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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column: How do the Springboks beat Ireland? 0

Posted on November 08, 2017 by Ken

 

The first priority for the Springboks when they meet Ireland in Dublin on Saturday will be to defuse the Irish kicking game.

Ireland have very strong halfbacks with a very good aerial game, especially the pinpoint accuracy of Conor Murray’s box-kicks, which he is able to launch from behind the maul.

Which is why Allister Coetzee will choose such a big pack, with Pieter-Steph du Toit in the back row it means they have an extra jumper at the tail and three big lineout forwards. It is vital that the Springbok forwards get on top and make sure that the Ireland halfbacks get back-foot ball. Ross Cronje can then get after flyhalf Jonathan Sexton and the locks can look after Murray on his box-kicks.

It was interesting to see in New Zealand during the Lions tour how there was a clear plan to unsettle Murray by attacking him on the blindside and rushing on to his non-kicking foot. I don’t think the Springboks will do the same thing – the legality of the tactic is a bit dubious, but it shows that he can be unsettled.

In terms of receiving those Irish kicks, Allister Coetzee has gone for continuity all year and Dillyn Leyds and Courtnall Skosan are both good under the high ball. It’s similar to how the All Blacks go behind Aaron Smith’s kicks, but it’s not just about the way you catch those balls, it’s also about getting escorts back and making it difficult for the opposition to get a clear jump, and getting numbers around the first ruck.

It’s also an advantage having Andries Coetzee at fullback because Sexton is a bit different to every other international kicker in that he is prepared to launch lots of torpedo kicks. They are quite hard to take because they move quicker through the air and gain more distance.

The torpedo is a more high-risk kick, it requires a higher skill level and it depends on having time on the ball. The punt is safer and more accurate, which is why most kicking coaches favour it. But Sexton’s kicking coach is Dave Alred, who worked with the Springboks in 2014 for two weeks, and he is a big advocate of the torpedo kick.

But because Coetzee is left-footed and both Irish halfbacks are right-footed, they will be kicking into his strength and he can also do the torpedo kick.

Otherwise the Springboks should just continue in the same vein as they ended the Rugby Championship: a good set-piece, a strong maul, good defence, getting their ball-carriers over the gain-line and dominating the collisions.

The other key for South Africa is to defuse Ireland’s ball-carriers on the gain-line. It will be interesting to see CJ Stander starting in his adopted country against the Springboks and whether they are able to put him on the back foot because Ireland get a lot of momentum and base a lot of attacking play off his carries. I’m sure he will be very motivated to right the wrong of the Cape Town Test last year when he got a red card. Francois Louw and Siya Kolisi against Stander is going to be a revealing battle.

In 2012, Heyneke Meyer picked a lot of apprentice Springboks in his first Test squad and Stander and Kolisi were both in that wider group. They are both world-class performers and it will be a great contest.

Allister Coetzee will maybe start Handre Pollard at flyhalf, but there is a little problem in that position because neither he nor Elton Jantjies have played a live, competitive game since the All Blacks match a month ago in Cape Town, which is a small disadvantage.

Even though Pollard has been training a lot, he hasn’t started a game for a long time. But if they feel he is the right guy going forward, and you do get different things from him, then they should choose him sooner rather than later.

Pollard is a lot faster to the gain-line, he’s a threat with ball-in-hand and has a great show-and-go. He has the ability to beat defenders off front-foot ball, whereas Jantjies is more of a distributor.

I’m also looking forward to seeing Damian de Allende get a start at inside centre. He has been picked in front of Francois Venter, who has been playing more at outside centre, all year, he has size and good feet and is a fantastic distributor. De Allende had a stellar year in 2015 but has not quite hit the same levels since then, so hopefully he will now get a good run of Tests. The Springboks generally favour having a ball-carrying, gain-line dominator at 12.

Otherwise Allister Coetzee will probably reward the guys who played quite well against New Zealand in the last Test, you have to show faith as a coach; Heyneke Meyer always said loyalty to performance was important.

It will be interesting to see how Malcolm Marx does starting a Test overseas after his world-class performance at Newlands, can he maintain that consistency?

That applies to Steven Kitshoff too and with Wilco Louw coming through, the props can rotate. The stronger scrummagers should start and establish dominance, and then the more mobile props can come on and ram home the advantage.

Matt Proudfoot has done a great job establishing six good front row forwards and in the World Cup year, Vincent Koch will come into the mix as well. Plus there’s Frans Malherbe and Trevor Nyakane, so there should be plenty of props going into 2019. It will be a nice selection headache to have.

Ireland have a strong front row, though, with Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong and Jack McGrath, so the scrum battle will obviously be worth watching.

The Springboks need a good start in this European tour, winning the first two games is important.

 

 

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.

The John McFarland Column: Let’s get real about the Currie Cup 0

Posted on November 02, 2017 by Ken

 

The Currie Cup final was a real spectacle, but it is a competition that SA Rugby really needs to sort out and it doesn’t any longer have any real bearing on Springbok selection for the end-of-year tour.

The Currie Cup staggered to the playoff rounds, when there was far more interest, but the competition cannot overlap with SuperRugby, teams can’t be playing three games in a week and we can’t have the situation we had this year with the Free State Cheetahs starting with a team on fire, winning five of their first six games, but then having to go and play in the Pro14.

SA Rugby needs to get the crowds back to the Currie Cup, it is the most traditional South African tournament and every player and coach, when they set out on their career, they want to win it. The basis of South African rugby is unions, not franchises, that’s how they run it, so the Currie Cup should be SA Rugby’s main competition.

One must commend the two smaller unions, the Pumas and Griquas, for showing how much they belong in the tournament. The Pumas hammered the Blue Bulls by 50 and Griquas beat eventual champions Western Province, and both teams gave some of the other sides real frights.

The Springboks have shown good continuity in their selection – Lukhanyo Am has been recalled after being in the squad in June, Louis Schreuder was there already and Warrick Gelant has been part of the training camps. You don’t want to keep starting again with new players and you don’t want the situation where guys have to fly in and out because of the game against Wales on December 2 falling outside the international window.

Allister Coetzee has been pretty consistent in selection this year and the players have responded because it shows the coach has belief in them, after a good run in which the only team to beat them has been the All Blacks.

Ireland, they’re first up, will be the toughest game for the Springboks on their tour, because of where they are after a stellar year, but I expect South Africa to beat France, Italy and Wales. If the Springboks can win all four tour games, it would be a very good year indeed.

Against Ireland, the Springboks will need a solid lineout and a bit of size around the field, which is why I think Pieter-Steph du Toit will be chosen as a back-row forward from now on. They will need to dominate the set-pieces and have a good kicking game on those fields. The back three will need to absorb pressure and put it back on Ireland because Conor Murray kicks 70% of the time for Munster and kicking from scrumhalf, there’s always a good chase.

The Springbok team is always chosen before the Currie Cup final so that you don’t make emotional decisions, so there are no late inclusions and no outsiders suddenly selected. International rugby is really high-pressure and you need guys who have played well consistently.

Curwin Bosch showed some great moments of class in the final, especially with his kicking game – that drop goal was particularly brilliant. But he’s been in the system since he was 16, part of South African rugby’s elite programs, flagged as a major talent. But it’s obvious he has a weakness in defence, in fact it’s his only real weakness.

This will obviously have to be worked on during the end-of-year tour, but why hasn’t it been worked on already? There are no small centres in international rugby anymore and if he’s going to play in the flyhalf channel then he has no choice – he has to fix his defence or move to fullback.

Robert du Preez certainly put his hand up in the final and I am sure he will get his chance with the Springboks. He now needs a good SuperRugby season.

In the game itself, the other big defensive lapse came when Nizaam Carr picked up against the wheel of the scrum and there was very poor defence by the Sharks flank, it was their dominant scrum but he still allowed the Western Province eighthman to get around him and set up the try.

The final showed the value of a great set-piece and forward-dominance. Western Province were completely in charge from the time their front row was dominant.

The Sharks were maybe a little over-confident after their scrum demolished the Blue Bulls in the semi-finals, but hats off to Wilco Louw and JC Janse van Rensburg.

Wilco has received plenty of deserved plaudits, but hats off to JC as well, who is a real stalwart, especially at the scrummage. Many a tighthead has come off second-best against him and he is unfortunate not to have a Springbok cap, although he did go on tour with us to Great Britain in 2012.

It was a clear turning point in the game when Western Province scored a try just before halftime, with Damian Willemse having the vision to evade Kobus van Wyk’s spot-tackle. There are always risks to rushing out like the Sharks wing did, and Western Province kept the ball for a number of phases after the break by their fullback and the try left them only five behind going into the second half, when Western Province just completely pegged down the Sharks through the dominance of their pack and set-piece.

The Sharks were probably the better team in broken-field play, they have quite exciting backs, and they got a lot of mileage from the kickoffs. That’s a basic thing, but it seems most locks in the Currie Cup were not able to catch the ball! So that’s a work-on for South African teams ahead of SuperRugby.

For the Sharks, they can still approach 2018 with some confidence. They chose not to pick the experienced Chiliboy Ralepelle in their squad for the final, and they’ll have him and Beast Mtawarira back in the front row. They’ll also have some nice physicality in the backs with Robert du Preez arriving at flyhalf and Andre Esterhuizen, Lukhanyo Am, Marius Louw and Louis Schreuder around him.

 


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.

The John McFarland Column: Great for Boks to play NZ at Newlands 0

Posted on October 05, 2017 by Ken

 

It’s going to be great to see the Springboks back at Newlands on Saturday, especially against the All Blacks.

We always wanted to play them at sea level because we used to think then we had far more chance against them, at altitude the game is just so much faster. It always used to come down to the last 20 minutes of conditioning, and even if we were in front, those lost 20 minutes would always cost us.

But still at sea level we lost by just two points in the World Cup semi-final in London, by four points in Wellington the year before and by 10 points in Dunedin in 2012.

Any team goes on to the pitch looking to win and, apart from last year, the last couple of Tests against New Zealand in South Africa have been decided by less than seven points.

But for the Springboks to beat the All Blacks on Saturday, the lineouts, which were better last weekend (you’re always going to lose a couple at that level) and scrums need to function; if your set-pieces are not stable then you have no chance and the scrums, especially, have to be penalty free.

You have to give Ruan Dreyer time to learn at that level, but the Springboks also need to have their best scrummager on first, you start with your more secure scrummaging option. Impact props are specialists in their own right.

Fortunately the All Blacks tend to not go for the opposition scrum so much, they prefer ball-in and ball-out and to attack through their backs. So our scrums have generally not been a problem against them.

Tendai Mtawarira is in the form of his life, he has been exceptional, and there is obviously such deep respect for him in the team and in world rugby in general. But on the other side of the scrum, if there is any technical deficiency, the opposition will definitely be highlighting that in the referee’s meeting … and that’s where the seeds are planted in the referee’s mind.

And the Springboks will also need to win the battle of the gain-line against the All Blacks, deny them momentum and make sure they get over the gain-line with their attacks. They need to disrupt the All Blacks attack, but they will still score three or four tries, so the Springboks also have to score tries.

It’s hard to do that against the All Blacks because their defensive system is totally reliant on having players on their feet, they’ll have 13 or 14 players on their feet and nobody in the ruck, and that makes it quite hard to engage defenders. So the Springboks really need to get over the advantage line and, if they get given turnover ball, then they must have the positive mindset to make it count, especially from broken field.

The Springboks played some incredibly adventurous rugby against Australia in Bloemfontein, but they just could not finish. There were some really good things in that display and some of the handling and line-running was superb, for example Siya Kolisi’s run from deep that led to Jan Serfontein’s try.

It’s obviously the style Franco Smith and Allister Coetzee have decided to go with and even though I’m not sure it would work in a wet-weather game at Twickenham, it was a very positive way of playing in great conditions in Bloemfontein. And if Elton Jantjies had kicked that last penalty, the Springbok would have won.

At the end of the day, the Springboks played very high-tempo rugby with ball in hand, they didn’t just set up and kick. They tried to play a bit, to bring the wings up and create space, even if they were a bit side-to-side at times. But some of the handling, the offloads and the way they were able to keep the ball alive was really quite special.

It was a cracking Test and I fail to understand why the country was all so disappointed with the national team. Rugby seems to have come full circle: In 2015, people were highly critical of the way we played against New Zealand, and now everyone wants us to play that way against them!

The defence was also really good, except for when Bernard Foley got around Kolisi, but if Courtnall Skosan had just adjusted and turned in to help Siya, then the whole attack would have been nullified because numbers were up on the outside.

They did have problems covering the short kick-offs, but Australia have real height in their backline and Israel Folau is a total nuisance. There will always be space somewhere, which allows him to have a good jump against someone.

The Springboks are trying to get the rush defence right, but if you’re numbers down and very deep, then you have to drift. In midfield you tend to be softer to try and get the opposition towards the touchline and you can’t go rushing off on the short side either.

The rush defence works best when you’re on the edge of the field and a clever team doesn’t really go there either.

The players have also got to be used to a rush defence but none of our unions have really gone down that route; the Bulls are maybe trying it the most.

Every defence coach wants line-speed, but if you’re not winning the collisions then you can’t have it. If you’re making dominant tackles, then you can push the opposition line back.

 

 


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.

 

 

John McFarland Column: Springboks still heading for a very good year 0

Posted on September 28, 2017 by Ken

 

It’s a very important Test for the Springboks against Australia in Bloemfontein on Saturday because victory will take them to six wins out of eight matches and that obviously means they are heading for a very good year.

Heading into the last two home Tests of the year, the good news is that the Springboks have a good chance to finish second in the Rugby Championship. If they win their last two games, then they are heading for a very good year indeed!

But first they need to get through Australia, but they are playing one of the top four teams, so it’s a chance to go up the rankings.

Traditionally the Wallabies have always struggled at altitude – South Africa have won 14 of the last 15 games on the Highveld – but there’s obviously more to it than that. The Springbok forwards were really in control at the back end of the game in Perth, they scored a really good lineout drive try and their scrum was dominant, so those are real positives.

I expect the scrum to go well again and garner penalties like they did at Loftus Versfeld last year and in Perth, and I expect the lineout maul to dominate when in good field positions. Hooker Malcolm Marx remains a helluva talent and the Springboks will definitely produce a better lineout performance. New Zealand have one heck of a competing lineout and it wasn’t the first time they’ve dismantled an opposition lineout and it won’t be the last.

So the Springboks should have different quality ball for the halfbacks and having Ross Cronje back and fit will definitely be a big help for Elton Jantjies.

In terms of any scarring from the 57-0 hammering in Albany, after a big loss the hardest thing is that the confidence takes a knock. It wasn’t the best day for the players or the coaches and they’ve got to regain trust in the system. It’s a good thing that they had a week off to clear the mind and Allister Coetzee needs to look at people who can bounce back and deliver a great performance.

The stakes are so high and there’s such immense pressure to perform at national level that the players will have real feelings of shame. They know how great the support is and how high the expectations are because the Springboks are one of the country’s flagship sporting teams.

It was obviously a great disappointment, but that all goes when they step back on to the training field and they’re back to normality. But there will still be that little bit of doubt in the back of their minds, which is why they need a good performance to erase that.

At altitude, it’s not so important to start well as we saw with the Lions in the SuperRugby semi-final. From 30 minutes onwards, the altitude starts to kick in and take the sting out of the opposition legs.

Test matches are like playing 12 Currie Cup finals in a year, such is their importance that they are live or die, every one of them.

Which is why I feel sorry for Raymond Rhule, who took full responsibility for his performance, but there’s no need to throw him away as a Springbok. In my time on the Springboks staff, we had a player who missed five tackles on the wing and weeks later he was still deeply upset and disappointed. You could see the hurt in his eyes a month later. But he went on to play stellar rugby for South Africa for the next three years, he recovered and became a regular throughout my tenure with the national team.

The players need to know they have the backing of their coaches and sometimes you get players who are immense talents on attack but their defence is not so strong. Then you have to ask: Is he coachable? Does he listen? Does he make the right decisions under pressure? Is his positional play such that he will be in the right place to execute the tackle?

Social media can be quite brutal, everyone has an opinion, but now it can be stated and broadcast far and wide. In the old days the players didn’t have to bother with any of that.

The Handre Pollard situation has also raised plenty of debate and it’s non-negotiable for me. A returning Springbok has to come back into the franchise 23 because the national interest comes first, sometimes coaches have to see the bigger picture.

He is an elite player for the Bulls and has been with them since he was 18, six years, and he has shown great loyalty and produced many good performances. A player of Pollard’s class should slot in seamlessly.

In 2004, I can remember Jake White released Victor Matfield from the Springbok squad and we were in the middle of our Currie Cup campaign at the Bulls, but we accommodated him on the flank against the Lions.

He was man of the match the next weekend against the All Blacks and that was the season South Africa won the Tri-Nations.

It is vitally important that if a Springbok needs game time, then you give it to him, even if it’s off the bench. We always used to play them at the Bulls and the Western Province, Sharks and Free State national squad players were all welcomed straight back into their teams.

John Mitchell has stated how important the Currie Cup is to build towards SuperRugby. Surely the chance to integrate a world-class player in a match situation is very much a bonus for the Bulls?

So for a week he gets to use his key tactical decision-maker in the Currie Cup while preparing for SuperRugby 2018. Surely you would take that any day?

 

 


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.

 



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