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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Lions’ efforts deserve Test selection 0

Posted on June 01, 2017 by Ken

 

The Springboks are back in camp and it will be interesting to see the team for the French Tests, two of which will be played at altitude, so it will definitely be an advantage to pick players that are full of confidence and successful on the Highveld.

There’s only one team that has been playing with real conviction and confidence, though, and that is the Lions, so I expect a few debutants from them over the course of the series. It will be a well-deserved honour and credit to their coaches, Johan Ackermann, Swys de Bruin and JP Ferreira.

The Lions’ 54-10 win over the Southern Kings showed that the difference in strength is vast between them and the other South African teams and they now have a great run-in towards the SuperRugby playoffs. They deserve it after winning three games overseas and they are reaping the rewards in confidence and the way they are playing.

It’s sad for SuperRugby that the playoff places are mostly already sorted out, especially in South Africa. It always used to go down to the last weekend and a very exciting final day of round-robin play. Anyway, it’s a huge advantage to finish first on the log and the Crusaders are three points clear of the Lions as our pacesetters go into the international break.

The Crusaders have some tough New Zealand derbies coming up though, including having to travel to the Hurricanes.

So I believe Rudolf Straeuli, the Lions CEO, can’t wait to pencil in 3pm playoff games on the Highveld. If you speak to the Highlanders players they will tell you that their legs felt like jelly during their semi-final at Ellis Park last year, they just could not get going, and that’s a side packed with All Blacks that lost 30-42.

The Lions will definitely have earned that advantage via their performances, especially their tremendous run of 15 unbeaten games against South African opposition.

Most of the Lions players have been let go by other franchises or picked up from other unions, so you have to credit their hard work and improvement. Guys like Andries Coetzee and Courtnall Skosan were playing for Tuks in 2012/13, while Franco Mostert was also part of that side and nobody has worked harder for their Springbok opportunity, so I’m sure he’ll take it with both hands.

A guy like Ross Cronje has worked really hard on his game, he’s been the second-choice at the Lions a lot of the time, but he kept his belief and keeps producing the goods, so his selection is also fully deserved.

It was really pleasing to see Warren Whiteley appointed as the new Springbok captain, he’s a really honest player and always totally committed on the field. You can never accuse Warren of shirking anything, whether that be in terms of workload or skill.

He was with the Sharks as a junior and was a very explosive, impact player who could really cause damage in the wide channels in the last 20 minutes. He has become a dominant captain who epitomises all that his Lions team stands for in terms of culture.

Warren is a superb lineout option and also has safe hands at the back, which is important because it’s vital these days for eighthmen to be able to counter-attack. He brings his Sevens skills to bear.

His journey to the Springbok captaincy has not been easy, he has worked so hard to get there and thoroughly deserves the honour.

The Springboks are heading into a phase of more inclusive leadership, Warren will take notice of the opinions around him and has great empathy. But he showed when he first came into the Springbok group in 2014 that he is strong enough to have his own ideas, he knows the path forward and will not just follow the party line, he will make sure he drives his own opinions. He’s also a great communicator, with the coaches and the playing group.

I wish him all the success he deserves and wouldn’t it be nice for him to have the Rugby Championship trophy in his hands in October?

And Duane Vermeulen playing at seven will definitely work, in terms of their defensive system, they want a blindside flank who can do a lot more when it comes to work-rate. I think the eighthman will stay at a lot of the set-pieces and save his energy for attack and ball-in-hand play.

Duane of course will be in France for the Top 14 final with Toulon and will only have a couple of days training with the Springboks after flying back to South Africa, which is why Jean-Luc du Preez has been called up.

The Sharks v Stormers game showed the difference in strength between the two conferences. The Stormers just could not get that final pass or offload away, which, given their style of play, is essential for them.

Under new coach Robbie Fleck, they’re always going to be involved in high-scoring games, but they need to convert their chances. One has to credit the Sharks for their defence holding firm, which bodes well for the Springboks.

I felt there was some improvement from the Bulls, they were far more physical at the gain-line. There’s obviously been a change in the coaching staff there, which possibly produced the improved display, but unfortunately it was not enough against a clever team like the Hurricanes.

The Bulls will regret those soft moments in defence when the Hurricanes were able to slice through them like a knife through butter.

The positives for the Bulls were Duncan Matthews, the young wing, who really took his opportunity well, and the way the forwards and inside backs competed on the gain-line against one of the most physical sides in SuperRugby (How we wish for the days when the Bulls were the most physical side in the competition!).

I was fortunate enough to be at the Cheetahs game against the Sunwolves and it’s always nice when the South African teams come to Tokyo – because of our relationships in the past, I get to catch up and spend some time with them. The smattering of survival Japanese I have helps them in the shops and with the very complicated subway system!

I thought the Cheetahs ran a very smart week in terms of preparation. Often when a team is coming off a massive losing run (nine games), the temptation is to go harder at the players in training. But the Cheetahs did not do much in Tokyo and Franco Smith ensured the players were very fresh, and they reaped the reward.

The match was quite tight until just before halftime when the Cheetahs scored a killer try to leave the Sunwolves 14-0 down.

I was impressed by the way the Cheetahs played, they kept their shape and Raymond Rhule and Sergeal Petersen were always a big danger on the wings.

It was a big event in Tokyo, because they only get to host a handful of games every season. It’s a huge thing for Japan to have a SuperRugby team.

We need a global game and we should get teams from the USA and Canada involved as well, it has to happen eventually. Look at the improvement in the Argentina team from having the Jaguares involved in SuperRugby – they have been exposed to a higher level of rugby and it has paid dividends.

The biggest drawback is the travel for the Sunwolves and Jaguares, they do nearly twice as much travel as anyone else. It’s always a great feeling going to a new country when you win, but the worst thing is then losing.

So I hope they change the conferences, but who knows because there has still been no clarity from Sanzaar.

 

 

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.

 

The John McFarland Column – Not enough emphasis on defence 0

Posted on May 09, 2017 by Ken

 

To see so many tries scored against the South African teams in SuperRugby last weekend – 26 in all – was disappointing and it’s not great when your top franchises are conceding so many tries in particular, but the problem is that there has just not been enough emphasis on defence.

Look at the value SA Rugby put on defence after Jacques Nienaber left halfway through 2016: they appointed Chean Roux in his position and he will freely admit that he was an absolute rookie defence coach at that stage. What does that say about how they rate defence and defence coaches?

We’ve now had the national indaba and the Springboks are on to their fourth defence coach under Allister Coetzee, but I’m sure Brendan Venter will do a really good job because he has the experience and the skills, and was the architect of the Saracens defensive system that has taken them to the European Champions Cup final.

But there was no national defence coach when the indaba was convened, so I wonder if there was input on defence at that gathering? After conceding a record score against New Zealand, defence was an obvious area that needed fixing.

It’s not Allister’s fault of course because he was handed his staff; now he has been given the staff he wants and I expect to see a massive improvement in the Springboks this year.

There are problems, but the people who coach defence in the franchises will, of course, care deeply about the defensive performances. In 2013, I remember when the Springboks conceded five tries against the All Blacks at Ellis Park, but we needed the bonus point to win the Rugby Championship and we played a high-tempo game, which a lot of people said was one of the best Test matches ever played. But I stewed over those five tries for a month; but then at least we only conceded one try, to France, on the whole European tour thereafter.

So our defence in general is not in a great situation at present and whether it is due to conditioning problems or the speed of the modern game is open to debate. But you can never win a rugby match if you are conceding that many tries.

There’s obviously currently an emphasis on attacking skills but I’m certain the defence coaches are still being given sufficient time with their teams, and they would have done a lot of work on certain aspects of how the opposition attack. Like the Australian middle ruck attack, for instance, where the flyhalf goes hard for the line with a wing or centre like Israel Folau hard on their shoulder.

It’s no surprise when the New Zealand teams employ the kick-pass, especially the Hurricanes.

They employ the rush defence, therefore their wings have to be high and so there is always space behind them. Beauden Barrett would have had a lot of practice doing the kick-pass in training because he would see and have a high understanding of that space all the time.

The Stormers left too much of the field free, nearly 20 metres of space, and with players set in the wide channels, that’s not the smartest move.

In order to make sure you cover the width of the field, you need your tight five to work really hard close to the ruck, to set the breakdown correctly with good placing between the three pillars, and then the outside backs go wider.

The Bulls obviously had problems with their defence and if you said it started with their conditioning then you would not be far off. They also have folding problems, they’re just not setting the breakdown around the corner and so they end up with insufficient numbers.

They were also caught out by grubbers and so one has to ask questions about the back three’s positional play. They need to co-ordinate better to cover those and they need a much higher work-rate.

The Southern Kings have also had defensive problems and so it is only really the Lions and Sharks, who are defending in the same fashion as always, who can be satisfied with their defence.

The Lions have shown a great defensive improvement and one must credit JP Ferreira for improving their consistency in this regard.

The Lions are rolling through nicely and it will be a phenomenal tour if they can beat the Brumbies, which will make it probably the first unbeaten tour by a South African team – a tremendous achievement, and they’ve been winning with bonus points!

We know Australian rugby is at an all-time low and they have even more defensive problems, but their forwards are really their soft underbelly and the Lions have exposed that to great effect.

And the quality of finishing this weekend by Courtnall Skosan and Sylvian Mahuza was top-class. As we get closer to the Springbok selection, it’s a good time for players to remind the national coach that they are out there by scoring skilful tries like that.

In South Africa, skills development seems to be more coach-driven, but in New Zealand, the players take personal responsibility for it. An example at the Kubota Spears is Patrick Osborne, who has played at the top level as a wing, but he works hard on his kicking. He’s playing as a right-footer on the left wing, so he’s constantly working on his left-footed grubbers and other kicks, he does that consistently.

To see a top New Zealand SuperRugby player take individual responsibility like that was quite an eye-opener.

 

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.

Big Trevor & the lollipop: Meyer leaving nothing to chance 0

Posted on December 22, 2016 by Ken

Being one of the largest specimens of humanity in Pretoria, Trevor Nyakane is not exactly hard to spot. But I was nevertheless very excited to see him at Loftus Versfeld the other day, mostly because of what he was doing.

The Bulls prop was busy with Springbok assistant coach John McFarland practising lineout throwing, with the defence guru using the big metal “lollipop stick” he designed exactly for this purpose to replicate Victor Matfield’s hands soaring high above the opposition and claiming the throw that sets up the maul that sets up the try that wins South Africa the World Cup later this year.

I was intrigued because I figured this may mean Nyakane is being groomed to play hooker for the Springboks.

There has not been much for the Bulls to be happy about this season, but Nyakane has been one of the few shining lights at Loftus Versfeld, and here, at the same venue, he was showing the adaptability that has already seen him master the tighthead position, having left the Cheetahs as a loosehead at the start of the year.

I was very excited because, if Nyakane could play as a back-up No 2 it would mean Heyneke Meyer could name just two hookers in his squad, thereby freeing up a place that could help unblock the amazing loose forward log-jam he has to wrestle with.

Because the World Cup in England will be just an overnight flight away from South Africa, it means Nyakane could sit on the bench if one of the two match-day hookers went down on the eve of a game, with a replacement being flown over if the injury was more long-term.

At the moment, Meyer can only take five loose forwards to the World Cup (with Oupa Mohoje going as a lock), so Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw, Willem Alberts, Schalk Burger and Marcell Coetzee would appear to be the frontrunners. But that would mean leaving quality, in-form players such as Jaco Kriel, Warren Whiteley, Siya Kolisi and Nizaam Carr behind, so any scheme that could sneak one of those on to the plane to England should be investigated.

Unfortunately it’s turned out that this was one of the many occasions when I was getting ahead of myself and Nyakane is definitely not being groomed as a hooker and Meyer will choose three No 2s in the World Cup squad.

But it is one of the many examples of how detailed Meyer’s planning is for the World Cup because Nyakane is being trained as a back-up thrower should the on-field hooker get a yellow card. Of which Bismarck du Plessis has many.

It’s an emergency policy for 10 minutes, but it has happened a couple of times to the Springboks in the last two years, with Vermeulen notably forced to throw into the lineout against Ireland last year.

It’s another of the many one-percenters that Meyer reckons could decide the World Cup and the Springbok coach has gone into minute detail in his planning. That includes poring over the minutiae of every previous tournament and the venues where his team will play. He has even gone into the weather records and keeps an eye on the long-term forecasts.

Unfortunately there still seems to be no solution to the problem that will see the likes of Kriel, Whiteley, Kolisi and Carr staying at home!

http://citizen.co.za/sport/sport-columnists/408023/kb-col/

Siboto earns the reprieve he had been hoping for 0

Posted on December 20, 2016 by Ken

 

Malusi Siboto had probably been hoping the ground could swallow him whole when he dropped a sitter of a catch in the 12th over of the CSA T20 Challenge final at SuperSport Park on Friday night; by the end of the match he was rushing off the field to embrace his gran, who was watching him play cricket for the first time and was able to see the 29-year-old deliver a superb final over to seal a thrilling six-run victory for the Titans over the Warriors.

In a gripping, low-scoring encounter, the Titans were defending just 156 and the Warriors looked well on course as they reached 91 for three in the 12th over with Colin Ackermann and Christiaan Jonker adding 48 off 37 balls.

That was when Ackermann, on 21, looped a sweep off wrist-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi to short fine leg and Siboto, whose nickname is Lolly, dropped a dolly. Even though Jonker was out next ball for 33 off 25 balls, foolishly sweeping Shamsi to fine leg, Ackermann batted on and scored 34.

He and Qaasim Adams, trapped lbw for 17 by Shamsi, missing a sweep, were dismissed in successive overs in the midst of a superb Titans comeback. A magnificent penultimate over from Junior Dala cost just six runs, but it still left Siboto with only 11 runs to play with in the final over.

The former Knights seamer, enjoying his first season with the Titans, was brilliant, going full and straight and hitting the blockhole as he conceded just four singles and a wide.

“I dropped the wrong guy and in my mind I knew I should have taken that catch. So I told myself that when I bowl again I must make up for it … and I guess I did,” Siboto said afterwards.

“I was overwhelmed and just froze when I bowled the wide, but I knew I just had to try and make things right. Afterwards I ran off the field to my gran, who was watching me play cricket for the first time,” Siboto added.

For Titans coach Mark Boucher, the win, for his debut trophy in his first season in charge, was made even more special because the Warriors had been in a commanding position.

“It had been a bit frustrating because we put ourselves under pressure, but it became a tight match anyway and we held our nerve. It wasn’t the perfect game from us, we didn’t score enough runs, but we played pressure cricket and finals are often about who holds their bottle longest.

“I’m very proud of the guys because it was a dogfight, it wasn’t pretty. The Warriors had picked up momentum, but Junior Dala (4-0-25-0) hit his straps really well and pulled that momentum back, showing good pace and aggression. He handled the pressure very well – he even said to me that he doesn’t feel pressure! – and then Malusi, geez, he came good!

“He hadn’t had a great night, his first over went for 10 and then he dropped that catch, and other players might have gone into their shell and faded away, but he took the bull by the horns and got the ball in the right areas.

“You can’t train that sort of thing, you can practise skills and talk about tactics all day long, but the player has got to want those tough moments. The whole team really wanted that trophy, so they dealt with the pressure really well,” Boucher said.

The Titans had been sent in to bat and battled to 155 for six in their 20 overs, Aiden Markram scoring 33 and Albie Morkel 21, but nobody was able to score at much more than a run-a-ball, Boucher saying their struggles being born out of misreading the pitch.

“We got the wicket wrong and went too hard, too early; 160 was about par but scoreboard pressure played its part in the Warriors’ chase. We picked up vital wickets early on to put them on the back foot and the bowlers bowled in good areas with the pitch being a bit slow and up-and-down. It was a fantastic final, sometimes the low-scoring games are the best,” Boucher said.

That the Titans made it to 155 was thanks to David Wiese, who struck 24 not out off 15 balls and took 19 off the last over bowled by Sisanda Magala.

Wiese’s all-round performance was heroic as he then had to take over the captaincy in the first over of the Warriors’ innings after Morkel left the field with a strained hamstring after just five deliveries, and the opening wicket of Clyde Fortuin for a two-ball duck as Markram (brilliant in the field) held on to a scorcher at backward point. And Wiese then bowled four overs for just 31 runs and claimed the key wicket of Jon-Jon Smuts, caught behind for 16.

Dala and Lungi Ngidi, whose two for 27 included the vital scalps of Colin Ingram, caught behind for 12, and Ackermann, were also outstanding with the ball for the Titans.



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