for quality writing

Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: A special win for the Springboks 0

Posted on June 13, 2017 by Ken

 

It was really a quite special win for the Springboks over France at Loftus Versfeld last weekend, against a side that definitely turned up, were hard to break down and were the best French side available on that Saturday.

The match was brutal on the gain-line, there were double-hits, they smashed the Springboks and the Springboks smashed them, so it was a great Test for the home side to come through, especially with five debutants in the 23-man squad. It’s a great start to their 2017 season.

The match was in the balance at 16-14 and then came the penalty try. Given how quickly the officials made up their minds, it must have been a clearcut decision.

The Springbok attack was definitely based around getting to the middle of the field and there were a lot of tip-on passes from the forward pods, which creates indecision in the defence, one-on-one tackles and lightning-quick ball. It’s quite an effective tactic against a rush defence.

From middle rucks, sometimes the outside back-row forward would come hard off the scrumhalf, who would either play him or go behind his back to Elton Jantjies, which makes the defence sit a bit and creates space.

There was a lot of quality passing from the Springboks, which was not in evidence last year, and there was definitely more attacking understanding and ball-in-hand play.

It was great that Jantjies looked so composed, and he and Ross Cronje, who gave very slick service and was a threat around the edges, directed play well; they always had a couple of options and it created indecision in the French defence. Because Elton is the only specialist flyhalf in the squad, he’s not looking over his shoulder and he feels he has Allister Coetzee’s total backing, he can run the show. It’s the sort of thing a key decision-maker wants.

Andries Coetzee, in his first Test, showed real pace, especially in the outside channels, he showed one or two lovely touches and was willing to run the ball back from deep, he really had a go.

The ball-carries of Malcolm Marx were exceptional and the Springboks made a lot of blindside probes, guys like Marx running a hard line close to the ruck, and he bounced off defenders at will, also creating more space. When was the last time we saw such a physically dominant performance by a South African hooker?

The scrum was very compact, it looked in good shape and form and was used as a good platform. The Springboks had two very experienced props, plus with their locks and loose forwards, there was no shortage of beef behind them.

The lineout also functioned really well, Eben Etzebeth was really good, and the Springboks won most of their pressure throws. There were not many easy balls at number two in the lineout, and it’s very difficult to attack from the front of the lineout. So they were very adventurous with their lineout tactics and Marx’s throwing was spot-on.

It was also a superbly-executed try off a throw to the back, a move which was very difficult to defend against. It’s very special to score those sort of tries at Test level, so credit to the coaches, it takes some doing.

In terms of the kicking game, South Africa cleared their lines very well and were never under pressure from kickoffs, it was just one hit up and then back to Jantjies, who kicked it to halfway. In the middle areas of the field, they would drive to suck in forwards and then Cronje would kick, and there was excellent execution of that too.

It was also a very much improved defensive display from the Springboks, credit to Brendan Venter for the best defensive performance by a South African team this year. There was brutality on the gain-line, great field-coverage and, at the end of the game, their willingness to put their bodies on the line and keep the French out was tremendous.

The defence looked organised and in the French faces for the whole game, and it will only get better as the players settle into the system. What was most impressive was how disciplined they were, so France only had one penalty shot at goal.

A small area of improvement that is needed was that they became a little compressed from wide rucks and were caught a little short on numbers in the outside channels. They came off the line quite hard and if France were able to get the ball behind their first line of attackers then they did find space.

The Springboks also closed very early at fullback, Coetzee came very early into the line, which means you then rely a lot on the scrumhalf for cover. Everyone does it these days, but sometimes perhaps the fullback should not be so quick to come up.

But it was a good start for the first Test and you can see the team is much more bonded, the leadership has set the right tone. Warren Whiteley is so selfless and empathetic, as alluded to in this column when he got the Springbok captain’s job, so he is in tune with his team.

France will obviously be a different animal in Durban, especially because they have just been physically dominated. But the whole Springbok side worked so hard, to keep a Test side pointless in the last 25 minutes at altitude is an amazing effort and it speaks to South Africa having a really strong bench.

It was a really positive start and we hope for more over the next two weeks.

And good luck too to the South African U20s for their Junior World Cup semi-final. It’s going to be a really big challenge against the England U20s, but I hope they can come through.

 

Cheetahs can surprise everyone with attack variations – Reinach 0

Posted on March 24, 2017 by Ken

 

Everyone knows that the Cheetahs are an attacking side, but Sharks scrumhalf Cobus Reinach says his team are wary of all the little variations to their game coach Franco Smith could have up his sleeve for their SuperRugby clash in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

“Franco Smith has brought in a lot of different attacking lines, they don’t just go from wide to wide anymore. So that’s going to keep us on our feet, the Cheetahs have a lot of good attacking players and it’s a good challenge for us to have. The Cheetahs have a lot of exciting players and they can really bring anything to the party,” Reinach said.

The Sharks surprised – in a bad way – in their match last weekend against the Southern Kings, struggling to a two-point victory in which they made far too many errors and showed little fluency. While insisting that the team had moved forward since that setback, Reinach agreed that the performance was no laughing matter.

“We’ve put that match behind us, but it certainly was not the way we want to perform, it was a below-par display. It’s about attitude and we let ourselves down. We need to get our mental preparation right and make sure we’re up for every game. We train in a squad system so making changes to the team should not influence how we play, we all know the calls and when to do things and what not to do,” Reinach said.

Bulls prove their composure to pip WP 0

Posted on October 17, 2016 by Ken

 

Vodacom Blue Bulls coach Nollis Marais promised that his team were a different side from the one that lost at the same stage, against the same opponents, in last year’s Currie Cup, and they eventually proved that as they pipped DHL Western Province 36-30 in their thrilling semi-final at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.

The Bulls were probably worthy winners as they played most of the rugby, but whenever they looked like putting the squeeze on Western Province, they would make mistakes and the visitors were brilliant at scavenging opportunities and using them to the full.

It looked like the Bulls would falter at the same hurdle when Western Province went ahead 27-22 in the 58th minute and then again, 30-29, with just seven minutes remaining.

But the 2016 Blue Bulls showed their development in terms of composure and mental strength as they played pragmatic rugby in the closing stages to eventually edge home thanks to replacement scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl’s try with just 90 seconds remaining.

A try by wing Travis Ismaiel, after 10 minutes, with centre Burger Odendaal making a great run off the ball and then the final pass, made sure that the Bulls made a good start to settle the nerves.

But Western Province scored nine minutes later to make it 7-7 with a try that showed their pack was not about to be bossed around at Loftus Versfeld, the forwards marching a lineout drive for 20 metres and eighthman Nizaam Carr dotting down.

That seemed to fire up the Bulls though and they began to squeeze Western Province in the second quarter. Schoeman kicked another penalty (10-7) and then a huge scrum in front of their own bench that had their subs on their feet earned another penalty (13-7).

Western Province were clearly feeling the pressure as Juan de Jongh tried to carry the ball out of his 22 but was met by a firm head-on tackle by Schoeman and flank Roelof Smit, who enjoyed an outstanding first half, pounced on the turnover, winning another penalty as the Bulls stretched their lead to 16-7.

But the lapses that kept the visitors in the game, the little momentum-killers, then reared their ugly heads.

Smit fell foul of referee Marius van der Westhuizen at the first ruck from the kickoff, allowing Western Province flyhalf Robert du Preez to cut the deficit to 16-10 as the hooter went for the break.

The lead was then cut to just three points from the kickoff for the second half as flank Jannes Kirsten carried strongly as ever, but outside centre Dries Swanepoel went straight off his feet and sealed off the ball at the ruck, allowing Du Preez an easy kick to make 13-16.

The mercurial Schoeman pushed the lead back up to 19-13 after his lovely break had forced Western Province to go offsides to prevent a try, but the 25-year-old’s ability to deliver the sublime and the ridiculous within moments of each other was then shown as he provided the intercept that was snaffled up by lock Chris van Zyl, leading to wing Werner Kok roaring away for the try.

From that point onwards, control was slipping away from the Bulls. Schoeman, to his credit, would keep knocking over the vital kicks at goal, succeeding with all eight of his shots, but he also dropped the kickoff after his own 55th-minute long-range penalty to give Western Province prime position.

The Bulls conceded a penalty, which the visitors ran and lock Jan de Klerk stepped inside before barrelling over for the try.

Du Preez’s conversion put Western Province 27-22 up and the Bulls seemed to be on their way to another semi-final heartache when they lost their own lineout throw just outside the opposition 22. But they would get another chance as the clearing kick was taken by wing Jamba Ulengo, who raced off on a great run, Odendaal carrying the move on down the right as the Bulls roared back into the red zone. Several pick-and-goes later and replacement lock Jason Jenkins was over for the try, converted by Schoeman as the Bulls regained a 29-27 lead.

A crowd of nearly 18 000 roared the home team on – and was thanked profusely by the team management and CEO Barend van Graan after the game – and the Bulls produced an inspired period of defence on their own line.

But after their scramble defence won them the put-in at a scrum, they went down at the most inopportune moment, giving Du Preez a terrifying penalty which he nailed, giving him a 100% goalkicking record of 6/6.

Western Province were 30-29 ahead going into the last two minutes, but to the enormous credit of this young Bulls side, they kept their heads.

Van Zyl has just turned 21 and it was his smart break which put the Bulls on attack, only for some willing defence from Western Province to keep them out. The visitors did give them a lineout inside their own 22 though, and the Bulls were willing to show patience as they built the phases until the opposition just weren’t able to get enough defenders across to the next ruck, allowing Van Zyl to dart over for the matchwinning try.

It means the Blue Bulls are going to play in the Currie Cup final for the first time since 2009, and will travel down to Bloemfontein to take on the rampant Free State Cheetahs.

They are going to need all their new-found composure then as well.

Scorers

Vodacom Blue BullsTries: Travis Ismaiel, Jason Jenkins, Ivan van Zyl. Conversions: Tian Schoeman (3). Penalties: Schoeman (5).

DHL Western ProvinceTries: Nizaam Carr, Werner Kok, Jan de Klerk. Conversions: Robert du Preez (3). Penalties: Du Preez (3).

http://citizen.co.za/1315860/bulls-prove-composure-pip-wp/

Former defence coach John McFarland’s six solutions for the Springboks 0

Posted on September 22, 2016 by Ken

 

It was very hard to watch the Springboks v All Blacks game last weekend because there were a mountain of mistakes. You could see the players were really trying, but very often that’s not good enough against a quality side like New Zealand.

There were many system and individual errors within the Springbok defence, but the good news is that they can all be fixed, they can be corrected through good coaching. So I would prefer to talk about solutions rather than showing what went wrong.

Because I was in charge of the Springboks’ defence and kicking game for four years, I obviously know the pressure the coaching staff feel and have experienced this many times myself in my coaching career. You don’t coach for 21 years at a professional level without experiencing setbacks, so you must know how to fix them, plus the players pick up on your body language, passion and intensity.

Since I left the Springboks, I’ve been lucky enough to be working in Japan at the Kubota Spears. The Springboks defence was taken over by Jacques Nienaber, who was obviously being lined up for the full-time job.

He coached the defence in the Ireland Tests as a consultant for five weeks. Chean Roux worked hand-in-hand with him at the MobiUnit and was then earmarked to carry on his structures and principles as seamlessly as possible.

As a coach in this situation, you can’t just point the finger at the players. It’s important to have solutions and you need to look at yourself as well, take responsibility for the performance and fix it. Heyneke Meyer and Frans Ludeke always knew that I would take responsibility for the defensive performance, win or lose.

It’s very easy to point out what went wrong against the All Blacks, but it’s far more important to identify solutions. So here are six simple things that the Springboks can fix.

 

  • The passive defence system. Over a period of time it has come through that line integrity is the key. But at the moment the Springboks are not coming off the line and pressurising the attacking team, or if they are, it’s in single fashion, for example Juan de Jongh trying to cut off the outside options.
    Experience has shown that all this does against the All Blacks is pressure our own inside defence. They are very good at running reverse-lines at the shooting defender.
    A 75% tackle success rate at Test level shows that this system is not working. Too many good defenders are making errors and missing tackles because we are allowing the attack to dictate to the defence.
    On the Sam Whitelock try, it came from width and the spacing of the defensive line was really poor – there were only three defenders covering 30 metres of space, they were far too tight to the ruck, which pulled the wings in.
    If you have a passive defence, like the Springboks had, then it highlights if anyone breaks the system. With a passive defence, the whole object is to push the attackers towards the touchline, so it’s never a good idea if everyone is drifting and one player comes in on a read.

 

  • Winning the gain-line. I don’t think the Springbok backline once won the gain-line off first-phase ball, especially off the lineout. We call it ‘winning the race’ – if the defender can hit the ball-carrier behind the gain-line, it’s so much easier to set your defensive pillars in place. But if you allow the opposition to get easy yards over the gain-line as we did at the weekend, then it’s very difficult to get your pillars in place. The attack just rolls forward, gaining momentum … and confidence and belief.
    It’s quite simple: You have to close the space from the set-piece a lot quicker. You have to close the space (press) on the first receiver when he has the ball.

 

  • Blindside defence. As alluded to in earlier columns, this was the same part of our defence that was exploited by Australia from the lineout and from a scrum, and was mercilessly exploited by New Zealand on Saturday. The key is that the hooker and blindside wing have to communicate the reversing of play and the players have to look up before folding to the openside. The Springboks’ blindside defence has to be much, much better than it was against the All Blacks.

 

  • Scrumhalf channel off scrum. New Zealand also ran at this channel and since 2014 they’ve been doing the same thing against us. So as a defence coach that would have been my first port of call – making sure that the defence of the scrumhalf channel was really strong in Christchurch.
    But Aaron Smith punched through that channel so the scrumhalf and the flank have to work together. The first defender has to adjust and basically they have to play flat after that.
    The scrumhalf must defend the ball – after all nobody has ever scored a try without the ball!

 

  • High balls. Every All Blacks high ball went on Francois Hougaard, so that was obviously seen as a mismatch for Israel Dagg to exploit. To be fair, Francois dealt with it well, but the Springboks need to be able to play from the retreating ruck post-kick.

 

  • Kicking game. The kicking game is really quite simple and I believe we over-complicate it to a large degree. The key is that a kick is only as good as its chase, so the work-rate has to be much higher. If the kick is long, then the harder the chase, the easier it is to catch the opposition further back, to separate the counter-attacking wing and fullback from their cleaners/forwards. So the chase has to be a heck of a lot better and more aggressive from the Springboks.
    Tactically, the Springboks should be in a strong position because they have right-footed and left-footed options at flyhalf and fullback, because all they have to do then is get into the middle of the field and the right-footer [Johan Goosen] can go on the right side of the ruck and the left-footer [Elton Jantjies] takes the left. That will create indecision in the opposition back three as to who will exit. It will also affect the All Blacks’ pressure plan because the key guys trying to charge down the kick are always Aaron Smith or TJ Perenara and Brodie Retallick – it will be more difficult for them to pick up who is going to kick.
    Because the Boks have such a good mauling game, the box-kick from 9 is vitally important and needs to have an organised chase and contest, so they need to select wings that go up in the air.

 

These are the solutions to the defensive problems which I know I would be asking questions about if I were in the same situation as Chean Roux.

Just on Malcolm Marx and his alleged throwing woes, I think the criticism is incredibly unfair. People just look at the stats and not at what actually went on. It’s easy to say we lost four lineouts and blame the hooker, but if you look through all our games against New Zealand over the last four years, we’ve always lost four or five lineouts against them in the second half, because at halftime, whatever they talk about, they come out differently in the second half.

The World Cup semifinal last year against the All Blacks was decided because we lost five set-pieces around the halfway line. So to come out firing against a young hooker in his first Test is really not fair.

And I’ve looked at his throws – the first one was not straight, that was obvious and an error on his part because his alignment and set-up were wrong. But the two other lost throws were directly because of poor lifts by the back supporter, he was late.

And then at the lineout on the line, the triggers were not right as to when the hooker should throw in. At the top level, the hooker always has a trigger telling him when to throw, it tells him when to begin the throw. It comes from the jumper and it’s important to get it right.

The positive is that in rugby you always get another chance and I really think the Springboks will be so much better at home, they always do play better back here.

I really hope the Springboks and their coaching staff will bounce back well against Australia. I’m sure they will because there is too much hurt and as a group they know their responsibility is to give the country hope. I believe they will do that in these two home Tests.

Allister Coetzee is also a highly-experienced coach who everyone seems to forget won the World Cup in 2007. He’s been in these situations many times and he will know how to get out of it. We just need to give him and the Springboks our backing and support.

 

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012-15, having 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.

  • Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • Thought of the Day

    1 Corinthians 3:3 - "For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?"

    One of my favourite U2 songs is a collaboration with Johnny Cash called The Wanderer, and it features the line "they say they want the kingdom, but they don't want God in it".
    Many people say they believe in God, but they don't experience his loving presence. They may be active in Christian work, but only if they have their way. If they cannot be leaders, they refuse to be involved.
    Because they refuse to allow God to fill their lives with his love, they remain weak and powerless.
    Spiritual maturity means developing a greater love for others.

    "When the love of Christ saturates you, immature attitudes such as pettiness, jealousy and strife are dissolved.
    "It is only when you have an intimate relationship with the Lord that you receive sufficient grace to rise above this immaturity and enjoy the solid food that the Holy Spirit gives you." - Solly Ozrovech, A Shelter From The Storm



↑ Top