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Ken Borland



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.

 

John McFarland Column: No hiding from Boks’ biggest loss ever, but it was a perfect storm 0

Posted on September 21, 2017 by Ken

 

I obviously did not foresee South Africa losing 57-0 in Albany and there’s no hiding from the fact that it was a record for the Springboks’ biggest loss ever.

But I think it’s also fair to say that it was the perfect storm and everything went right for New Zealand and everything went wrong for the Springboks. The All Blacks were obviously very good on the day and executed every small chance they got, they ruthlessly punished little things.

It started when the Springboks were playing well but gave away a penalty, with the fullback in the line because they were in their attacking shape. Aaron Smith put the chip in with his weaker left foot and it bounced perfectly for Rieko Ioane.

That’s just the first example.

Then came the intercept try when there needed to be better decision-making under pressure by Jean-Luc du Preez.

The third try came after a penalty and the All Blacks bashed the ball up before the cross-kick, which I hear Beauden Barrett practises 50 times every Friday at the captain’s run. The Springboks had cover with Francois Hougaard there, but unfortunately the ball bounced out of his hands.

The fourth try came after Elton Jantjies produced a nothing kick, it was neither contestable nor deep enough, allowing the counter-attack, and with the hooker defending in the wide channel, the wing did not know whether to come in or stay out.

So it was 31-0 at halftime and in the second half two more tries were scored from five-metre lineouts. You need a back-row forward to stand at the back of the lineout, but Siya Kolisi was in the middle. The golden rule when defending lineouts close to your line is that you don’t give the opposition ball at the back because it basically takes out seven of your players and once they get over the advantage line it becomes a difficult fight.

On the direct one-on-one try scored through the flyhalf, you want your inside centre a bit closer to help and it should be a double-hit.

Allister Coetzee is now in a difficult position when it comes to who to bring into the team. The players had done relatively well before last weekend, but it’s obvious that he will have to make changes. Test rugby magnifies everything and one weakness will be exposed in glaring fashion.

Under Heyneke Meyer, the scores were always close against the All Blacks – an average of less than seven points per game – and one of the reasons was that we often played two fetchers as well as Duane Vermeulen and Bismarck du Plessis. That meant we had four forwards who were very good over the ball.

This is vital because you need to disrupt New Zealand’s attacking shape, you need to force more of them into the rucks and not just let them play. The Springboks certainly missed Jaco Kriel in this regard, but his pace was also missed in defence. The openside flank is normally pillar number three and he leads the line-speed from just inside the flyhalf. Francois Louw has been recalled and it would be quite good if we could play two flanks that play towards the ball against New Zealand.

The Springboks scrummed well at the start, but like in the World Cup semi-final in 2015, we lost five lineouts. That’s a huge factor and it’s why they could not get any attack going. It’s something they have to sort out otherwise the backs are not able to function. It also leaves you very vulnerable because your backs are in attack formation on your own ball and not in their defensive formation, making it easy for the opposition to get over the advantage line on the turnover ball.

I watched the game with Frans Ludeke and he made a good point when he said it is not a lost cause now in the last two games of the Rugby Championship at home. He pointed out that our SuperRugby teams conceded big scores in New Zealand, but won against the Kiwi sides in South Africa. So we should not write off the Springboks just yet, we can only really judge them at the end of the Rugby Championship, but they are obviously playing for second place now.

It’s very hard playing three matches on the trot away from home, especially with the best side in the world being the last game, which is one of the reasons that in the last six years of the Rugby Championship the title race has been over before the final round.

One encouraging thing is that they did not fall away in the last 15 minutes and the All Blacks really had to work hard for their tries in the final quarter.

Before contemplating changes, we must remember that South Africa were the only unbeaten side in world rugby this year going into the game.

But there may have been a case for someone like Ruan Combrinck to come in. He has operated within the Lions’ exit system, he will be a right-footed option to back up the left feet of Andries Coetzee, who has been solid, kicked well and been good with ball in hand, and Elton Jantjies and he also brings a certain magic. He’s currently playing inside centre in Japan for Kotetsu, but he should obviously have been an option because he played well last year for the Springboks and showed he can make a difference in Tests.

Reasons for optimism for the Springboks for their next game against the All Blacks are that Australia have also managed to play better since they were 40-6 down at halftime against New Zealand and both the Stormers and Lions won against Kiwi teams in South Africa.

The Lions beat the Hurricanes convincingly and pushed the Crusaders all the way, so it is very difficult for the New Zealand players playing in South Africa as well. Plus they will be up against a very passionate crowd at Newlands and a Springbok team that will be on a mission.

 

 

 

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 – Bok defence gives them hope v All Blacks 0

Posted on September 14, 2017 by Ken

 

All in all, even though people were disappointed with the result, there was a lot to be pleased about in the Springboks’ draw with the Wallabies in Perth last weekend.

To put it into perspective, historically South Africa’s record in Australia is not that good with just 12 wins in 37 matches and only five out of 26 games since 1992, so to get two away points is a good result.

The Springboks will be disappointed, however, that they did not win because they were so dominant in the second half and they had some really clearcut opportunities that they needed to finish.

This Saturday against New Zealand at the North Harbour Stadium will be a real test, but then it always is against the All Blacks. What will really encourage the Springboks leading into that match is their defensive system that meant Australia could only score one try against them in open play, having scored five and then four tries in their two matches against New Zealand.

The Wallabies’ other try in Perth came from a driving maul and the main reason for that was that the Springboks competed at the front of the lineout. It was a high risk/high reward tactic, but with Eben Etzebeth in the air it meant they lost three players to defend on the drive, which is a particularly high-risk strategy five metres from your tryline.

The Springboks were really good in the tackle in Perth and made lots of double hits. They mixed up their defence well: at times they came very hard off the line, for example in the two turnovers Siya Kolisi forced through sheer linespeed; sometimes they were softer in their defensive line, especially on the blindside, where the attack is usually very flat and basically off the scrumhalf, so you just try to shepherd them out towards the touchline.

Once Kolisi managed to jolt the ball loose and that gave Jan Serfontein a clear run for the line but he was held up two metres short, and the other major turnover by the blindside flank came when he forced the error that led to the end of the game.

The Springboks were very good at the breakdown in Perth, and Jaco Kriel and Pieter-Steph du Toit made some really important steals as well.

The Springboks really struggled though with Australia’s obstruction, especially on the kick-chase. When you kick long it is vitally important that your line gets ahead, and stays ahead, of the retreating defenders. The Springboks do generally chase well, but if the opposition can get players in-between the chasers then it allows their back-three player a clear gap and a hole to hit in the line. It’s like obstruction and completely illegal, but someone like Richie McCaw made it an art-form for the All Blacks.

Every bit of momentum the Wallabies had in Perth really came through this. You cannot rush in defence if the attack has momentum, you have to go softer to recover; you try to get them on to the edge of the field and then you can push hard again.

It’s interesting that under Chean Roux last year, South Africa tried to implement the rush-defence, but we all know the problems they had with that system. But I feel their defensive system is very secure this year, you can see the players really back it and believe in it.

The South Africans could have been better organised on the restarts though. They tended to have their wings forward and their pods deeper, but against someone as lethal as Israel Folau, you need the pods to come further forward. But when Folau won the one aerial ball against Courtnall Skosan that led to a try, there was a huge obstruction. If you watch it from behind, Sekope Kepu actually points to Kurtley Beale and tells him where to go, he clearly blocked Etzebeth from making the hit.

Eben obviously has the respect of his team-mates and is leading well, but he is still an inexperienced captain, especially at Test level. That try needed to be reviewed and I’m sure the TMO would have made the right decision; the captain just needed to whisper in the referee’s ear …

I thought the Springbok kicking game was quite good and Elton Jantjies managed to convert a few zones and pin Australia in their 22. The Springboks were quite clever at times by moving the ball wide to Andries Coetzee, which brought Folau up and then they were able to put the ball in behind, which gave the blind wing quite a few problems.

I was really impressed again with Coenie Oosthuizen. Besides anchoring a dominant scrum, he also hasn’t missed a tackle all Championship and he also made three tackles with a broken arm when he came back on to the field!

It just shows the commitment and attitude in the team at the moment, they are really working hard for each other.

I was curious to know how the Springboks would respond to being 10 points down in a Test and the fact that they were able to get back into the game and so nearly won it at the end is a real positive going forward. As is the fact that for long periods their forwards were very dominant at the set-pieces.

We must remember that this is not a team full of 50-Test Springboks – in fact only three players in the starting XV in Perth had more than 30 caps, with two more on the bench – it is a growing team. In the decision-making positions, there is tremendous inexperience and in the spine of the team – hooker, eighthman, scrumhalf, flyhalf and fullback – there was a total of just 34 caps.

So critics of the Perth performance need to take a rain-check and be positive; they must realise that this is a Springbok team that is growing in stature and is unbeaten this year so far.

The All Blacks are probably favourites on Saturday, but in 2012 and 2014 both Tests over there were very close and 2013 was the famous Romain Poite Test with Bismarck, so you can’t really count that. Apart from last year, all our games with New Zealand have been relatively close.

This is a Springbok team in such a good mental space and the All Blacks have alluded to how they can see a brilliant culture in the team and the difference in their defence, as well as the clever bits of play they are producing. They have the deepest respect for this South African team.

The absence of Jaco Kriel will, however, be a big loss for the Springboks, especially against the All Blacks. His pace, dynamism and the way he puts his body on the line without any fear is a huge positive for the team. But it’s a chance for Jean-Luc du Preez to step up and for Siya Kolisi to play at six and for someone new to come on to the bench. Siya is already really forcing a lot of turnovers on the ground.

You have to give credit to the South African coaches, staff and players for how well the Springboks have performed and hopefully they can get a good result on Saturday.

The winner will win the Rugby Championship – it probably is that simple really.

 

 

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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