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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: SA’s SuperRugby downgrade hard to understand 0

Posted on April 12, 2017 by Ken

 

Sanzaar obviously had to make changes to SuperRugby because the crowds were not reflecting the status of the competition, but I struggle to understand why South Africa have to give up two teams.

Our previous wins at the Sanzaar negotiating table have been because we could always use the threat of going to Europe and our TV figures to get our own way.

So why do New Zealand keep five franchises and South Africa have just four, but we’re a much bigger nation! I know the argument based on the performance of the teams, but in 2013 we had four teams in the top eight and in 2012 three sides in the top six. So we have had the strength, and the Bulls were a dominant force in SuperRugby from 2005-2010, which is not so long ago!

So I struggle to comprehend how a team like the Cheetahs, who are such a strong rugby region, can be facing the axe. Everyone understands that the Kings will have to go due to their financial woes and because they are propped up by Saru, but it will be very disappointing to lose the Cheetahs after they have been in SuperRugby for so long. And the Free State and Griqualand West region has provided a heck of a lot of players who have gone on to greater things.

What really concerns me is that the Springboks will miss out on an extra 30 players to choose from, while New Zealand will have a pool of 150 SuperRugby players, a 20% bigger selection pool.

And it’s easy to say we will retain more players because we will now have more money, but as Faf de Klerk’s offer from Sale shows, guys can still earn more than triple what they’ll get in South Africa by going overseas. I believe we’ll actually retain fewer players because there will be less opportunity with only four franchises. Our coaching ranks will also be diminished with less opportunity for them too.

The funny thing is, a year ago Sanzaar said everything was fine and a big fuss was made about how the new format would mean much less travel for South African sides – a maximum of two flights overseas.

The tournament did need expansion and Argentina have now been able to keep their best players, they haven’t gone to Europe, because there’s a clear pathway for them to develop and express themselves at the highest level. We’ve seen that with the Sunwolves too.

People say it’s not our job to develop rugby in South America and Asia, but that’s shortsighted. Rugby has to be a global game, if it just stayed within the Commonwealth and Argentina, it would die.

Exposing a team from Japan to higher levels of rugby has certainly brought an improvement to their play. There were 22 000 people at the Bulls game in Tokyo and the excitement was incredible, especially considering that the last game in Tokyo saw the Sunwolves lose 83-17 to the Hurricanes!

But there was a great atmosphere and huge interest in the Bulls game, but more on that shock result later on.

In my view, the SuperRugby format should be a 16-team competition – so five New Zealand and South African franchises, four from Australia and the Sunwolves and Jaguares – with everyone playing everyone else once. You would have two three-week tours as part of that.

Six teams would then progress to the playoffs, with the top two sides initially having a bye straight into their home semis against the winners of the quarterfinals, which would be third versus sixth and fourth against fifth.

This weekend I am really looking forward to the match between the Lions and the Stormers, which should be a high-tempo, all out attacking game, but the side that defends best will win it. For the main Easter weekend game to be between the two conference leaders is going to provide a great spectacle.

The quality and skill level of the Stormers last weekend against the Chiefs shows that they have reached a new dimension and you have to credit Robbie Fleck and his staff, and the players, for their willingness to play like that. It’s really high-risk, high-reward rugby and, believe me, it has to be coached!

What was especially pleasing was the way they really matched a New Zealand team at the back end of the game, when it’s normally been a huge struggle for South African teams.

The Sharks also had a good win, even though they are not scoring a lot of tries. They are playing off the other side’s mistakes, like their spectacular intercept try against the Jaguares.

They hung on in there against the Argentinians and it was an important win for their conference, although they will be a bit disappointed they gave the Jaguares a point. But it’s good that they were able to grind it out, hopefully they can get on a roll and get their confidence going.

The humidity in Durban made the ball very slippery and there were similar conditions for the Bulls in Tokyo, a match I was fortunate enough to attend. It was very wet and the Sunwolves managed the conditions better. The Bulls are not far off but they were simply not good enough last weekend.

They took time to get into their stride, they struggled to get control of the game. But then they had control when they were nine points ahead, they were in the pound seats, but the yellow card obviously had a huge influence.

After that the Sunwolves took a scrum with 10 minutes to go and scored the matchwinning try. The lesson for the Bulls is that when a backline player like Jan Serfontein gets a yellow card, then you must replace him. It’s better to have a full backline because you need that speed on defence. It was standard procedure when I was with the Springboks that if a backline player got a yellow card late in the game then we would take a forward off and replace him. Otherwise you’re defending with six versus seven, which is why the Sunwolves were able to break out so easily.

The Sunwolves were also able to keep the ball in play and did a good job of nullifying the Bulls’ lineout maul threat by standing off. That meant the Bulls had to mostly play from static ball. The home side were also very good with their kicks and chips, while the Bulls could have done much better with their chips, especially the one from their own 22 that led to a try.

The Bulls will be really hurting, but they now have a lot of games at home. No other team in the competition has had such a tough start away from home, and the Bulls will now hope they can get some form and a winning run at Loftus Versfeld.

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.

Organisers learning the hard way about tournament integrity 0

Posted on April 26, 2016 by Ken

 

The organisers of the Varsity Cup rugby tournament look set to learn the hard way that, in order for followers to remain invested in their product, the integrity of a sporting competition is most important.

By “integrity” I mean that the way the tournament is run and governed has to be seen to be giving all the competing teams an equal chance, a level playing field. Like English Premier League football, where every team plays the others home and away and the top team on the log wins the trophy.

For students, the Varsity Cup has been a breath of fresh air, a place to hang out with your bros and, no doubt, check out the ladies, all accompanied by typically student quantities of alcohol. But for the organisers, the real target has always been television, where the big money is, hence their decision to play matches this year off-campus.

And for television viewers, a level playing field will be more important than any of the many gimmicks they have come up with in terms of rule-changes. Perhaps Varsity Sports should have paid more attention to simplifying their complex eligibility rules than to coming up with weird and wonderful law variations that, frankly, make me consider the Varsity Cup to be the IPL of South African sport.

The allegation that Pukke had an ineligible player on the park while they beat Maties in the showpiece final is obviously a PR disaster. But it was made even worse because Varsity Sports had already made their bed by earlier slapping an extremely harsh 12-point penalty on the UKZN Impi for the same technical offence – both teams having had their players cleared by the tournament-appointed auditors, KPMG – ensuring that the KwaZulu-Natalians, who have dominated the Varsity Shield for two seasons, no longer had any chance of promotion.

The harsh decision, which their advocate presciently warned was creating a dangerous precedent, caused further disgruntlement for a side that had been forced to play some of their home matches at the ground of their biggest rivals, Wits, albeit because of the unrest that was sweeping university campuses.

UKZN were already feeling like they weren’t really wanted in the big league and there were even allegations from elsewhere in the country that Varsity Sports wanted to ensure foundation members UCT and Wits were in the Varsity Cup, partly because of the cost of playing games in the relatively-isolated province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Whether they remain consistent and strip Pukke of the title or reinstate UKZN, the Varsity Cup management are in a quandary, their failure to run the tournament in a professional manner having been exposed.

But they are not the only ones.

Sanzaar just don’t seem able to settle on a SuperRugby format that will work, with the current competition clearly lopsided in favour of some teams. Some sides don’t have to play the top teams from last year, while some franchises, like the Bulls and Stormers, don’t even have to tour New Zealand, while the Lions and Sharks do.

A competition that was confusing before has become even more complex and unfair, alienating supporters.

Social media was alive this week with another example of an organisation that is playing fast and loose with the integrity of the game – Cricket Australia.

The first day/night Test against New Zealand last November was not an overwhelming success, whatever CA have been saying in the many propaganda press releases they have sent out this week. It was all over in three days, which rather nullifies the commercial advantages because of two days of lost television coverage, and the views of the players involved was hardly one of unbridled enthusiasm.

The problems with seeing the pink ball once it becomes worn meant the Adelaide Oval pitch was a grassy seamer, and 224 was the highest innings total.

AB de Villiers was quite right to point out that the prior experience Australia have of playing in those conditions was a massive advantage, especially in the potentially decisive final Test of the series, at that level where the margins are so small. Perhaps they’re trying to pull a fast one because South Africa was triumphant in the last two Test tours Down Under?

It would be akin to the Springboks being asked to play a Test with a new scrum rule they had never played under.

The concept of day/night Test cricket is a good one, but I have a feeling it will only work if the white clothes go and a white ball is used.

Do Sanzaar & TMOs act with fairness? 0

Posted on April 14, 2016 by Ken

 

Sanzaar’s decision to slap Sharks coach Gary Gold with a fine of A$13 500 – which is more than R150 000 – has once again raised the infuriating issue of whether southern hemisphere rugby’s governing body acts with fairness in disciplinary matters concerning South African teams.

Gold was fined for having a less-than-polite chat during the game against the Crusaders with TMO Johan Greeff. The Sharks – and many other teams – have history with this woefully incompetent official as it was his abysmal decision to award a try that saw them lose to the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld last year.

While I have no problem with Gold being fined – even he admitted that what he did was wrong – what raised my ire was the severity of the punishment handed down by Kiwi judicial officer Nigel Hampton.

Especially when one considers that the selfsame Hampton only fined then-Waratahs coach Michael Cheika A$6000 in April 2014 for abusing a cameraman in Durban, also with foul language. And Cheika was a repeat offender, as Hampton himself pointed out in his judgement – “I do not regard Mr Cheika to be a first-time offender and it would be farcical to disregard other matters over the past nine years, including proven misconduct allegations from his time as a professional coach in Europe and a warning from Sanzar during the 2013 SuperRugby season,” he said.

“This matter bears a number of striking similarities with past instances, particularly the use of foul and abusive language towards those charged with running a match and the propensity of Mr Cheika to behave in this manner is disturbing. Given his previous record and the factual findings of the investigation, I regard this as a serious offence and do not see it as a result of any provocation, nor is there any excuse for it.

“Mr Cheika’s admission of guilt and contrition during the hearing is balanced by inappropriate accusations made on his behalf that witnesses fabricated evidence; a notion they rightly recoiled at.”

Cheika was also found guilty, last year, of approaching a referee at halftime and, guess what? Sanzar let him off with a warning!

What is equally infuriating is that Sanzaar continue to come down hard on the symptom of the problem and not the cause – which is incompetent TMOs.

While I have great sympathy for referees, who have to make split-second rulings based on a bewildering variety of laws, especially at ruck time, TMOs really should not be making the mistakes they do. Knowing the laws is one thing, but not being able to see or interpret several replays properly is another; I’d be willing to wager that you could drag someone out of the crowd in their denim jeans and they could do a better job than some of the TMOs Sanzaar have inflicted on the game.

Greeff’s failure to properly review two occurrences in the game against the Crusaders had an obvious impact on the result of the match.

The first was Willie le Roux’s disallowed try in the 66th minute that would have given the Sharks a 19-12 lead. Greeff made a rapid decision that the fullback was in front of the kicker but he made use of just one replay, and the camera angle wasn’t even in line with play.

Then, in the 72nd minute, when Kieran Read scored to give the Crusaders a 19-14 victory, Greeff declined to look at a replay after there had been a suggestion of a knock-on in the 15-phase build-up to the try.

Much of the rugby public is already feeling confused and disenchanted with SuperRugby and its new format; when the officials are seemingly watching an entirely different game to them on TV, despite having the benefit of several replays, then the usual reaction is one of anger and frustration and no brand should want the customers to go through that.

 

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    1 Corinthians 3:3 - "For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?"

    One of my favourite U2 songs is a collaboration with Johnny Cash called The Wanderer, and it features the line "they say they want the kingdom, but they don't want God in it".
    Many people say they believe in God, but they don't experience his loving presence. They may be active in Christian work, but only if they have their way. If they cannot be leaders, they refuse to be involved.
    Because they refuse to allow God to fill their lives with his love, they remain weak and powerless.
    Spiritual maturity means developing a greater love for others.

    "When the love of Christ saturates you, immature attitudes such as pettiness, jealousy and strife are dissolved.
    "It is only when you have an intimate relationship with the Lord that you receive sufficient grace to rise above this immaturity and enjoy the solid food that the Holy Spirit gives you." - Solly Ozrovech, A Shelter From The Storm



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