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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column – How the Lions turned around their SuperRugby semifinal 0

Posted on August 01, 2017 by Ken

 

 

In the last 45 minutes of their SuperRugby semi-final, the Lions beat the Hurricanes 41-7, which is a phenomenal achievement against the defending champions and a truly top-quality side.

Altitude was certainly a big factor and you could see the Hurricanes fading away, but the way the Lions set up their amazing comeback was highly impressive.

There were things they definitely needed to do better from the first half, starting with their first-phase defence. They were caught out with a simple second-man play from a lineout for the Wes Goosen try, when there were a couple of misreads, and the turnovers in their own half also provided the Hurricanes with position and points.

There was a lot of long kicking at the start of the game and very few contestable kicks, so there wasn’t a lot of counter-attacking either, with both teams playing safety-first rugby, and the Hurricanes generally capitalising on Lions’ mistakes exiting in their own half.

When the Lions carried the ball, they generally went close to the ruck, either in channel one or on the blindside, attacking the pillars. This did not give the Hurricanes defence the chance to rush, and even though the Lions did not get much momentum and made a few mistakes and turnovers, it kept the Hurricanes tight five making tackles, and by the end of the match they were stuffed, the wind had been taken out of their sails.

The turning point in the match came when Jaco Kriel made a steal just before halftime on halfway, when the Hurricanes had first-phase ball from a lineout. He got in over the ball, the Lions won the penalty and they went for position.

The previous time they had won a penalty in a similar position, they went for the tap-and-run which in hindsight was the wrong decision. But it came from the frustration the players on the outside would have been feeling because they weren’t in the game and someone obviously felt the space was there to attack. No player takes a tap just on their own volition, there would have been a call from someone else.

Jaco Kriel is such a warrior, he never gives up and he has a really tough streak, which influences the whole of the team. I felt that important steal totally changed the momentum of the game as it gave the Lions field position which led to the try just before halftime. The Hurricanes forwards just could not fold into position after a couple of lineout drives and in the end Jacques van Rooyen barged over to bring the Lions back into the game.

The Hurricanes had all the possession and territory in the first half, but the second half was all Lions. Their scrum was dominant enough to gain penalties to gain field position in the 22 for lineout mauls.

I felt the Hurricanes yellow card was very harsh. Beauden Barrett definitely rolled away, but the ball squirted out on his side and into his legs. It was definitely a penalty, but with their flyhalf and main general off the field, the Hurricanes fell apart and the game really opened up for the Lions.

They converted their field position into points well and were ruthless in terms of their lineout maul. It takes a fair amount of numbers to stop them setting it up and driving, so that opened up other options for them as well off the lineout.

The big thing though was that the belief was there in the Lions team and you have to also give credit to their whole coaching staff. And Cash [Ivan van Rooyen], their conditioning coach, is their real unsung hero. Against the New Zealand teams, it’s always in the last 20 minutes that they come back so strongly, but the Lions actually dominated the final quarter, which shows they are in tip-top shape.

In terms of defence, it was very difficult to go around the Lions with Andries Coetzee coming into the line very early as the extra man. That does leave them vulnerable at the back, but the Hurricanes weren’t able to get kick-passes or grubbers in behind.

And the Lions scored some really well-worked tries. Especially the one where their centres set things up and their loose forwards finished out wide. Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe have the size in midfield, and then they have the pace of Jaco Kriel and Kwagga Smith out wide to finish.

I thought Franco Mostert was immense and is really starting to look like a world-class lock, and his two consecutive lineout steals in the first half were crucial in keeping the Lions in the game.

The biggest compliment one can pay Malcolm Marx is that he did not lose anything to Dane Coles, who is possibly the best hooker in the world. A long Springbok career lies ahead of Malcolm and we are blessed to have someone of that size starting their international career so early.

In the final, however, the Crusaders will be a totally different kettle of fish to the Hurricanes. They have a number of All Blacks, especially in the tight five, and world-class back-row forwards. They have some of the best players in the world in Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read and Owen Franks, they are second to none and they all play in key areas.

So there’s going to be a lot more pressure on the Lions at the scrum and lineout. While the Hurricanes stayed down against the Lions lineout, which gave them a lot more latitude, the Crusaders will definitely compete.

I thought the Crusaders were very clinical in their semi-final against the Chiefs, even though they also don’t compete much at the breakdown (apart from Ryan Crotty), they concentrate on having numbers of defenders on their feet. That will mean a lot of free ball for the Lions, which is a big risk at altitude.

The key moment in that semi-final was the Tim Nanai-Williams grubber try and a great call by the TMO to cancel out even though Damian McKenzie was shaping for the conversion. It’s important to get those decisions right in matches like that and it was correct.

It’s great that the final will be a sell-out crowd and a great way for Johan Ackermann to finish his tenure at the Lions.

The Lions have now got a lot of belief and confidence and I think they will emerge as the 2017 SuperRugby champions. It has proven nigh-on impossible for a team to win a SuperRugby final outside their own country, never mind crossing the Indian Ocean. I think it will be done at some time, but hopefully not this weekend.

 

 

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.

 

 

Germany & Belgium confirmed as men’s finalists 0

Posted on July 21, 2017 by Ken

 

Germany and Belgium confirmed themselves as the men’s finalists for the Hockey World League at the Wits Astro on Friday night with thrilling semi-final wins.

Germany were 1-0 down to Spain as they entered the last five minutes of their semifinal, but they never lost their composure, never tried anything silly and barely looked like a side chasing the game for a spot in a  final.

Having just taken off their goalkeeper and with sterling defender Mathias Muller acting as a kicking back, captain Mats Grambusch then produced a superb run along the baseline before flipping the ball back for Ferdinand Weinke to slap in the equaliser.

Grambusch also marked himself out as a special player in the shootout, which went to sudden death, as he scored with both of his brilliant attempts.

Christopher Ruhr, firstly after Dieter-Enrique Linnekogel had won a penalty stroke, provided the other two goals in the shootout and goalkeeper Mark Appel also made some great saves for Germany to find their way through to the final.

In the other semifinal, Cedric Charlier and Amaury Keusters both scored for Belgium, before Australia pulled a goal back from a short-corner after the hooter for the end of the third quarter, through a fine flick by Jeremy Hayward.

Then, with just 19 seconds left in the match, Kiran Arunasalam thought he had scored the equaliser for Australia, but Kiwi umpire Gareth Greenfield called for a referral and a small foot was discovered, leading to the goal being disallowed.

The USA and Germany will meet in the women’s final on Sunday, while South Africa’s women’s side play in the fifth/sixth playoff against Japan on Saturday at 1.30pm.

Earlier on Friday, South Africa’s national men’s team beat Japan 4-2 in their playoff for ninth and 10th place with veteran former South African captain Austin Smith proving himself a jack of all trades as he scored two goals and led a determined defensive effort.

The hard-fought victory ensured the hosts not only didn’t finish last in the tournament, but it means they avoid relegation from the elite level of the event.

While the 32-year-old Smith twice rocketed superb short-corner drag-flicks into the right-hand corner of goal, the match was marked by a top-class display from the 18-year-old prodigy Dayaan Cassiem.

Cassiem was a constant threat running with the ball and he set up both the 29th-minute short-corner that saw South Africa go 2-1 up through Smith’s second goal, and the penalty-corner four minutes from full time that made sure of victory.

Cassiem pounced on a deflection and, spinning and shooting all in one motion, he fired the ball into goal to give the home side a two-goal cushion.

Coach Fabian Gregory said the performance left no doubt that Cassiem is a future superstar.

“Dayaan was fantastic today, I took huge flak for choosing him because he was just 18 years old and had not played in an IPT yet, but you could see today that it was a no-brainer. He’s the most exciting striker in the country, a real goal-scorer and he’s always just so focused on the rebounds.

“He’s had offers from all around the world, but first he must get his matric and study further. As a player, he’s really hard on himself and is extremely humble. He’s such an exciting prospect, but he’s really grounded,” Gregory told The Citizen on Friday.

Japan equalised just a minute after Smith had scored his first short-corner goal, but the defender put South Africa 2-1 up just before halftime. The Japanese dominated the third quarter, however, with Genki Mitani ramming home their second equaliser.

South Africa claimed a 3-2 lead though after a superb breakaway. Julian Hykes ran aggressively from midfield, combining with Rhett Halkett down the left, before Cassiem’s mis-hit shot hit a Japanese defender in the goalmouth, leading to a penalty stroke. Jonty Robinson’s flick was not his most confident effort, but it nevertheless went into the right-hand corner of the goal.

Gregory said he was pleased his team had won playing a more exciting brand of hockey.

“Playing the youngsters with their exuberance and their willingness to go out and play is exciting and they showed the way forward today, it was good for the team to show they can play attacking hockey. We want to try and score goals, we want to play with more speed, play with no fear. The ability to close out a game is also important and knowing when to put the knife in,” Gregory said.

Results: 9th-10th – South Africa 4 (Austin Smith 2, Jonathan Robinson, Dayaan Cassiem) Japan 2 (Koji Yamasaki, Genki Mitani); 5th-8th New Zealand 2 (Nick Haig, Kane Russell) Egypt 0, Ireland 1 (Shane O’Donoghue) France 1 (Hugo Genestet), Ireland won shootout 4-3 (Conor Harte, Eugene Magee, John Jackson, Chris Cargo vs Viktor Lockwood, Jean-Laurent Kieffer, Pieter van Straaten); Semi-finals – Germany 1 (Ferdinand Weinke) Spain 1 (Ricardo Sanchez), Germany won shootout 4-3 (Mats Grambusch 2, Dieter-Enrique Linnekogel/Christopher Ruhr 2 vs Sergi Enrique 2, Alvaro Iglesias); Belgium 2 (Cedric Charlier, Amaury Keusters) Australia 1 (Jeremy Hayward).

Saturday’s fixtures: Women’s 7th-8th – 11.15am India v Ireland; Women’s 5th-6th – 1.30pm South Africa v Japan; Men’s 7th-8th – 3.45pm Egypt v France; Men’s 5th-6th 6pm New Zealand v Ireland.

 

Lions players with heavy hearts after semi-final loss 0

Posted on July 07, 2017 by Ken

 

There were plenty of Lions players with a heavy weight on their shoulders after Saturday night’s heartbreaking Currie Cup semi-final loss to Western Province.

The Lions, defending the title they had won in fairytale fashion last year, had dominated most of the match and seemed to have finally secured victory – when everything changed.

The Lions’ apparent lead all turned belly-up after flyhalf Elton Jantjies had kicked an angled penalty to switch the score to 16-14 with less than two minutes remaining.

Then the ball was carried back from the kickoff and Jaco Taute put too much on his clearing kick, the ball sailing directly into touch to give Western Province a vital lineout inside the Lions’ 22. The visitors’ rolling maul once again carried too much momentum to be stopped, and the Capetonians had the match-winning try with a dozen seconds left in the game.

While the loss will weigh most heavily on Taute and Jantjies, who missed three first-half kicks that denied the Lions vital reward for their dominance, it was also a sad end to an era. This Lions team that showed the courage to win the Currie Cup last year after they had been humiliated in SuperRugby, who stood up as a unit to get rid of their bullying coach, John Mitchell, and who shrugged off the awful news that they would not be playing in the Sanzar tournament in 2013, will now break up.

Already, Jantjies, Taute, lock Michael Rhodes and prop Pat Cilliers have been confirmed as heading to the Stormers, while two unsung heroes of the tight five, Franco van der Merwe (Sharks) and Jacobie Adriaanse (Scarlets), are also departing.

The loss of these players, and probably more in the near future, means the Lions will have to rebuild yet again.

“We’ve lost guys who we’ve worked on for two or three years to get to this level, and now we’ll have to get new guys to that level as quickly as possible,” coach Johan Ackermann admitted.

“This group has become so close, they really play for each other. For the first time in years, we have a number of players in every position and we would have gone into SuperRugby with some depth and with players going into their second or third year in that competition.

“But now this whole group breaks up and we have to start building up a new team again … I know those are words Lions supporters don’t want to hear, but we have to do it.”

The mere fact that the Lions finished the year as strong Currie Cup contenders, hosting a semi-final, and not as the clowns some haters like to portray them as, is amazing considering all the obstacles they faced.

“We could of fallen apart and finished sixth and gone into a promotion/relegation playoff, but instead our goal was to win the Currie Cup. I’m still very positive, even though we’re just disappointed now because that was a game we should have won. But I’d rather be losing in a semi-final than playing promotion/relegation,” Ackermann said. 

The Sharks, having seen off the Bulls 20-3 in difficult conditions in Durban, will now go into the Currie Cup final as firm favourites.

Thus far in the competition, they have undoubtedly been the most cohesive unit, they have the best all-round players and they will have home ground advantage.

Ackermann predictably backed his former Sharks side to beat the Streeptruie next weekend, saying “they can’t get that lucky twice, Christmas only comes once a year”, but even Western Province coach Allister Coetzee was saying the Natalians would be favourites.

“We’ll be up against the best side in South Africa; the Sharks are unbelievably strong, to hold the Bulls to just three points is very telling. They are a real quality side, they are good on attack and defence and they have good kickers. Maybe we’ll need all 22 players on the field to beat them … ” Coetzee said.

If you believe their detractors, Western Province tend to “choke” in the big games, but their victory over the Lions showed there is immense character and patience in their side. Nothing seemed to be going for them for three-quarters of the match, but then, as the game entered the crucial final stages, they were able to up the tempo and be clinical on attack.

“It’s one of the best wins I’ve experienced with Western Province, the character of the team really stood out and they never gave up. In the latter stages of the second half, we found space and width and the bench gave us great impetus on attack.

“The team showed a great will to win and the side that capitalises on their opportunities normally wins playoffs. People like to throw out that ‘chokers’ term at us, but the connection in this team is incredible, both to each other and to the game plan,” Coetzee said.

To upstage the Sharks, however, Western Province are going to have to improve markedly up front. The Lions bossed them at scrum time and the Sharks front row, spearheaded by Springboks Jannie du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira, will be looking to do the same.

The Sharks forwards were magnificent in stopping the big Bulls’ ball-carriers’ efforts to get over the gain line and they certainly have the backline to make better use of possession than the Lions did.

A sopping wet day in Durban was an equaliser, helping the Bulls’ strengths, but to win so convincingly just shows that the Sharks have the quality to rise to any occasion or conditions.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2012-10-21-currie-cup-lions-fans-welcome-to-heartbreak-hotel/#.WV99GISGPIU

Lorgat’s resignation understandable, but his denial is baffling 0

Posted on February 01, 2017 by Ken

 

Cricket South Africa CEO Haroon Lorgat’s sense of resignation when it comes to the exodus of Kolpak players is understandable given the socio-economic factors that are ranged against him, but his continued denial that anything untoward happened before the 2015 World Cup semi-final is baffling and most troubling.

His own involvement in the selection fiasco that saw the in-form Kyle Abbott yanked from the team and replaced by a half-fit Vernon Philander has still not been totally clarified, but I would be extremely surprised if he was not acting on an ill-timed instruction from board level.

But just mention the 2015 World Cup semi-final and selection interference and Lorgat has his hackles up in an instant.

It happened again in Cape Town after the Proteas had won their Test against Sri Lanka to clinch the series,  their achievement totally overshadowed by the shock news that Abbott and Rilee Rossouw were shifting their loyalty to lucrative deals in county cricket.

When Abbott faced up to the media he was asked whether that fateful event in Auckland had anything to do with his decision to give up his international career, and he answered sincerely, saying there had been a lot of frustration, hurt and anger at the time, but that the team – including himself – had dealt with and moved on from all their negative emotions from that incident at their culture camp last August.

Lorgat was next up to be interviewed and, as soon as someone mentioned the words “World Cup semi-final”, they were scolded and the CEO launched into a tirade against the media for making things up. When one of the journalists, of colour, who happened to be at the World Cup and had done plenty to expose the selection shenanigans, pointed out to Lorgat that Abbott had sat in the same chair five minutes earlier and openly spoken about the issue, the CEO had to retreat and offered words along the lines of “I don’t want to talk about that now”.

But like reticent parents avoiding the sex-education talk, Lorgat is going to have to speak about it at some stage.

And the CSA National Team Review Panel report, that will be tabled before the members’ council on Saturday might just be the tool that gets Lorgat to open up, unless of course the relevant pages are lost somewhere in the toilets at head office at the Wanderers.

There has been talk of the report recommending that CSA and the board apologise to the players for what happened in Auckland. There is no confirmation of that, but I have it on record from someone who has read the findings that under the Team Culture section it indicates that it’s “strongly recommended that interaction happens either individually or in a group between players and senior members of the board and support staff”.

Speaking to members of the panel, none of them wanted to create anything controversial and all they hope is that something good comes out of their work.

The introduction of set targets has obviously helped because now the quotas are out in the open; but amongst the players there is still the lingering fear of an administrator again deciding to take the job of a selector upon himself and interfering in the make-up of the team.

The bungling of the transformation aspect of the 2015 World Cup needs to be put to bed – otherwise imagine how septic a boil it will be in the lead-up to 2019? – and an acknowledgement and apology from Lorgat for his role in the controversy would be a big step along that road.



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