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Ken Borland

Sanzar’s SuperRugby Christmas present is likely to be meh 0

Posted on February 20, 2017 by Ken


Rugby fans who have had enough of the current fatigue-inducing set-up will be eagerly anticipating Christmas and the expected announcement by Sanzar of a new SuperRugby format from 2016. But what they find in their stocking might still leave them unimpressed because Sanzar are unlikely to go the most obvious route of two pools of nine, eight matches home and away and semi-finals and a final.

Because the Southern Kings had such a dramatic impact on rugby in the Eastern Cape, certainly in terms of crowd figures, the South African Rugby Union (Saru) seem to have accepted that they can no longer leave such a massive region out in the cold even though they lost the promotion/relegation series to the Lions. And Argentina, full Sanzar partners now, look set to be rewarded with a place in SuperRugby as well, expanding the competition to 17 teams. Judging by the noises coming out of New Zealand and Australia, some sort of Japanese involvement is also being strongly considered to make it an even 18.

But the same Australian demands that impacted so heavily on the previous broadcasting agreement, which brings in all the money and therefore decides the format, seem set to ensure common sense does not apply. In order to sustain the ailing code of rugby union in Australia, they want their own conference, even if they have to share it with some New Zealand teams.

So the three proposals that Sanzar are considering are to keep the status quo (yes, many stakeholders, most of them living on a big island, actually think the current format is great), to split into South African and Australasian conferences, or to expand the competition even more and include other Asian teams, and the USA and Canada as well.

It would appear the two-conference system has been most positively received by Saru, and hopefully their negotiators will show much more skill when Sanzar meet in Sydney next week than the muppets who negotiated the previous deal. That could mean six South African franchises, which play each other home and away, making 10 fixtures. If the Australasian conference is split into two pools, with Japan in one and Argentina in the other, then they, too, could play 10 round-robin matches. The idea is then for the top six or eight teams across the conferences to play in the finals. If six teams go through and play each other, that’s five more matches. A semi-final and a final would then mean a maximum of 17 games per team – much cleaner, much simpler and less of a slog than SuperRugby is at the moment for all concerned.

What is vital is that Sanzar consult the players, on whom they rely to sell their product. There is a strong suggestion that the current exodus of players from the southern hemisphere to Europe is not just because of the power of the euro, but also because they are on their last legs due to the unceasing intensity and quantity of rugby Sanzar has foisted on them.

Bulls captain Pierre Spies, one of many on the injured list after the prolonged SuperRugby campaign, is pegging his hopes on change. “I’d really like to see the competition end before the international season. That three-week break for the internationals in June is a waste. I’d like to see all the focus on SuperRugby, get that done with and then give all the teams three or four weeks to prepare for the Tests. We could then finish the Rugby Championship at the end of October and either go back to our franchises or prepare for the end-of-year tour. I’d prefer there to be one global schedule and to finish SuperRugby in one go. That would also give all the teams one extra bye,” Spies told Daily Maverick on Thursday.

There does seem to be growing agreement on the sense of having one global rugby season. The International Rugby Players’ Association has come out in favour of it and even Sanzar CEO Greg Peters has said it makes sense. “The idea of moving June to July, in a Sanzar context, certainly holds a lot of appeal, for a lot of reasons,” Peters told The Herald Sun. “We could complete the SuperRugby season without a break, which is something in an ideal world we would want to do. Then you would move straight into the international program, have a short break, the Rugby Championship, short break, and then the Spring Tours. We would certainly be interested in sitting down with the northern unions and getting their views about whether it would work. And obviously we are interested in the views of the players’ associations as well.”

The Currie Cup Premier Division also looks set to change, with a new eight team format apparently agreed to in principle by the Saru executive committee, just two years after they went to great lengths to justify a cut to six teams. The phrase “political expediency” immediately springs to mind, but the thought of the Kings and the Pumas, who have dominated the First Division in recent times and are based in the rapidly-growing centre of Nelspruit, competing at the top table does have appeal.

The administrators sit in the boardrooms and make the decisions over lavish lunches, changing tune according to their own vested interests, but it is the players who have to go out, put their bodies on the line, and make these formats work.

“I’ve only been playing SuperRugby for six years and I’m struggling to get on the field now,” says Springbok star Francois Steyn, who has been out of action since May after two operations for compartment syndrome in the leg – an over-use injury.

“In South African rugby, we all worry about saying something wrong and stepping on someone’s toes, so I should probably keep my mouth shut. But it’s all about bringing the fans out and less rugby is probably better. Then the top players can play for longer. At this rate, if you play for 10 years, you’re a lucky guy.”

Attack will be at the forefront in new expanded SuperRugby 0

Posted on February 19, 2016 by Ken


The Jaguares of Argentina were at the SuperRugby launch at the SuperSport studios in Randburg on Thursday and, despite their loss to the Stormers in a warm-up game, everyone expects them to continue with the attacking, ball-in-hand approach that took them to the semi-finals of last year’s World Cup.

Then again, all of the South African teams have also committed themselves to a more positive, expansive brand of play, with some coaches intimating that local rugby is standing at a crossroads.

The Lions are the team that has been leading the way for South African teams in terms of a new, more high-tempo style of play and they will be the next team to face the Jaguares, albeit in another warm-up game, when they meet at Wits University on Friday night.

And coach Johan Ackermann is expecting a lot from the Argentinians.

“Although the Jaguares lost, Gert Smal of the Stormers told me that they were impressed by them, that they played an exciting brand of rugby. They can all step and offload, they run the ball and really push the pace. It’s basically the Argentina Test side and we couldn’t ask for a better test when it comes to seeing if our players can handle the pressure of SuperRugby,” Ackermann said on Thursday.

That Argentina are now a top-class Test side is beyond dispute, but fielding a team in SuperRugby is a different dynamic for them and flyhalf Martin Landajo says they are treating it all as a learning experience at the moment.

“It was very important for us to have a good World Cup and lots of players from that team are in the Jaguares. But we are just trying to go slowly and try and learn a lot, we must just enjoy it, that’s the most important thing. But the people back home are really happy and we have a lot of support from Argentina rugby fans,” Landajo said.

While the Jaguares will enjoy the lack of expectation that comes with being tournament rookies, the Stormers are always under pressure from their demanding fans, but new coach Robbie Fleck is calling for a “fearless” approach from his team.

“We’ve prepared very well and although we’ve had changes in management and new faces in the team, we still have a quality spine to the side. There are a lot of youngsters, but some of them are 22 or 23 years old and senior players.

“It’s exciting to blood youngsters and develop a new culture, and I feel these are very exciting times for South African rugby as a whole, particularly with all the new coaches on the scene and being in the unique position that we can now really develop players. I want our team to be fearless, even though there is a lot of pressure on them to perform and a lot of pressure off the field,” Fleck said.

The Southern Kings are meeting the Sharks at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on February 27 in their first game back in Super Rugby since 2013 and, despite their tumultuous build-up, captain Steven Sykes says they will be ready come opening day.

“We’ve done enough so that we can compete, it was very tough only starting our pre-season preparation on January 4, but we’ve had six-day weeks and put in a lot of work so we are prepared. I believe we will be fine depth-wise, there are new players coming in every week, and we have a really nice team environment and facilities.

“We’re in the same shoes as the Lions were in a few years ago in that we have a lot of young players who want to show how they can compete. Plus we have a lot more experience than in 2013 and one of our goals is to make a better showing this year. But we have a good mix that I am excited about,” Sykes said.

Up in Pretoria, Nollis Marais is one of the coaches in their first year of SuperRugby and he has already inculcated a more attacking style of play into the Bulls, having brought it into the Currie Cup campaign in which a callow side went down to Western Province in the semi-finals.

Marais is unapologetic that he has placed his faith in youth.

“We’ve lost a lot of top players but it’s time to adapt, it’s time for new blood and that makes it easier down the line because it’s a long competition. We’ve had a lot of senior players leave and it’s time for the youngsters to step up and take their chance, although they still have a couple of guys that have played SuperRugby before who they can learn from.

“But I believe in the Bulls structures, I’ve been part of the system for five years, and it’s important for South African rugby that we develop the players in the pipeline too. The Bulls once had a lot of senior players and the youngsters couldn’t come through, there was no opportunity for them, but we need to keep an eye on them,” Marais said.

In Durban, there is an optimistic mood after two impressive wins over Toulon and Toulose and coach Gary Gold is happy that the pre-season has gone according to plan.

“We had a very clear strategy pre-season in terms of how we wanted to prepare and the two games in France showed us how far we’ve come in certain areas. But we’re being harsh on ourselves and we know that there are other areas we now need to spend time on.

“We’re very satisfied with the things we’ve worked on, we got reward from those, we’ll bank those, but now we need to sharpen the pencil in other areas. We’d be dumb to think we won’t come a cropper if we don’t spend time and energy on those areas,” Gold said.

While the new complex conference system has its detractors, South African Rugby Union CEO Jurie Roux is banning all such negativity from his thoughts.

“It’s a new era, SuperRugby is now almost a global competition, spanning five continents and 16 time zones. And the great positive is that half the South African teams can now qualify for the playoffs. The key things that make it a win-win for South African rugby are that we play less games, and travel used to be a big issue because our teams used to be unfairly treated, but now we have significantly reduced the tour to Australasia.

“People said they wanted a new product, we’ve given it to them and time will tell whether they like it or not. We wanted six franchises, we’ve got it; we wanted less travel and more derbies, we got that; and we’re playing different teams because people didn’t want to play all the same teams all the time,” Roux said.



Bulls are starting to believe – Stegmann 0

Posted on November 13, 2014 by Ken


Vodacom Blue Bulls captain Deon Stegmann said his team is starting to believe they can still be strong contenders for the Absa Currie Cup trophy after they warmed up for the semi-finals with a 46-12 victory over GWK Griquas at Loftus Versfeld at the weekend.

The Bulls finished the round-robin phase of the competition in fourth place and will therefore have to travel down to Cape Town to take on table-topping Western Province in their semi-final next Saturday. The Bulls won just six of their 10 regular-season games, but three of those have been in the last three weeks and there is a definite sense of late momentum building at Loftus Versfeld after a poor start to the campaign.

“All the criticism has pulled the guys together and we are really starting to believe,” Stegmann said after the victory over Griquas. “We’ve become a band of brothers, we have each other’s backs, and it’s a good feeling to have everything come together now at the end of the competition.”

The Bulls suffered a blow at the weekend with hard-hitting inside centre Burger Odendaal, probably their find of the season, suffering a suspected broken arm. It might just work in their favour, however, with Handre Pollard possibly moving into the number 12 jersey and the Bulls fielding two tactical kickers in him and flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter in what will surely be a tense, tight knockout game against Western Province.

“Unfortunately, Burger’s injury looks serious, maybe a broken arm. He’s made huge steps this year, he’s a real threat on the gain-line and he gives the forwards a lot of momentum. He’s also very creative, it’s what you need in midfield,” coach Frans Ludeke said before confirming that either Pollard or regular fullback Ulrich Beyers, who moved to inside centre during the game, will take Odendaal’s place for the semi-final because Dries Swanepoel is injured.

With wing Bjorn Basson returning to form with a sparkling all-round display against Griquas that included scoring a hat-trick, Western Province should be warned that the Bulls have some dangerous weapons for knockout rugby.

Basson is the best player in the air in South Africa and with both Pollard and Potgieter possibly playing, there is the threat of an aerial bombardment for the hosts to deal with, and their record in the past in that facet of play is not all that flash.

Pollard is also a tremendous threat with ball in hand, as he showed again in the final quarter against Griquas, while the Bulls pack is in great form at the set-pieces and is always difficult to stop once their fearsome ball-carriers get on the front foot.

“That we were able to come back from a backs-to-the-wall situation this season reflects well on the leadership. This was our final run before the playoffs and we created a lot of opportunities, even though there were lots of mistakes, but that’s just eagerness by the players. As we’ve seen, if we just stay patient, the results will come.

“I was impressed with Deon and how he mixed things up on attack, we were able to keep Griquas guessing on the gain-line and we got good momentum there. That last try, when Pollard chipped over the top, was something different and that’s exactly what you need.

“Plus Bjorn had a great game, he showed how dangerous he is in broken field. He’s experienced, he’s a Test player so he’ll be used to the pressure at Newlands, and he creates opportunities,” Ludeke said.



Bulls beat Griquas to saunter into semi-finals 0

Posted on November 13, 2014 by Ken

The Vodacom Blue Bulls didn’t exactly bash the door down into the Absa Currie Cup semi-finals, but they did saunter through with growing confidence as they beat GWK Griquas 46-12 at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.

It was a convincing victory on the scoreboard, the Bulls dotting down six times and they ran away with the game in the second half thanks to the complete dominance of their forwards, especially in the set-pieces. It was an error-strewn performance, however, by the home side against a team lacking depth and depleted by injury and they will clearly have to raise their game several notches to compete with Western Province in their semi-final at Newlands next weekend.

It also won’t take much for Western Province to suss out that the Bulls are vulnerable out wide, with Griquas wing Ederies Arendse scoring two scintillating tries that saw his team trailing by just one point after half-an-hour.

The man of the match, however, was Bulls left wing Bjorn Basson, a supreme taker of chances. He scored a hat-trick of tries to show coach Frans Ludeke that he is back to his best after an injury-discrupted year, proving sharp in all aspects of his game, especially in the air. The experienced Springbok will be an important player in the semi-final.

The Bulls are also fortunate that they can call on Handre Pollard at flyhalf, and they looked a slicker, more threatening team on attack when he came on midway through the second half and immediately had the defence guessing with clever chips over the top and his own powerful runs.

Griquas made a nightmare start as scrumhalf Tian Meyer threw a pass straight to Basson who raced away for a 45m intercept try in the second minute, but they struck back with a wonderful try of their own. They showed how dangerous they can be from turnover ball as Marcel van der Merwe lost possession in contact and Griquas quickly went wide with a slick backline move. Arendse then showed that he can certainly put on the after-burners as he raced away for the try.

The visitors were under severe pressure for much of the first half and they can consider themselves fortunate that they did not get a yellow card.

The Bulls did get a Potgieter penalty, however (10-7) but Basson then showed how effective his prowess can be in the air as he won an up-and-under, the Bulls quickly spread the ball wide and a strong run by fullback Ulrich Beyers drew the infringement.

Arendse struck back with a magnificent try, using a classic in-and-out to beat three defenders from the halfway line, that could well have some SuperRugby franchises on the phone enquiring about his availability.

An alleged tip-tackle by loosehead prop Simon Westraadt eventually brought the first yellow card for Griquas and the Bulls reverted to a typical strength for their second try, flank and captain Deon Stegmann scoring from a rolling maul to give them a 20-12 half-time lead.

The njoyment increased in the second half as Griquas faded and their brave defence began to crack, the dominance of the Bulls forwards and their fierce ball-carrying starting to take its toll.

Stegmann broke free twice in the matter of a couple of minutes to put the Bulls strongly on attack in the fifth minute and when Griquas couldn’t secure their own lineout ball, it led to a five-metre scrum. A terrific shove totally opened up the blindside, replacement scrumhalf Rudy Paige went on a dart and Basson was in acres of space to stroll over for his second try.

Basson completed his hat-trick in the 61st minute, showing great pace down the left, but it all begins with the forwards and apart from the wonderful front-foot ball the backs were getting, eighthman Jono Ross and replacement hooker Callie Visagie also made valuable contributions in the backline for the wing to score.

The last 10 minutes were dominated by Pollard, showing why he is the answer today at flyhalf for the Springboks.

After replacement hooker Ryno Barnes, playing his 100th Currie Cup game, was red-carded for swearing at the assistant referee to leave Griquas one short, Pollard stepped inside and powered over for a try in the shadow of the poles.

Six minutes later, on the stroke of full-time, Pollard’s lovely little chip over the top was raced on to by right wing Akona Ndungane, who crossed for the sixth and final try.


Blue Bulls – Tries: Bjorn Basson (3), Deon Stegmann, Handre Pollard, Akona Ndungane. Conversions: Jacques-Louis Potgieter (3), Handre Pollard (2). Penalties: Potgieter (2).

Griquas – Tries: Ederies Arendse (2). Conversion: Francois Brummer.

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