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Ken Borland

Anxious times for Coetzee as his plans are undermined 0

Posted on May 09, 2017 by Ken


The way his plans for his crucial second year as Springbok coach are being undermined by injuries and overseas departures, Allister Coetzee could be forgiven for starting to take Valium as his appointment with the feisty French looms ever nearer.

Coetzee was spared the axe by SA Rugby after a 2016 campaign that had most Springbok fans in need of post-traumatic stress drugs, and he has also been given more support in terms of more experienced assistants and training camps during SuperRugby.

But there is little doubt that Coetzee needs to produce a series win from the three Tests against France in Pretoria, Durban and Johannesburg in June if he is to still be Springbok coach for the Rugby Championship. There are ongoing shadowy moves involving Rassie Erasmus that will have Coetzee perpetually looking over his shoulder.

But the problems Coetzee already faces in terms of selecting his squad would be enough to send someone of less tenacious character running for the hills.

A run of injuries has sidelined his two most capped local flyhalves and his first three choices for inside centre. Another midfield star has decided to pursue his career overseas as has a potential scrumhalf candidate, a position in which Coetzee has real problems.

In fact, if you run through the list of names of local players currently available for the backline, it makes gloomy reading.

And thus we come to the thorny issue of overseas players. The new 30 caps criterion of SA Rugby only comes into effect from July 1, so there are obviously going to be a bunch of foreign-based players included for the French series.

If one had to pick a backline only from the ranks of the SuperRugby franchises, it would be sorely lacking in the experience which is so important at Test level.

On current form, the uncapped Ross Cronje should probably be the starting scrumhalf, but Faf de Klerk, although suffering from the vagaries of form at the moment, must surely feature somewhere, especially since he played in 11 of the Springboks’ 12 Tests last year.

Cobus Reinach is the scrumhalf heading overseas and will be ineligible after July 1 because he only has 10 caps.

At flyhalf, Coetzee is faced with a repeat of last year’s problem when he was without Pat Lambie and Handre Pollard. The Bulls man is a non-starter for the French series, leaving the coach to gamble between a rusty Lambie or a frustrating Elton Jantjies, a man who looks top-class in SuperRugby but has been as hesitant as a vegan in a butchery at Test level.

But hopefully there will be a change in approach from the Springboks this year, a move towards the up-tempo, ball-in-hand style of the Lions, and Jantjies will surely feel more comfortable in that sort of environment.

The Springboks have a history of throwing Lambie into battle when in need of a rescue act, but it would surely not be fair on the 26-year-old to toss him back into Test action after probably just three SuperRugby games.

Curwin Bosch has burst on to the scene for the Sharks, but it would be heaping too much pressure on to the 19-year-old’s shoulders to expect him to play flyhalf for the Springboks, especially when you have Jantjies to call on.

Bosch could well be selected at fullback for the Springboks, however, with Jesse Kriel and Warrick Gelant only producing glimpses of form for the Bulls.

Lwazi Mvovo is likely to be on the one wing for the Springboks and Courtnall Skosan certainly looks like someone who can be relied upon if called to make the step up. The local depth at wing is not great, with Ruan Combrinck out with a long-term injury and Seabelo Senatla and Sergeal Petersen battling to get on the field.

One does not like to dwell on the defensive frailties of players, but for all their brilliance with ball in hand, Jamba Ulengo, Travis Ismaiel, Dillyn Leyds and Cheslin Kolbe have all shown weaknesses in defence that Test opposition will definitely focus on.

Lionel Mapoe and Francois Venter have put their hands up for the outside centre berth, but Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Damian de Allende and Juan de Jongh, the last three players to wear the number 12 jersey for the Springboks, are all currently injured.

De Allende and De Jongh might return to action just before the June international window, but the confirmation last week that Jan Serfontein has given in to the agents flashing lots of numbers on their calculators and will head overseas is most untimely.

While Serfontein can still play against France, will Coetzee be willing to make an investment in a player who will be stranded on 29 Tests, if he plays all three internationals in June, and therefore won’t be eligible for selection for the Rugby Championship?

While I fully understand the reasons players leave to perform overseas, I have it on good authority that Serfontein is managed by an agency that only gets a commission if they land the player an overseas deal.

So obviously his agent was unlikely to recommend the improved contracts that were on the table from both the Bulls and SA Rugby. In fact, there was an unconfirmed report from France that Serfontein had already signed a three-year deal with Montpellier back in January.

Surely SA Rugby could have a case for negotiating in bad faith against the Essentially sports management company and cancel their agents’ licence? This same company hardly covered their names in glory with the way they handled the departures of SA cricketers Rilee Rossouw and Kyle Abbott on Kolpak deals earlier this year …

That leaves someone like the uncapped Burger Odendaal as the frontrunner for the inside centre position and as tempting as it may be to pick a backline purely from SuperRugby players, their total number of caps might then amount to less than 50.

Which means there is the likelihood that the likes of Bryan Habana, Francois Hougaard, Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen, Ruan Pienaar and Morne and Francois Steyn will be winging their way back to South Africa in an effort to make up for their undistinguished recent efforts for the Springboks.

One cannot blame desperate coaches for trying anything to save their own skins, but bringing back all those former stars would surely be a retrograde step in terms of the future of Springbok rugby.

John Wright has a multitude of plans for SuperSport Park 0

Posted on September 09, 2014 by Ken

If multi-tasking is one of the greatest attributes of a woman then SuperSport Park should forthwith be referred to as a “she” given the plans Northerns Cricket Union president and Easterns Titans chairman John Wright has for her in the second year of his term.

The feminine touch dominated SuperSport Park last weekend when more than 26 000 runners took part in the Pretoria leg of the Spar Women’s 10km Challenge which started and ended at the venue, but the fairer sex have been taking pride of place at the ground since Elise Lombard, the efficient, much-loved former CEO, oversaw the move there from Berea Park in 1986. Lombard’s sad passing in August 2012 has seen Jacques Faul replace her as chief executive, but Patricia Kambarami has been promoted to chief operating officer to continue the tradition of female leaders in Northerns cricket.

Wright is adamant that events such as the Spar Women’s 10km Challenge and promotions such as Kambarami’s are crucial to the future well-being of Titans cricket.

“Titans cricket cannot sustain itself with only cricketing content, we have to make our assets work for us. One of those is our world-class stadium, but we can’t rely on just 14 days of profitable cricket every year. We need other streams of income and this is where Jacques Faul has been so good and he’s way ahead of the rest in terms of innovations.

“The Franchise and Africa Sixes and the Northerns Bash are all his initiatives and he’s making the stadium work for us in enhancing the Titans brand. It’s been set back a bit recently, but we’re busy getting proposals from developers and there’s a fair amount of interest that shows that SuperSport Park is not just seen as a cricket-only ground.

“We need other revenue sources and we want to attract more people to SuperSport Park. Things like the Spar Women’s Race, which markets and promotes the ground as more of a community centre. And we’re not just looking at sports events, we want to be multi-cultural. SuperSport Park is at the hub of business and a rich sporting culture and it’s ideally situated in terms of the Gautrain and the N1,” Wright told The Pretoria News.

As for Kambarami’s appointment, Wright says the former marketing and events manager’s promotion was thoroughly well-deserved and another sign that the Titans are looking to the future.

“Transformation is a term that’s used loosely sometimes, but the essence of it is that I don’t see it as an appointment of someone of colour; Patricia has been appointed because of her abilities and she just happens to be black. She has shown her qualities and it’s absolutely on merit. She’s proven to everyone that she’s more than qualified for the post and that’s why it’s been so well accepted.

“Things like that have to happen in this cut-throat environment and recently there have been some other bold steps like all Premier League clubs being required to have at least one player of colour and our executive becoming 50/50. In the past there was a stigma around transformation and we were very much Afrikaans and all-white, but that is changing,” Wright said.

When Wright is not wearing a jacket and tie in his role as president of the union, he is out on the sports fields himself. While he played some Premier League cricket for the then Pretoria Tech, and has been in charge of cricket and hockey at the renamed Tshwane University of Technology for 20 years, he is perhaps best known as one of the leading hockey umpires in the world.

Wright has officiated in four Olympic Games (one final) and four World Cups, including being in charge of three finals.

“I think I’ve got two or three years left as an umpire, there’s an age cut-off of 47 for international hockey. So the Rio Olympics are in sight, but it depends on how fit I stay and whether the fire still burns. I have accomplished most things in terms of hockey umpiring, but I still want to contribute, although I now have a huge responsibility to cricket,” Wright said.

A board meeting can often be like a hockey Test with 22 under-pressure players getting emotional, and Wright has a knack of handling those sort of explosive situations.

“I think my umpiring does help at board meetings! I’ve learnt to listen and operate under pressure, how to deal with personalities.”

While the stadium and the union finances are important, Wright, exposed as he has been to top-class sport, knows how important it is for the Titans team to have the right culture and to enjoy success on the field.

“We’re not as prescriptive as to say trophies are required, but the coach is under no illusions as to how handy trophies are! We have to be realistic, a team will always have ups and downs, but with the quality squad we have, the Titans should always be in contention.

“I’m not a president who digs his nose into the team’s affairs, the coach and CEO must run that show, but there was previously an ethos of lacklustre performance and preparation and to survive in the franchise environment, there can be no place for that. It’s difficult for the coach to turn that around, but Rob Walter is determined and committed to promoting far more responsibility and productive preparation,” Wright said.

The product of Selborne College in East London also gives full support to the University of Pretoria’s dominance of local club cricket, which has ruffled some feathers.

“I know it’s not the opinion of all the clubs, but Tuks are an extremely valuable asset for us. If we draw comparisons with other franchises who don’t have a strong university, then we see they battle. Tuks are at the forefront of coaching and performance in South Africa and their record speaks for itself.

“They must be doing something right and their professionalism and ethics must rub off positively on the other clubs. So I see no reason to clip their wings, it would only be to the detriment of the franchise,” Wright said.

While the changing face of cricket is most obvious at the franchise level, the amateur, club game also needs plenty of attention. Fortunately Wright is a leader who has his feet firmly in both camps.

“I’m very much a  club man, I support the old traditions. Clubs are critical but we’re also moving into a very professional era. The days of volunteers running the show are few and far between. We need the right mix of club and professional people to steer us in the right direction.”

John Wright certainly seems to have the Titans ship facing in the right direction.


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