on May 04, 2016 by Ken

 

Fullback and flyhalf are the positions the public is talking about the most, but Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer will be equally concerned about lock, scrumhalf, centre and wing when he announces his squad on Saturday for the quadrangular series with Italy, Scotland and Samoa next month.

Flyhalf is actually one of the positions Meyer can rest easy over, with Morné Steyn making himself a certainty in the number 10 jersey with his great run for the in-form Bulls team.

South Africa are fortunate to have someone as talented as Pat Lambie as back-up, but a host of injuries have robbed Meyer of some key backline players. JP Pietersen, Jaco Taute and Frans Steyn are definitely out for at least the next month, while Juan de Jongh and Zane Kirchner have not played SuperRugby for some time.

That leaves some conundrums when it comes to the midfield combination and who will play fullback.

When Meyer first took over as Springbok coach, he chose Jean de Villiers as an outside centre and, given his polished display in the number 13 jersey in the Stormers’ return to winning ways last weekend, the national captain is likely to play there in the quadrangular series.

The Springbok management have given a big hint that 20-year-old Jan Serfontein is being lined up to make his Test debut inside the skipper as he has been withdrawn from the SA U20 team leaving today for the Junior World Championship in France. Robert Ebersohn has done much to make the Cheetahs serious SuperRugby contenders this year and is also an option but, despite his propensity to tackle way above his weight, he has still missed 31 tackles this season, the joint worst with Blues flyhalf Chris Noakes, according to rugbystats.com.au.

The other option is for De Villiers to play in the number 12 jersey he wore in the second half of 2012 and for JJ Engelbrecht to play 13. The Bulls youngster is almost certain to be in the squad, however, as he can also cover wing.

The back three is also a big problem for Meyer given the injuries to Pietersen, Taute, Frans Steyn and Kirchner. Bryan Habana, whose work rate and pace continue to impress, is the only certainty, while the coach might decide to move Francois Hougaard back to wing, given that the Bulls man has only recently returned from injury and has looked messy and off the pace at scrumhalf.

The other candidates for wing are Bjorn Basson, who could be favoured because of his tremendous ability in the air, Raymond Rhule, Lwazi Mvovo, Gio Aplon and Willie le Roux.

The latter two are also in the mix to be fullback. Meyer would be foolish to risk playing his regular number 15, Kirchner, given that he has not played any rugby in 10 weeks since having a finger operation.

But he could still pick an experienced international there by moving Lambie from flyhalf to fullback. Hopefully Meyer will also have the courage to consider playing Cheetahs magician Willie le Roux there, even if it is off the bench.

The Ulster-based Ruan Pienaar is likely to be the starting scrumhalf, with the pace on attack provided by Jano Vermaak a useful complementary attribute on the bench.

The second row is also going to be an interesting dilemma for Meyer. The great Bakkies Botha will be available, but the coach has already hinted that Pienaar and flank Francois Louw will be the only overseas-based players he will be calling on for the quadrangular.

The inconsistent Andries Bekker is not willing to play for the Springboks once he leaves for Japan – and is injured anyway – but Juandré Kruger will be available and is the obvious choice in the number five jersey, providing he is over the niggling injury that kept him from the field in the Springboks’ training camp this week.

Eben Etzebeth showed in his outstanding display for the Stormers last weekend that he will be able to fulfil the lineout general’s role as well, but if Bakkies is not going to be called up, the team might be stronger with Etzebeth at four.

Franco van der Merwe, so reliable for the Sharks this year, will then be the back-up number five.

The loose forward selection will inevitably be coloured by Meyer’s decision to once again ignore Heinrich Brüssow.

The Cheetahs openside flank has managed to con many critics that he is still as potent a fetcher as he was in 2009, but all the stats providers involved in SuperRugby show otherwise. He isn’t in the top 20 for pilfers on any of the stats sites, but where he does feature is in the top 10 for tackles made.

Meyer is right to be wary of unleashing Brüssow with northern hemisphere referees officiating and the rules of his trade much stricter these days, but contesting rucks is not the honey badger’s only skill. Brüssow is exceptionally strong for his size, has a great work rate and good ball skills and is hopefully not entirely out of Meyer’s plans, if even as an impact player.

It seems inevitable that the starting loose trio on June 8 against Italy in Durban will be Pierre Spies, Willem Alberts and Louw, with the bench spots contested between Marcell Coetzee, Arno Botha and new star Lappies Labuschagne.

Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss and Coenie Oosthuizen are bound to be the starting front row and Wiehahn Herbst is in line for his Test debut as reserve tighthead, with Chiliboy Ralepelle and Tendai Mtawarira the other reserves now that teams are compelled to have two props on the bench.

Bismarck du Plessis is in a similar position to Kirchner and should not be risked as he has not played a SuperRugby match the entire season. A run of three games for the Sharks after the June international window and Du Plessis should be ready to explode into Rugby Championship action having recovered properly from a serious knee injury.

Ralepelle will certainly not let the side down in the meantime, having shown accuracy at the lineout, great work rate and presence at the breakdowns for the Bulls this season.

What Meyer is not going to be conned into doing is playing flavours-of-the-month that may not be contenders for the next World Cup that is just 840 days away, no matter how vigorously their brilliance is debated in your local bar.

No more than a pair of new caps in Serfontein and Le Roux are worth betting on, but it should make fans happy that the Springbok coach can afford not to choose some of the other great talent laying around.

Probable squad – Pat Lambie, Willie le Roux, Bryan Habana, Lwazi Mvovo, Jean de Villiers, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Robert Ebersohn, Francois Hougaard, Bjorn Basson, Morné Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Jano Vermaak, Pierre Spies, Arno Botha, Willem Alberts, Lappies Labuschagne, Francois Louw, Marcell Coetzee, Juandré Kruger, Franco van der Merwe, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Flip van der Merwe, Jannie du Plessis, Wiehahn Herbst, Adriaan Strauss, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Coenie Oosthuizen, Tendai Mtawarira.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-05-30-springbok-squad-preview-a-few-headaches-but-no-migraine-for-meyer#.Vys00IR97IU

Bok backline dazzles but credit to pack for quick ball 0

Posted on March 17, 2016 by Ken

 

The Springbok backline dazzled with their clinical finishing as Samoa were thumped 56-23 in an eight-try romp at Loftus Versfeld, but quick ball was why they were able to shine and for that credit must go to the forwards for a superb display.

The pack stepped up magnificently and physically dominated the bulky Samoans so the Springboks had front-foot ball and could show their ability to get the ball quickly wide and convert possession into tries.

There have been many critics of the Springboks saying they are one-dimensional and boring on attack, but they looked a polished, exciting offensive force on Saturday night, especially when fullback Willie le Roux joined the line. JJ Engelbrecht also scored a brilliant individual try and is rapidly growing into a fine attacking outside centre.

Like any team, if their forwards get on top, then the backs can play.

“We really are building on something special, this is a well-balanced side. We mauled well, the defence was excellent and there were some brilliant small touches,” said coach Heyneke Meyer after the game.

“It is one of the things we’ve been working on, getting turnover ball quickly wide, and we scored some awesome tries. But we did the basics well, Francois Louw and Willem Alberts brought a lot of physicality. But one guy can’t make all the difference because he can’t be at every ruck. The guys were all very focused and it was one of the best forward efforts I’ve seen.”

Bryan Habana, as ever, led the way when it came to clinical finishing, his two tries taking him to 50 in 86 Tests, with only five other players in world rugby having achieved that milestone.

“We showed that when we get quick ball and we get over the gain-line, our backs can be dangerous,” Habana said. “Most tries come from turnovers or broken field play and you’ve got to see those opportunities and execute. This weekend we were really clinical and it was pretty important that we made decisions quickly. But the guys who do all the hard work don’t always get the credit and our forwards were fantastic, as were the guys on the inside.”

Many rugby followers think an openside flank should be measured by the number of balls he steals in the ruck. This is a very simplistic view though, as former Springbok forwards coach Gary Gold so aptly explains here.

By that measure, Francois Louw was ineffective at Loftus Versfeld because he did not effect a single turnover against Samoa. But the freshly married Bath star was magnificent and was all over the field, carrying the ball strongly, slowing down ball at the rucks and defending stoutly.

Although he is not one of the bigger Springbok forwards, many of Louw’s ball-carries bashed through the Samoan defence, as epitomised by his 76th-minute charge through three tacklers and over the tryline, as well as by the fact he gained 32 metres with ball in hand during the match, with only Le Roux (82) and Habana (36) being more successful in that department.

“The guys were looking for me at the breakdown and it was a tough day at the office there, but that’s the kind of rugby I like,” Louw said. “It separates the men from the boys. But we want to play running rugby and there’s nothing better than having ball in hand, nothing beats that. We want to play positive, good strong, hard rugby.”

There aren’t many stronger or harder rugby players than Willem Alberts and the returning Sharks player was also immense on the gain-line. Not only did he carry the ball like a bullocking rhinoceros, he was an adamantium wall in defence, making 16 tackles.

The uninitiated might not fully comprehend the effort that it takes against a team like Samoa, but if you consider that 16 of their 23-man squad weighed over 100kg and that they generally like running into people, then one can begin to understand the enormity of the task. Alberts and Louw led the way, but the likes of Eben Etzebeth, Flip van der Merwe, Siya Kolisi and Jean de Villiers in the backline were also outstanding defensively.

“I asked for a big performance and that was a big step up physically. I believe it was a forward performance, but it was typical Springbok rugby,” Meyer cooed.

The Springboks were also excellent in the set pieces, dominating a powerful Samoan scrum and winning all 18 of their lineouts, from which they often mauled to great effect.

They varied their game intelligently, however, Louw scoring his first try from the rolling maul, but scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar then cleverly breaking blind from one in the second half to set up Habana’s second, historic try.

The Samoans are famous for their physicality, but they are also notorious for crossing the line in terms of foul play.

It was a great disappointment that, once it was clear they were losing the collisions, they resorted to dirty play.

James So’oialo’s testicle-grabbing was the talk of Pretoria afterwards, while Alesana Tuilagi was red-carded for an awful stiff-arm high tackle on De Villiers. But there was also scrumhalf Jeremy Su’a’s stamp on Louw’s head at a ruck, causing him to leave the field for stitches, and Census Johnston kicking out at Coenie Oosthuizen after the burly prop had put him on his backside with a totally legitimate tackle.

Samoa are consistently trying to portray themselves as the victims of discriminatory refereeing. “There have historically been harsh calls against us and some of the calls tonight were a wee-bit hard. The things they were referring upstairs, they looked quite soft,” captain Paul Williams said.

But coach Stephen Betham was closer to the truth when he said: “The ill discipline came down to frustration, but there’s no excuse. We’ve worked hard to get it out of our game but we were intimidated and we faltered.”

But it is also clear that the International Rugby Board are more concerned with tip tackles than thuggish acts of violence on the field. To his dishonour, Judge Jeff Blackett cleared So’oialo of any deliberate malfeasance for his indecent assault on livewire hooker Adriaan Strauss, while Su’a and Johnston weren’t even cited by commissioner Peter Larter, despite the ugly stamp being clearly visible on a television replay.

Tuilagi received a two-week ban, but it’s meaningless because the Japan-based player is on holiday now anyway.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-06-24-springboks-smash-samoans-a-promise-of-things-to-come/#.VuqZUuJ97IU

Heyneke relies on core players to finish job v Samoa 0

Posted on March 01, 2016 by Ken

 

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has called on the same core group of players to finish the job and win the quadrangular series by beating Samoa at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

The Samoans are awkward opponents due to their immense physical strength, unpredictable running lines and their preference for an unstructured game. All of which calls for maturity, fronting up physically and the composure to stick with the game plan from the Springboks.

Meyer is in a catch-22 situation because he knows he has disappointed many Springbok supporters by not giving more game time in the series to the likes of Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Robert Ebersohn, Lappies Labuschagne, Pat Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Jan Serfontein.

But he also knows that any defeat in this series would absolutely horrify us – consider how much angst there has been over the performance against Scotland, where the Springboks won by 13 points – and continuity is probably the key factor when it comes to winning.

And Samoa are certainly opposition to be respected.

Before the 2011 World Cup, South Africa had played Samoa six times, won every game and scored 316 points while conceding just 65. But at North Harbour Stadium in their previous meeting, the Springboks were clinging on for dear life as the Samoans ran them ragged in the second half, the defending champions eventually scraping home 13-5.

Today’s islanders are an even better outfit. Their entire squad for Loftus Versfeld plays in either Europe, New Zealand or the rapidly improving Japanese league and they have added some structure, especially defensively, as well as set-piece technique to their flair with ball in hand and brutal physicality.

“The Samoans aren’t amateurs anymore, they are all professional players in great competitions with top coaches. They are still very dangerous in broken play, but there’s been a big improvement in their scrum and defence.

“They are very physical and tough to play against and I have a lot of respect for their ball-carrying capacity,” Meyer said this week.

The Springbok coach is undoubtedly relying on an improved effort and presence in the collisions and has called on Willem Alberts at blindside flank and Flip van der Merwe, a number four lock playing in the number five jersey, to help bring this about.

But he is also relying on the experience and calm heads that veterans such as Bryan Habana, Jean de Villiers, Morne Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Pierre Spies, Tendai Mtawarira and the Du Plessis brothers, Jannie and Bismarck, can bring as a safety net in a Test that could easily become a torrid test of composure.

There will probably be some pressure on the Springbok scrum – Van der Merwe’s added bulk in the second row will help there – but Meyer seems confident that the Springbok lineout can dominate.

They will surely, therefore, rely on the boot of Steyn to win territory and force the Samoans to try and run pressure ball from their own half.

But the territory game also requires that the Springboks get on the front foot in the tight exchanges and secure much quicker ball than they did against Scotland.

There is apparently a late change in referee for Saturday’s Test, with Irishman John Lacey no longer officiating. Frenchman Pascal Gauzere is set to take over and his display in the Durban match between the Springboks and Italy suggests he will be much more willing to ensure Samoa cooperate and play fair at the breakdowns than his countryman, Roman Poite, was in Nelspruit.

And the Springboks should also not fall into the trap of thinking Samoa will only attack with blind physicality. Although the likes of wing Alesana Tuilagi (117kg) and reserve centre Seilala Mapasua (120kg) do often just tuck the ball under the arm and employ the “Samoan sidestep” to try and knock the defender’s block off, there is still a solid skills set among the backs and elusive runners such as Johnny Leota, Alapati Leiua, James So’oialo and Tusi Pisi.

Outside centre JJ Engelbrecht, in particular, is a solid block of meat and muscle in the Springbok backline, but he is prone to being manipulated out of alignment by skilful runners.

If Meyer is not going to experiment, if he insists on sending out his best available team to do duty week in, week out, then it seems only fair that the public start to see that continuity pay off with more consistent performances.

Having learnt from the Springboks’ failure to dominate Scotland, nobody is expecting a walkover against Samoa. But a controlled, convincing victory (whatever the score-line) will go a long way in reassuring their fans that Meyer is building a team that is able to challenge for Rugby Championship honours later this year.

Teams

South Africa: 15-Willie le Roux, 14-Bryan Habana, 13-JJ Engelbrecht, 12-Jean de Villiers/Jan Serfontein, 11-Bjorn Basson, 10-Morne Steyn, 9-Ruan Pienaar, 8-Pierre Spies, 7-Willem Alberts/Siya Kolisi, 6-Francois Louw, 5-Flip van der Merwe, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Adriaan Strauss, 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements – 16-Bismarck du Plessis, 17-Trevor Nyakane, 18-Coenie Oosthuizen, 19-Juandre Kruger, 20-Siya Kolisi/Marcell Coetzee, 21-Piet van Zyl, 22-Pat Lambie, 23-Jan Serfontein/Juan de Jongh.

Samoa: 15-James So’oialo, 14-Alapati Leiua, 13-Paul Williams, 12-Johnny Leota, 11-Alesana Tuilagi, 10-Tusi Pisi, 9-Jeremy Sua, 8-Taiasina Tuifua, 7-Jack Lam, 6-Ofisa Treviranus, 5-Daniel Leo, 4-Teofilo Paulo, 3-Census Johnston, 2-Wayne Ole Avei, 1-Sakaria Taulafo. Replacements – 16-Ti’i Paulo, 17-Logovii Mulipola, 18-James Johnston, 19-Kane Thompson, 20-Junior Poluleuligaga, 21-Brandon Vaaulu, 22-Seilala Mapusua, 23-Alafoti Faosiliva.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-06-21-rugby-a-win-against-samoa-will-reassure-bok-fans/#.VtWC6Pl97IU

Adapting to breakdown blowing Boks’ biggest concern 0

Posted on February 01, 2016 by Ken

 

“It’s up to us to adapt to what is being blown on the field at the breakdown,” Springboks forwards coach Johan van Graan admitted in Pretoria on Tuesday as the South Africans prepare for their quadrangular series finale against Samoa at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

The Springboks are coming off a thoroughly unconvincing 30-17 victory over Scotland, in which they scored 10 points in the last five minutes and coach Heyneke Meyer conceded after the Test in Nelspruit that the breakdown was the biggest area of concern for him.

The Springboks failed to get quick ball, partly because Scotland were all over the breakdown, doing their best to disrupt possession by whatever means, fair or foul. The Springboks knew Scotland were going to attack the breakdown, but they did little to stop them, naively relying on the referee to sort out the mess. As Van Graan agreed on Tuesday, quick ball is not some divine right in the game of rugby, you have to work for it and the opposition are obviously going to try and stop you from obtaining it.

“We expected beforehand that every breakdown would be a massive contest, but my feeling is that we also wanted to focus on our discipline in the first 20 minutes and we expected the tacklers to have to roll away quickly, so we didn’t compete as much.

“But there are no excuses, you have to adapt and sort it out on the field; it’s about fixing our own problems,” Van Graan said.

The first problem the Springbok coaching staff has identified is that they need to be more aggressive when carrying the ball.

“My opinion is that it always starts with the ball-carriers. If they don’t get momentum then it’s very difficult for the cleaners to get in. And if those first and second arrivers don’t do their job, then the breakdown is lost,” Van Graan explained.

The expected return of Willem Alberts should provide a boost to that area of the game at Loftus Versfeld, with the bone-crunching loose forward back in training after a side strain.

“Willem was brilliant for the Springboks in 2012. Siya Kolisi and Pierre Spies both had nearly a dozen ball-carries for us against Scotland, but Willem is world-class. He’s the guy you want on the advantage line and that’s where the big battle will be on Saturday,” Van Graan said.

The Springboks fully expect Samoa to follow Scotland’s lead and attack the breakdown, with another inexperienced referee in charge on Saturday in Irishman John Lacey.

“Samoa have a simple plan, but they execute it well. They have big ball-carrying forwards who are good in broken play and at the breakdown. They’re going to put a lot of pressure on the wide rucks, so it won’t be a lot different to Scotland, it’s going to be a battle for the ball,” Van Graan said.

While Alberts’ return would add 20 caps’ worth of experience to the loose trio, there could be a considerable loss of experience at centre with captain Jean de Villiers rated only a 50/50 chance of playing after popping a rib against Scotland. If De Villiers can’t play then JJ Engelbrecht with just three caps, and Jan Serfontein, with only two brief appearances off the bench, will likely combine in midfield.

However, wing Bryan Habana does not believe that this would also create a leadership vacuum.

“Since 2012, the side has had a very young nucleus, with just myself, Jean, Ruan Pienaar, Pierre Spies and Frans Steyn having played more than 50 Tests. So it will be very disappointing if Jean can’t make it, he’s been an unbelievable captain and I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves. But as a senior player, my job is to make that important step up, that’s what we’re there for, our leadership responsibilities increase and we need to bring that leadership to the fore,” Habana said.

“But it’s also very exciting the way guys like Acker Strauss, Bismarck du Plessis and Pierre Spies, who has led the Blue Bulls very well for the past five months, have stepped forward as leaders. We showed that we still have that calmness and belief we can win in the team, even though we were 6-17 down against Scotland, and that’s a great thing,” Habana added.

While facing the combative Samoans in a final at Loftus Versfeld should ensure the Springboks bring the right attitude into the game, Van Graan said there would also need to be a greater focus on their tactical approach, against opponents who thrive on unstructured, loose rugby.

“In the first 30 minutes against Scotland we maybe played too much rugby. Samoa these days are tactically very good and it might become a tactical battle at Loftus, a typical final. It will be about the territory battle, we need to make sure we dominate that because the referees tend to favour the side with territory. And then we need to hang on to the ball,” Van Graan said.

Against unpredictable opposition and possibly unfathomable refereeing, it is probably wise for the Springboks to rely on their tried and tested approach, but even then it will not be easy to get on top of the Samoans.

“Every game has its own personality and every week we get something different from the referee. And there are a few big challenges in the Samoan pack too – Census Johnston is a world-class prop, Jack Lam is well known for his work in the Hurricanes loose trio and their lock, Kane Thompson, has also played SuperRugby.

“Their backs have good running lines, they’ve already had some big scrums in this series and they can stop our maul,” Van Graan warned.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-06-19-boks-broke-down-at-the-breakdown/#.VsHJaPl97IU

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