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Ken Borland



Kruger National Park – Malelane & Berg-en-Dal 0

Posted on July 26, 2017 by Ken

African Buffalo, with Redbilled Oxpeckers, resting up in one of the puddles left by the first rains of summer

African Buffalo, with Redbilled Oxpeckers, resting up in one of the puddles left by the first rains of summer

The drought situation in Kruger National Park in 2016 reached such drastic proportions that it was one of the driest years in recorded history in some areas of the south, but blessed rains eventually fell in early December.

So when I nipped into the park for a morning’s birding on December 5, big puddles of water were still visible from the first rains of the summer. I figured the availability of this surface water would prove attractive to animals and so it proved.

The S114 is the first gravel road on the right after entering through Malelane Gate, and it runs along the Crocodile River before heading northwards towards Skukuza. Shortly before this, close to the S25 turnoff, there were large puddles of water formed next to the road in this area of mixed woodland and thorn thickets on granite, and next to them, half-a-dozen African Wild Dog were lounging around under some bushes.

I found two Buffalo lying in a mud-puddle on the side of the road as well and they were clearly not keen to leave, even though I was parked right next to them, clicking away happily on my camera.

Ahhh ... bliss. A Redbilled Oxpecker gives a Buffalo a spa treatment.

Ahhh … bliss. A Redbilled Oxpecker gives a Buffalo a spa treatment.

Sadly, the rains came too late for many animals and, also on the S114 close to the Crocodile River, a Hippopotamus carcass was lying under a tree, in which one of those rather confusing African Fish Eagle juveniles was perched.

A juvenile Fish Eagle, whose hunting skills have not been fully honed, is quite likely to eat carrion, especially in a dry spell when their preferred food is scarce, but whether or not this individual had been gnawing on some Hippo, I have no way of knowing.

A Whitebacked Vulture was nearby in a tree, another portent of death.

A Whitebacked Vulture with a hoof? in its mouth.

A Whitebacked Vulture with a hoof? in its mouth.

A Hamerkop flew over the H3 tar road as one approaches the bridge over the Crocodile River, in which there was still water, the river being classified as a perennial, with the usual array of birdlife along its course. A solitary African Openbill, a couple of Glossy Ibis, which are considered rare in Kruger Park, only erratic visitors, and Yellowbilled Stork were with all the other common waterbirds, along with Great White Egret and Water Dikkop.

The S110 road turns left from Malelane Gate and heads north-west towards the Berg-en-Dal camp, running between some of the highest hills in Kruger Park, the differences in altitude meaning a great diversity of plants, which attracts a host of birds.

Southern Whitecrowned Shrike were buzzing between the bushes and a few Monotonous Lark were calling in the valley below the slopes of Khandzalive Hill, which is the highest point in the park at 840 metres.

There were a couple of White Rhinoceros with calves, a very pleasing sight, and, close to Berg-en-Dal Dam, a Sabota Lark was perched on some low branches and scrub and rather scratchily trying to imitate the Monotonous Larks heard close by. Well that’s what I decided anyway, after much examination and deciding it had a white supercilium and a malar stripe.

 

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So is this a Sabota Lark (white supercilium, hint of a malar stripe) calling like a Monotonous Lark, or a Monotonous Lark looking just like a Sabota?

Even the reptiles were out and about, with the impressive Blacklined Plated Lizard crossing the road.

 

Sightings list

Egyptian Goose

African Openbill

Sacred Ibis

Grey Heron

Cattle Egret

Yellowbilled Stork

Glossy Ibis

Southern Whitecrowned Shrike

African Elephant

Blackeyed Bulbul

Southern Black Flycatcher

Impala

Greater Kudu

Whitewinged Widow

Glossy Starling

African Buffalo

African Buffalo

Wiretailed Swallow

Monotonous Lark

African Buffalo

Redbilled Oxpecker

Forktailed Drongo

Lilacbreasted Roller

Cape Turtle Dove

White Rhinoceros

Little Swift

Brown Snake Eagle

Laughing Dove

Plains Zebra

Sabota Lark

Southern Yellowbilled Hornbill

Spotted Flycatcher

European Bee-Eater

Woodland Kingfisher

Blacklined Plated Lizard

Yellowfronted Canary

Arrowmarked Babbler

Blackcollared Barbet

Plumcoloured Starling

Redbilled Hornbill

Jacobin Cuckoo

Helmeted Guineafowl

African Hoopoe

African Wild Dog

Redbilled Oxpecker on African Buffalo

Redbilled Oxpecker on African Buffalo

Grey Lourie

Longtailed Shrike

Whitebacked Vulture

Giraffe

Grey Hornbill

African Fish Eagle

Hamerkop

Slender Mongoose

Great White Egret

Hadeda Ibis

Blacksmith Plover

Pied Kingfisher

Whitebreasted Cormorant

Water Dikkop

 

Stormers are confident despite disappointing dress rehearsal 0

Posted on July 15, 2017 by Ken

 

The Stormers are going to go into their SuperRugby quarterfinal against the Chiefs with some winning confidence and momentum after beating the Bulls 41-33 at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, but there will be aspects of their play that they will be disappointed with, most notably some of their defence.

The Stormers are certainly still a potent attacking side, especially off turnover ball, and they ran in six tries, several of them quite dazzling in quality. But they are clearly going to have to tighten up against the Chiefs because they also conceded five tries against the worst-performing South African side, who had also scored the least tries before Saturday’s game.

Skilful wing Duncan Matthews, who showed once again what a pity it is that he has been unroadworthy due to injury for most of the season, set the tone for a thrilling game in the eighth minute as he ran from the back. The big vehicles in the Bulls pack then took over, with lock RG Snyman charging forward, before hooker Adriaan Strauss provided great support and flank Abongile Nonkontwana, a late replacement for the ill Nic de Jager, then gave a neat offload as the home side stormed into the 22. From the ruck, lock Jason Jenkins forced his way over for the opening try.

It was an exciting start but the home side, perhaps overloaded with enthusiasm, then tried to run from the kickoff, lost the ball and wing Cheslin Kolbe then set off on a marvellous jinking run that took him through half the Bulls side before he completed a fine individual try.

The fairness of the grounding had to be confirmed by TMO Marius Jonker, but there were no questions about the Stormers’ second try, four minutes later. Scrumhalf Jano Vermaak spotted a gap quite a long way from the ruck but had the pace to exploit it, before impressive outside centre EW Viljoen threw a lovely dummy and then sent flank Sikhumbuzo Notshe, a late replacement for Rynhardt Elstadt, strolling over the line.

Matthews then took centre stage as he scored a try and then set up another as the Bulls claimed a 21-12 lead after 28 minutes. First he finished a fine try from deep by the Bulls, which began with them spreading the ball wide down their backline inside their own 22, before fullback Warrick Gelant darted for the gap, drawing two defenders and then releasing outside centre Jesse Kriel, who roared up on the outside before sending Matthews racing over the line.

Ten minutes later, from a lineout, scrumhalf Rudy Paige gave a superb inside ball for Matthews, speeding up on a great line, and the 23-year-old then produced a phenomenal offload in the tackle to Kriel, racing up on his shoulder to complete a great try.

But to once again show how important it is that the team that has just scored clears the kickoff efficiently, the Bulls once again fluffed their exit and, with the Stormers pressing hard in their 22, captain Strauss was penalised for a high tackle, allowing Willemse to cut the visitors’ deficit to 15-21.

The Bulls’ defence also bordered on incompetent at times and, three minutes later, wing Seabela Senatla was able to burst through. His pass went astray though, and the Bulls had the ball but made a hash of clearing their lines, turning over the ball and allowing the brilliant Dillyn Leyds to knife through and score the try that gave the Stormers a one-point lead at halftime with Willemse’s conversion (22-21).

Outside backs Leyds, the epitome of slipperiness from the back but also with an educated boot, and Senatla were the main drivers of the Stormers success in the second half.

The Bulls tightened up and used some of their heavyweights as ball-carriers, putting the Stormers under pressure, but flyhalf Tian Schoeman missed an important penalty attempt in the 50th minute.

Two minutes later, Leyds was racing up from the back again when tighthead prop Conraad van Vuuren tried to rein him in with a tackle that was more like a seatbelt restraining an F1 driver from over the shoulder. It seemed a bit harsh, but he was yellow-carded and that put the Stormers in the driver’s seat as they scored twice in the next 10 minutes.

In the 55th minute, Senatla was brought in on a run off a scrum and he linked up with Viljoen, before captain Siya Kolisi rumbled across the line.

Willemse converted and the Stormers had stretched their lead to 29-21.

Six minutes later, Leyds showed his tremendous attacking mentality as he fielded a kick from replacement scrumhalf Piet van Zyl and raced through a poor defensive line and then sent Willemse racing away on an angled run for a crucial try that gave the Stormers some breathing space with a 34-21 lead.

Some basic mistakes then corrupted the Stormers effort, setting up the game for a thrilling finale.

A breakdown in defence allowed Van Zyl to get the ball from a ruck, throw a dummy and then go racing for the corner flag, the Bulls cutting the deficit to 26-34 in the 65th minute.

Four minutes later, the Stormers tried a long pass off the lineout, it went to ground and Jesse Kriel pounced, scooping up the ball and running 60 metres to score an opportunistic try.

Replacement flyhalf Tony Jantjies converted and the Bulls were once again just one point behind (33-34).

The Bulls were full of fire and gave the Stormers pack just the sort of workout they need before the quarterfinals, and the tenseness of the situation was seen in Willemse taking a penalty shot at goal, and missing, in the 73rd minute.

With just a minute to go, Jantjies made a half-break and the Bulls were on attack inside the Stormers half. Replacement centre Burger Odendaal then burst clear and suddenly things looked promising for the home team.

But their lack of mobility and pace in some of their pack then came home to haunt them and there was no-one up in support when Odendaal was stopped, leading to a turnover and Leyds chipping the ball ahead for Senatla to dash on to and score the matchwinning try.

The Bulls gave as good as they got, but what they lack is the polish to their game – the small, but vital things like good exits, strong support play and accurate decision-making in both attack and defence.

The Stormers will obviously have to step up another notch to beat the Chiefs in their quarterfinal at Newlands next weekend, but the sheer muscle of their pack and the ruthlessness of their counter-attacking backs means they have reasons to be confident of banishing the memories of last year’s awful match against the same opponents at the same stage.

 

Scorers

BullsTries: Jason Jenkins, Duncan Matthews, Jesse Kriel (2), Piet van Zyl. Conversions: Tian Schoeman (3), Tony Jantjies.

Stormers Tries: Cheslin Kolbe, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Dillyn Leyds, Siya Kolisi, Damian Willemse, Seabelo Senatla. Conversions: Willemse (3), Kolbe. Penalty: Willemse.

Lions winners of a pulsating epic 0

Posted on April 01, 2017 by Ken

 

The Lions were the winners of a pulsating, high-quality SuperRugby derby against the Sharks at Ellis Park on Saturday night, edging the visitors 34-29 in a gripping encounter that had all the intensity of some of the famous Test matches the Springboks have played at the venue.

The Lions were obviously not at their best, perhaps rattled by the tremendous physical onslaught brought by the Sharks, and they made numerous handling errors. But the sign of a champion side is their ability to win the games when things aren’t going their way, and they did that through a 77th-minute Jaco Kriel try.

The Sharks were superb – none more so than Curwin Bosch, the precocious flyhalf who later shifted to fullback, and produced one of the most incredible kicks seen at the famous stadium when he slotted an angled penalty from 65 metres that put the KwaZulu-Natalians 29-26 ahead in the 71st minute.

The Sharks were undone largely by a string of penalties against them by referee Jaco van Heerden, particularly for high tackles, an offence that saw Etienne Oosthuizen yellow-carded just before halftime. The lock, a perennial liability when it comes to discipline, had earlier caused a try to be disallowed by targeting the neck, and when he was carded, the Lions immediately scored so his indiscretions cost the Sharks at least 12 points.

The visitors will not be happy though with the performance of the TMO Johan Greeff, who was happy to point out every time the Sharks went above the shoulder, but turned the blindest of eyes to clear instances when the Lions committed the same offence.

The Sharks have history with Greeff and coach Robert du Preez made his displeasure over the inconsistencies clear after the game.

That the Sharks were intent on upping the intensity of the contest, especially in terms of physicality, was clear from the start and the Lions conceded a first-minute penalty at the ruck, which Bosch slotted (3-0).

In the eighth minute they fired a real warning shot at the Lions by scoring the opening try. Outside centre Lukhanyo Am managed to make ground through Rohan Janse van Rensburg as the newest Springbok centre was unsuccessful in stripping him of the ball. Kobus van Wyk, coming from the opposite wing, was then barking for the ball as he ran a great line, scrumhalf Cobus Reinach delivering, and prop Coenie Oosthuizen then stormed for the tryline, having just enough in the legs to dot down in Warren Whiteley’s tackle.

Bosch converted and the Sharks were 10-0 up.

But the set-piece lays much of the platform for the Lions’ success and the home side began to exert pressure on the Sharks, especially at the lineout. A scrappy 14th-minute effort saw Lions lock Andries Ferreira pounce on the tap-down, leading to a penalty and Elton Jantjies was able to give last year’s SuperRugby runners-up their first points (3-10).

Bosch, meanwhile, was grouping together 50-60 metre touchfinders and he showed tremendous accuracy to go with length off the tee as well as he nailed a 57m penalty to stretch the lead to 13-3 in the 19th minute.

A 25th-minute penalty then rebounded off the post, with the Sharks regathering possession and scoring in the corner. But Van Heerden and Greeff had a whole bunch of questions about the try and eventually it was disallowed and the Lions given a penalty under their poles for Etienne Oosthuizen’s high tackle in the build-up.

It only further opened up the can of worms when an innocuous high tackle was again penalised and Jantjies kicked a penalty to close the gap to 6-13.

Bosch opened up a 10-point lead again with a superb 34th-minute drop goal as the Sharks were making little headway against a Lions team that had stepped up their intensity, and when Oosthuizen was yellow-carded for the same offence just before halftime it was an enormous moment.

The penalty allowed the Lions to set up an attacking position close to the tryline, hooker Malcolm Marx proving an unstoppable force after the lineout drive.

Jantjies converted and the Lions were just 13-16 down after a first half in which they had been bossed for long periods, setting the scene for an epic second half.

And it took the Lions just four minutes after the break to take the lead, an incisive finish by wing Courtnall Skosan completing their second try after scrumhalf Faf de Klerk had broken away on the short side after an impressive scrum.

Jantjies converted (20-16) and then fullback Andries Coetzee emulated Bosch with an excellent long-range drop goal, which came after Skosan, fielding a missed touchfinder from centre Andre Esterhuizen, had run headlong into the huge abs of Coenie Oosthuizen, but managed to survive and recycle the ball.

Bosch had pretty much been a bystander for the previous 20 minutes, but a move to fullback as Innocent Radebe slotted in at flyhalf and Michael Claassens came on at scrumhalf, saw the Sharks regain the initiative.

The top-class distribution skills of Claassens and Radebe certainly seemed to help them, and a long pass out wide to Van Wyk from Radebe, after he had taken the ball to the line, led to a much-needed try for the Sharks in the 55th minute.

Bosch converted to level the scores at 23-23 and then kicked a penalty.

The Lions’ championship credentials were certainly being refined by fire and they managed to draw level again in the 67th minute through a Jantjies penalty after Van Heerden penalised the Sharks at a scrum although they were dominant.

But Bosch replied with his incredible 65m angled penalty after a Lions infringement, but it would only be enough for the silver medal on the day.

Another high tackle call against the Sharks allowed Jantjies to level the scores again and then, with three minutes remaining, the counter-attacking skills of Coetzee and replacement flank Kwagga Smith were like gold for the Lions.

Bosch could not kick directly into touch because the ball had been carried back into the 22 and Coetzee ran the ball back, before a great run by Smith, and then flanker Kriel came roaring through for the matchwinning try.

Jantjies did not convert, but the Sharks were unable to hang on to the ball in the closing stages of the match in Lions territory, and the home side had survived to post an invaluable victory.

Scorers

Lions – Tries: Malcolm Marx, Courtnall Skosan, Jaco Kriel. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2). Penalties: Jantjies (4). Drop goal: Andries Coetzee.

Sharks – Tries: Coenie Oosthuizen, Kobus van Wyk. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (2). Penalties: Bosch (4). Drop goal: Bosch.

 

I know a week is a long time in sport, but … 0

Posted on March 20, 2017 by Ken

 

I’ve always known that a week can be a long time in the world of sport, but I go away for eight nights to the bush of northern Limpopo and return to find rugby’s entire landscape changing with indecent haste compared to the months of feet-dragging that often characterise a game that has been presided over at some stages by dinosaurs or the old farts of the straw-chair brigade.

One of the changes I saw coming before my departure. I always love unintended consequences and it was former Springboks and Bulls defence coach John McFarland who pointed out to me that the rulemakers’ new emphasis on keeping tackles lower, away from the head and shoulders, was at least partly responsible for the sudden rash of offloads we have seen from the South African teams, who have traditionally preferred taking contact and winning some hard-earned, psychologically-meaningful centimetres.

So it’s not just a mindset change amongst our franchise coaches and players, but also that tacklers are now being forced down below the arms, allowing the hands to be free to keep the ball alive.

Time will tell whether that more skilful approach is carried through to the Springboks, but the national team has already had better preparation than last year with a camp and they look better resourced too in terms of coaching staff.

One of those additional resources is Cheetahs coach Franco Smith and it may be just as well that he has earned a promotion because he might be out of a decent Super Rugby job next year. If we believe what the New Zealand media tell us, then the Cheetahs as well as the Southern Kings will be axed from Super Rugby under the new, hopefully improved format for 2018 that is yet to be unveiled.

Harold Verster, the CEO of the Cheetahs, cheerfully told the world though that he keeps his “ear to the ground” and that the rumbling noise he hears is not a rampaging stampede of buffalo at all, but the sound of the Grey College-Free State-somewhere else in the country pipeline running smoothly. He says the Cheetahs are safe.

You cannot be nearly as optimistic about the Kings, however. They would seem to be sitting ducks as not only are they struggling on the field but they are a financial drain on the South African Rugby Union and money always shouts loudest when it comes to administrators, like politicians.

Speaking of politicians, you cannot escape the irony that Cheeky Watson, the self-proclaimed messiah of transformation, has now left Eastern Cape rugby and has done more damage to the nursery of Black rugby in our country than anything since a Nationalist government functionary.

If you called him a blood-sucking tick you would probably be understating his effect. The man has been a full-blown parasite on the game in that vulnerable region, more like the deadly malaria protozoans that kill half-a-million people a year in sub-Saharan Africa.

Later this year, the British and Irish Lions tour New Zealand in what should be the rugby highlight of 2017, but this type of proper tour probably won’t become more common given the news this week that a new global rugby calendar is being introduced. Coming into effect in 2020, it has reducing player workload as one of its main tenets.

Tours by northern hemisphere teams to the southern hemisphere will be pushed back to July, but this will allow Super Rugby to be completed in one fell swoop from February to June. This is a good thing and will come into effect in 2019, because that is a World Cup year.

The 2023 World Cup is another story of course, with South Africa seemingly ranged against France and Ireland for the right to host the tournament. If you can believe what came out of sports minister Fikile Mbalula’s mouth this week, then government is now backing the bid.

Then again, Mbalula might just have been trying to distract from the fiasco that was Durban’s Commonwealth Games bid. The chairman of that bid was Mark Alexander, the president of the South African Rugby Union, but that’s a story for another day.



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