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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column: How to beat the All Blacks 0

Posted on July 12, 2017 by Ken

 

It was an enthralling final Test between the All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions, and a tremendous achievement for the visitors to draw a series in New Zealand. Every international coach will have looked at the three Tests and will take something from them – it has shown it is possible to beat the All Blacks.

So how did the Lions achieve this?

Firstly, their defence over the three Tests was superb, so hats off to the Farrell family.

It’s no coincidence that most of New Zealand’s losses over the last few years have been caused by a rush defence and a high line speed, so Lions, England and Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell should really take a bow – he has now enjoyed three wins and a draw against the All Blacks since 2013.

And then there was his son Owen’s kicking. None of his kicks at goal in the last Test were gimmes and it was very interesting to see that even with Jonny Sexton, who has such a high success rate in his kicking record, at flyhalf, the Lions went with Farrell for goalkicking and that’s what made the difference in the end.

The All Blacks were disciplined in their own 22, but were prepared to give away penalties further away from their line, and Farrell kept the Lions in the game.

It was the defence that was able to disrupt the New Zealand attacking structure, they weren’t really able to go forward or get the ball wide, because the Lions totally dominated the gain-line and the rush-defence took time and space away from Beauden Barrett. But it didn’t operate from a tight base, the wings were on the second-last runners and would not always engage, sometimes they would back off on to the last runner, therefore there was no kicking space behind them.

The Lions also chose two openside flanks who were a real nuisance at the breakdown.

The biggest thing about the rush-defence is that it means you are so square in the tackle, you line up your man and come forward, there’s no shifting. The Lions tackling was very confrontational, they didn’t really hit the legs but tended to be just under the ball. This forced more errors and led to dominance in the tackle; a softer defence relies on leg-tackles and a confrontational rush-defence on chest tackles. You can see it unnerved the All Blacks and with the quality of defenders the Lions had – players like Jonathan Davies, Maro Itoje, Sam Warburton and Sean O’Brien – the system totally suited them.

The shift put in by the Lions forwards at the coalface was also amazing and New Zealand could not get any offloads or tip-passes going at all. The Lions cleverly took out the support players, so the ball was wide open at the breakdowns. The quality of the tackles and the athletes involved meant that on the tip-ons, they frequently took the passer out of play, which exposed the ball-carrier and then the turnover could happen.

What was especially interesting to me was that New Zealand just could not get the ball to the outside channels in space, and even if they tried, Barrett was frequently standing still and then it was easy for the Lions to pick off the carriers.

The way to break down the rush-defence is through the kick-pass and offloading from contact and it’s no coincidence that the All Blacks scored from this.

The Lions also relied tremendously on Conor Murray’s box-kicking. There was no messing around here – they would maul or box-kick immediately from the restart and that put pressure on the New Zealand wings, thanks to the quality of Murray’s kicking and exits.

For me, Murray was the real star of the series, his tactical control was superb; him kicking contestables meant the All Blacks never had a chance to counter-attack or get the ball back from the Lions back three with running bombs.

The New Zealand attack was very static. They wanted a two-sided attack against the rush-defence, but they played a lot of one-pass rugby, which made it quite easy to defend.

One of the key moments of the final Test was the chase back of Davies on Ngani Laumape after Barrett’s intercept, it was just superb. It was a series-turning moment and the other players get really excited when they see that sort of attitude and commitment from a team-mate.

It was an enthralling finish to the series, but it’s a pity to see such a great Test end with all the focus on Mr Roman Poite.

His eccentricities have been exposed even before Eden Park last weekend: there was the red card he gave Bismarck du Plessis at Eden Park in 2013, his performance in the World Cup and against Argentina in 2014 when there were seven water-carriers on the field during a stoppage and he allowed the Pumas to take a quick tap, which resulted in a try just before halftime. The last defender in the Springbok backline was our physio, Rene Naylor!

It was good, though, that Poite reviewed the incident at the end of last weekend’s game and I think Craig Joubert will be wishing he had done the same in 2015 in the Scotland v Australia game at the World Cup. That’s what the TMO is there for and at least Poite used it. But rugby has to eliminate these grey areas because referees have to make hard decisions in a very short time.

I thought Poite was also really poor in the lineouts, there was taking out of jumpers left, right and centre, it was like a free-for-all. New Zealand also seemed to have some dominance in that final scrum and there could have been a penalty to them, but again he opted out.

The All Blacks ended up playing a lot of guys with just a handful of caps, which is not what you want in high-pressured Tests. Injuries and Sonny Bill Williams’ self-inflicted absence obviously affected them and you want more caps for the big games like last weekend. They ended with Laumape at 12 and Anton Lienert-Brown at 13 and they are actually both inside centres, both confrontational and direct. The Lions started with a similar sort of player in Ben Te’o, but then switched to Sexton and Farrell and had far more ball-playing ability to stretch the All Blacks.

One has to credit coach Warren Gatland for wearing his red nose with pride. He might just hang around and is probably very excited about a third tour with the Lions, against the Springboks in 2021.

It will be interesting to see whether the Springboks pick Cheetahs or Kings players for that tour because it will be the end of their season in Europe!

 

 

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.

Relax people, Hashim Amla is back to his best 0

Posted on May 15, 2017 by Ken

 

Proteas batting coach Neil McKenzie said on Monday that people were justified in feeling some concern over Hashim Amla’s batting form, but that they can all relax now because the Bearded Wonder has shown he is back to his best with two centuries in the Indian Premier League.

Amla slammed an aggressive 104 off just 60 balls for the Punjab Kings XI against the Gujarat Lions at the weekend, having two weeks earlier made the same score off the same number of deliveries in an unbeaten knock against the Mumbai Indians. Amazingly, Amla ended on the losing side in both games, the first player to suffer this fate twice in IPL history, while he is only the third batsman after Chris Gayle (2011) and Virat Kohli (3 in 2016) to score multiple centuries in an IPL season.

“Hashim’s form had dipped, he was only averaging 30 in ODIs and Tests over the last 18 months, his form was a little erratic and people aren’t used to that. But you can’t keep a player of his quality down for long. He sets such high standards for himself but this happens in cricket and his returns have not been what he would have expected and it went on for longer than he would have liked. But to score two hundreds in an IPL season is a serious feat,” McKenzie told The Citizen on Monday.

The Highveld Lions and Proteas stalwart disputed the theory that Amla’s dip in form had anything to do with any weakening of the eyes, but put it down to slight changes in the batsman’s approach.

“I don’t buy that business about the eyes going, Hashim’s only 34. But if you look at how he’s been working on being ultra-positive, his power-hitting and the areas he’s hitting the ball, then it’s like a golfer who changes his swing: you sometimes need to go through that little dip, you just need time to work it all out.

“There hasn’t been any drastic change in Hashim’s batting and it’s just a matter of finding the right balance. In 20/20 cricket he’s looking to play some shots, to take it on, and it’s freed him up. Previously he’s just batted normally and he’s been really good for us in 50-over cricket as our banker, batting aggressively but playing his own game and taking us through 30 or 40 overs. That’s worked well and when he scores hundreds for the Proteas, we normally win,” McKenzie, who was still scoring plenty of first-class runs in his 40s, said.

Most pleasingly, it means Amla will now take great form into the Champions Trophy, which starts in England on June 1.

“He’ll be really happy to be taking runs into the Champions Trophy and you want your huge players like him going into tournaments with a lot of confidence, and it gives the team confidence as well. We have a lot of matchwinners and we just need one or two of them to find some serious form. We know we’ve got the players, and now it’s just a matter of timing, form and some luck,” McKenzie said.

 

 

 

Century-maker Faf equips himself with patience 0

Posted on September 05, 2016 by Ken

 

South Africa captain Faf du Plessis has shown in limited-overs cricket that he has all the strokes, but he said after his determined unbeaten century against New Zealand on Sunday that he has decided that the most important tool to equip himself with in Test cricket is patience.

Du Plessis batted for 377 minutes and faced 234 balls as he finished with 112 not out on the second day of the second Test at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Sunday and, while some may have considered it slow and heavy going at times, he was pleased with the pacing of his innings.

“I feel like I’ve been hitting the ball quite nicely, so I just wanted to make sure I knuckled down and made it count. My game plan now is to be very patient and wait for the bowlers to come into the right areas. When I’m at my best in Test cricket is when I mentally tire out the opposition and then, when the opportunity to score quick runs comes, I take it. I believe in what I do and my game plan,” Du Plessis said after the close of play which came with South Africa in firm control, New Zealand teetering on 38 for three in reply to their 481 for eight declared.

Although South Africa’s top five batsmen all passed 50 for just the second time in their Test history – the previous occasion being the 2010 Test against India at the same venue – Du Plessis said conditions had not been easy for batting.

“Since Day One it’s been a pitch where a lot happens and we needed one guy to anchor the innings and keep them out for as long as possible. We thought that 400 would be a really good score on that pitch, which still has a lot going for it. The batsmen up front did very well to be so patient and 481 was a very good result for us.

“The grass stands up a bit more in the morning and late afternoon and in the last hour you can see the indentations in the pitch because of the light, but when the sun is shining brightly the pitch looks fine. That sort of thing plays on your mind and the ball also grips more when there is more moisture in the air,” Du Plessis said.

The skipper added, however, that it is not going to be easy to run through the New Zealand batting line-up on Monday.

“The pitch has speeded up a bit from the first day and we anticipate that it will be up-and-down on day five, but days two and three are the best days for batting. So we expect to work hard, we’ll have to be really patient. It’s going to be a grafting day with the ball to set up the game, we need to be relentless on that off stump, back-of-a-length, and then it will be a challenge for the New Zealand batsmen,” Du Plessis said.

Du Plessis’ century could not have come at a better time, ending a run of 11 Tests without a hundred, while it was also heartening to see JP Duminy get some runs, the left-hander stroking 88 as he and the captain took their overnight fourth-wicket partnership to 71 on Sunday morning.

“JP is hugely talented and we just wanted to give him confidence and back him by batting him at four and it came off very well. You can see he’s in good touch and he’s being more positive, that’s what he’s changed, which has led to a better mindset. Hopefully it’s the beginning of a new era for him.

“For myself, I’m just happy to prove to my critics that I still belong. Whether I’m captain or not, I need to score runs,” Du Plessis said.

While Du Plessis was enjoying his century and a thoroughly successful day for the Proteas, his old backyard opponent and childhood friend Neil Wagner took the plaudits for New Zealand, taking five for 86 in 39 overs of impressive toil.

“Neil bowled very well, he’s aggressive, he likes to bowl short and attack the batsman. He’s a grafter, he runs in most of the day and tries his best,” Du Plessis acknowledged.

Tim Southee, the leader of the Black Caps attack, also praised the Pretoria-born and educated left-arm seamer.

“Neil has been outstanding for a long period of time and he reaped the rewards for his efforts. He generally bowls the tough overs, nine out of ten times he’s on when the pitch has flattened out and the ball is older, but he finds a way. He never gives up and keeps running in,” Southee said.

http://www.citizen.co.za/1267500/century-maker-faf-equips-himself-with-patience/

We are a nation prone to hysteria 0

Posted on January 09, 2016 by Ken

 

The last couple of weeks in social media have shown that we really are a nation prone to hysteria and thoroughly unreasonable presumptions. And I’m not referring to Penny Sparrow or Velaphi Khumalo, both of whose outrageous comments have been met with the storm of disgust they deserve.

Instead, it is the treatment of the South African cricket team, and especially players like Hashim Amla and Temba Bavuma, that has irritated me immensely.

We have a tendency in this country to criticise and call for this person or that person to “Fall”, never considering context, whether there is someone capable of replacing the subject of our derision, or the many great things the person may have done in the recent past.

South African cricket fans can count themselves blessed beyond measure that they have a person like Hashim Amla representing them: a truly great batsman respected worldwide and a person of tremendous fortitude, integrity and decency, a colossal figure in uniting the dressingroom.

But a bad year, capped by a poor performance in Durban in the Boxing Day Test, and Amla was being crucified, so-called Proteas supporters spewing vitriol at one of this country’s finest men. I was not surprised when he decided to relinquish the captaincy; having taken it on reluctantly, doing it out of a noble sense of duty, the hysteric reaction to his mistakes and the struggles of the team would have hurt and almost certainly contributed to his feeling that someone else could do the job better.

I can remember when Graeme Smith – South Africa’s most successful Test leader – started the captaincy: He made mistakes too, but he was given time to grow into the position and learn from those errors. Of course, Smith fitted the public perception that a captain should be square-jawed and vocal, leading from the front; but some great leaders lead by example and are more cerebral, in the mould of Mike Brearley, who turned England cricket around.

AB de Villiers can certainly do the job, but does he have the desire to play in every Test (as the captain must) for the next five years, plus handle the onerous off-field duties of the skipper, having already complained about his workload?

Amla revealed his feeling in his post-match press conference that he was doubted due to his skin colour and despite his domestic figures suggesting he was eminently qualified for the step up. The treatment of Bavuma these last couple of weeks shows that Amla has a point and that old prejudices still run deep.

Bavuma is but at the start of his international career and yet was written off by many critics, few of whom have paid any attention to domestic cricket, where the 25-year-old has consistently been amongst the leading run-scorers in the Sunfoil Series. Bavuma had batted seven times in Tests before his breakthrough, superb century at Newlands, scoring one half-century but showing enough mental grit and adaptability, especially in India, to suggest he could prosper.

Jacques Kallis took eight innings to get past 50 for the first time and made his first century in his 10th knock.

I have the unmistakeable feeling, as one person suggested on social media, that being a player of colour in the national team brings with it an automatic tainting, an attitude that quotas have earned them the place, that they are mediocre until they prove otherwise several times.

Apart from the continued and inexplicable absence of Stephen Cook as a specialist opener, the current players in the South African squad are the best available in the country. The domestic figures show that and perhaps the critics should study the game at all levels and ditch the prejudices of the past.

In the meantime, we should all savour the magnificent comeback by the Proteas in Cape Town, a sure sign that the spirit and fight remains and the leadership within the squad is still sound.

 

 



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