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Ken Borland



The Currie Cup has fallen from its perch 2

Posted on August 22, 2017 by Ken

 

There can now be no doubt that the Currie Cup has fallen from its perch as one of the most respected domestic rugby competitions in the world to an afterthought, something that seems to have become a burden for SA Rugby rather than a jewel in the crown.

While rugby romantics who grew up on the grand old tales of the Currie Cup and its great provincial rivalry will just have to get used to the fact that most of SA Rugby’s resources will now be poured into SuperRugby and the Springboks (and even the Pro14 seems to have jumped the queue in importance), there is one important factor that needs to be dealt with – SuperRugby franchises still get their players from the Currie Cup.

The Currie Cup is still a vital stepping stone from which so many players graduate into the next year’s SuperRugby competition, and most of the franchises will tell you they have half-an-eye on the Sanzaar tournament throughout all their Currie Cup activities.

And, as Jake White has pointed out, what happens now in the Currie Cup affects the Springboks in five years’ time.

“If you look at the kind of players who are playing Currie Cup now, with the Springboks and internationals away, we are saying that the Currie Cup is not what it used to be, and my fear is that we’re accepting mediocrity. When I was a youngster, the likes of Hennie Bekker, Schalk Burger Snr and Henning van Aswegen were playing for Western Province. How many 19-year-olds played then? None. And how many of the youngsters playing today would make that Western Province team? None.

“That’s a worrying sign because whatever is happening now, there’s no doubt it will impact where we will be in the next five years. There are a lot of factors – overseas players, spreading the talent base – but I don’t think people want to admit that the consequences are going to come back to bite us,” White told All Out Rugby.

The downgrading of the Currie Cup is a serious concern that is reflected in attendance figures, but how are people meant to get excited about a tournament that started while SuperRugby’s exciting climax was hogging all the attention? Watching second and third-string teams play is really only going to excite the family members and close friends of the players involved.

One of the biggest questions the current Currie Cup breeding ground is not answering is “Where are we going to get all our future props from?”

It is a disgrace that the Currie Cup is practically the only premier rugby tournament in the world that is still using 22-man squads, which forces most teams to choose only one prop replacement. When it happened last year it was almost forgiven because of the chaotic preparation for the 2016 Currie Cup [http://kenborland.com/2016/08/6043/], but making the same mistake again has drawn fully justified criticism from Sharks coach Robert du Preez and Nollis Marais of the Blue Bulls.

The reason for not moving with the times and having 23 players – which allows a full front row of replacements – is apparently financial. But given that it costs probably R6000 per player per match (and only the visiting team needs a flight and hotel), so with three games per weekend, that’s an extra R18 000 for the 23rd player.

With the Currie Cup being played over 14 weeks, that’s an extra cost of about R252 000. Surely SA Rugby can get that money from cost-cutting other areas that aren’t so vital for the welfare of the game?

It also avoids the unsavoury sight of uncontested scrums, which are open to abuse whenever a side is under pressure in that set-piece. The scrums are such a vital platform these days for front-foot ball and earning penalties and uncontested scrums are clearly unfair on the dominant team.

Speaking about the welfare of the game, women’s rugby in this country has taken a knock by it not being involved in the ongoing Women’s Rugby World Cup which has reached the semi-final stage in Ireland. The decision was made by SA Rugby to rather invest in the grassroots of women’s rugby, the U16 and U18 championships, to try and broaden the base, rather than sending a team to the World Cup to finish 10th.

While the reasoning is understandable, the enormous strides made by our national women’s cricket team shows that investing heavily at the elite level can also bring rewards.

SA Rugby needs to weigh up the merits of providing opportunities with the harsh economic realities of our time, but at the moment it seems the money men are calling all the shots.

Good things have happened recently as well … 0

Posted on December 19, 2015 by Ken

 

Some awful things have happened in South Africa over the last 10 days, reflecting themselves in a depressing pall of negativity over a land that seems to have forgotten the miracle of the Rainbow Nation. Even us sports writers, fortunate as we are to pursue a career in something we love, are affected by the politics of the day.

Of course the results of our sporting heroes – and let’s be honest it’s been a poor year for South Africa – do affect us as well, although I always try to remember that it’s only a game. It’s far more important what sport can achieve in terms of bringing people together and changing lives.

So I’m delighted to report some good news in these tough times, a few encouraging things that have happened.

It is not easy to achieve complete transformation and equality because change is usually met with resistance and there is centuries of injustice to correct. It is difficult to come up with the right answers when one is trying to ensure representivity but also endeavouring to maintain standards and also do the right thing by the people you are trying to uplift.

It was most encouraging then to see our Springbok Sevens team triumph in the Cape Town stage of the World Series and do it with a fully transformed side. Following the blows to rugby’s transformation record at the 15-man World Cup, it was a timely reminder that there is plenty of black talent out there, it just needs to be nurtured.

Cricket had its own transformation scandal during their World Cup earlier in the year but it still seemed a low blow when Mark Nicholas, a former English county cricketer now commentating on Australian TV, suggested that South Africa will be the next international team to be “severely threatened” by the same disintegration that has afflicted West Indian cricket.

The financial situation outside of the Big Three is obviously a concern for Cricket South Africa, although it is ironic that the plummeting of the rand probably helps them (due to the sale of television rights in dollars) while it spells grave danger for rugby. But CEO Haroon Lorgat, a qualified chartered accountant, is a forward-thinking man and the organisation is running in a much leaner, efficient fashion than before.

Whatever White South Africans might think, the future of this country’s sport is Black – it’s simple economics and obvious when one considers the population.

The RamSlam T20 Challenge final at Centurion was a top-class evening, boasting great cricket, a sell-out crowd – one of the best I’ve seen for a domestic match since the days of isolation – and even the hero of the game was a Black player – Mangaliso Mosehle.

For me, the final offered a glimpse of what the future of South African cricket could be – and it took a lot of effort on the part of Cricket South Africa, the Titans and their marketing partners.

A thoroughly New South Africa crowd was entertained by Black Coffee and Euphonik; whereas Steve Hofmeyr would have been favoured by previous administrations.

I can only presume that Nicholas has been spending too much time with some of the expats in Australia who are notorious for broadcasting their opinion that everything is a nightmare in South Africa.

The day after the final, I spent the morning at Killarney Country Club where their Mandela Day fundraising is being put to good use coaching traumatised children in golf and tennis as part of their therapy. The sheer joy of the children and how apparent it was that they loved what they are doing, once again showed how much opportunity there is for sports bodies to tap into the raw talent that is there and hungry to be found.

The RamSlam T20 Challenge final,the Springbok Sevens’ success and the kids at Killarney Country Club showed what can be built when there is a will to be inclusive and a desire to spread the game and utilise the talent present in all communities.

 

 

 

Leonard to help Bulls pack go from bonsai to mighty oaks 0

Posted on November 12, 2015 by Ken

 

The current Bulls squad seems to have the potential to grow into mighty oaks, but at the moment their young, inexperienced pack could be likened to a bonsai, which is probably why coach Nollis Marais on Monday announced former Springbok eighthman Anton Leonard as one of his assistant coaches.

Leonard, who captained the Bulls at the beginning of the century as they began their climb out of the mire, will be the forwards coach having impressed Marais with his work with the South-Western Districts pack.

“I’ve been speaking to Anton for a while and he’s done excellent work with South-Western Districts, they almost beat the Lions in the Vodacom Cup to make the semi-finals. He’s the best forwards coach currently available and he’s very experienced. How many Super Rugby games has he played, he knows the Bulls’ tradition, he knows about the travel and our culture.

“He told me he wants to make the Bulls proud again and get the old values back. The players look up to him and he agrees with me that rugby has changed and we have to change our style of play. But to do that we have to have a platform up front, and Western Province showed where we need to improve by putting us under pressure in the set-pieces,” Marais told The Citizen.

David Manual, who has done brilliant work with this year’s Currie Cup squad, will be the backline coach, while Gary Botha (scrums & breakdowns) and Pine Pienaar (defence) will work with all Bulls teams as specialist coaches.

Hendre’ Marnitz, who replaced Marais as Blue Bulls U21 coach when he was promoted to the senior team, has also been confirmed as next year’s Currie Cup coach.

After eight years of service, Org Strauss has resigned as the team doctor and will be replaced by Herman Rossouw.

 

Speaking about transformation 2

Posted on August 24, 2015 by Ken

 

It seems over the last couple of weeks that myself and my rugby writing colleagues have been speaking about transformation in rugby as much as we have been speculating over Heyneke Meyer’s final World Cup selection.

A common theme in these discussions has been that transformation is not so much about writing the wrongs of the past, but more about ensuring that Springbok rugby grows stronger and stronger; at the moment it is a minority sport in South Africa (however passionately it is supported) and it’s just common sense that taking the game to more communities will increase the talent base and therefore improve the standard of play.

There are about 500 000 rugby players in South Africa and, although the majority of those are undoubtedly White and Coloured, there are strong areas of Black representation. The Eastern Cape is a hotbed of rugby and anyone who says the sport isn’t part of Black culture should go and pay a visit to that province, where the passion for the oval ball outweighs that for football in many areas.

Transformation is about providing equal opportunities to these communities, who are undoubtedly lagging behind socio-economically due to the injustices of the past. I’ve heard many South Africans complain about the All Blacks and the Wallabies and their use of players from the Pacific islands, but we have a vast reservoir of talent that is lying untapped – we should be worried about our house and getting that in order. I am sure the Springboks will be even stronger once we maximise the talent from the Eastern Cape.

One of the other gripes I hear all the time is “So when will transformation end?”

I am indebted to supersport.com rugby editor Johan Coetzee for giving the best answer to this question: When a rugby player born in Mdantsane has the same chance of making it as one born in Waterkloof.

And for those who accuse Bafana Bafana of not being fully representative: more whites have played for the national soccer team than Blacks for the Springboks.

For the majority of young Black rugby players, their challenges to success on the field are far greater – they often come from poor backgrounds where things White prospects can take for granted like nutrition, transport, decent facilities and familial support are conspicuously absent.

Even if they do make it to a professional level, their chances of gaining selection are smaller than their White counterparts, according to a thesis by Jacques du Toit of the University of Cape Town, who found that between 2007 and 2012, playing times for Whites at all levels from Vodacom Cup actually increased while that of Blacks decreased.

Through my friendship with several Black rugby writers and broadcasters, I have heard a common refrain that it is still not a level playing field at professional level, never mind the vast disparities that exist at grassroots, and the statistics seem to back that up.

The first thing that the South African Rugby Union need to do is improve access to rugby in schools across the land. Cricket South Africa have asked for the assistance of government in taking their sport into schools and earlier this week they signed an operational agreement with the departments of basic education and sports and recreation which will improve opportunities at disadvantaged schools.

Rugby needs to do the same; government has to come to the party if transformation is going to happen.

Secondly, Saru have to ensure that there is more opportunity in professional rugby for Black players to shine. That is their area of jurisdiction and, whether by quotas or some other mechanism, we cannot have a situation where levels of representation have not improved since the 2007 World Cup.

Again, they could take a leaf out of cricket’s book.

Omphile Ramela was a journeyman batsman who had never averaged over 35 in a South African domestic season, until 2014/15 when CSA’s increased targets forced the Cape Cobras to play him in just about all their games. Suddenly, given decent opportunity ie a run of games, he blossomed, averaging 48 for the Cape Cobras as they won the four-day title, and earning him a place in the SA A squad.

This week he scored a century against India A as SA A enjoyed their best day of what had been a dismal tour up till then.

Now that’s what you call transformation.

 

 



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