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Ken Borland



All eyes on FNB Stadium as football, rugby & music share the stage 0

Posted on December 19, 2016 by Ken

 

Notwithstanding the awful events in Cairo, the eyes of much of the sporting world will be on South Africa on Saturday as a football international and a rugby Test are played at the same stadium on the same day.

Bafana Bafana will take on Burkina Faso in a friendly at FNB Stadium from 1.30pm, to be followed by the Springboks’ Rugby Championship opener against Argentina from 5pm, and it’s all to celebrate the birthday of Nelson Mandela, the Messiah from the Transkei, as the Parlotones call Madiba.

With a music concert to come after the rugby match, there is plenty of scope for things to get messy as a soccer field has to be turned into an international rugby pitch.

For the sake of the ailing former president’s good name, let’s hope everything works smoothly.

But the Springboks have a different kind of mess to try and avoid on Saturday.

Their last meeting with Argentina ended in a 16-16 draw in Mendoza last August as the Pumas turned the breakdowns, now the most important facet of rugby, into a messy scramble for possession. The naïve Springboks failed to protect their ball in the rucks, the cleaners weren’t there to hold off a horde of spoilers, and South Africa could never get their game plan going and were fortunate to escape with a draw thanks to a charge-down try by Frans Steyn.

This year, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has tried to ensure the breakdowns are an area of strength for his team. Not only has he hired a Scot – Richie Gray – as a specialist consultant for that key area, but he has also chosen a back row that features two players renown for their ability in the rucks in eighthman Duane Vermeulen and openside flank Francois Louw.

With Siya Kolisi, another loose forward who plays to the ball, on the bench it is clear Meyer has placed new emphasis on the breakdowns.

Of course, quick ball still has to be used wisely and much will depend on how sharp scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar and subsititute Fourie du Preez, a hero of yesterday making an international comeback a la George Smith, are when it comes to controlling the game and distributing to the backline.

It’s easy to picture Saturday’s groundbreaking Test becoming a dour battle for territory.

Springbok flyhalf Morne Steyn spoke this week about righting the wrongs of that Mendoza shocker and using a kicking game to pin Argentina in their own half, while not spending too much time in their own territory.

Meyer sometimes errs on the side of caution in selection and strategy, but it is encouraging that he has chosen the likes of Willie le Roux, JJ Engelbrecht and Bjorn Basson in the backline.

All of them have formidable attacking strengths but they have also all made defensive blunders this year that would have been enough to send them to church on Sunday for forgiveness. But there’s no doubt fullback Le Roux has added vision and spark to the backline, Engelbrecht has the pace and strength to cut defences to shreds and Basson has brilliant ability in the air and tremendous pace on the counter-attack.

Forward play has traditionally been the strength of the Pumas and Meyer has identified that it is amongst the backs, where veterans Bryan Habana and Jean de Villiers are playing as well as they ever have, where the Springboks could have a clear edge.

The Argentina team has been rocked by the absence of star loose forward Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and highly-rated prop Marcos Ayerza, but it is still crucial that the Springboks have done their homework on the new scrum laws, that seem tailor-made to the famous bajada scrum employed by the Pumas.

A weak scrum has done irreparable damage to several team’s chances already this year, but Meyer is a great believer in laying a platform up front in the set-pieces.

A great deal of work has also been done on the Springbok lineout, where the rapidly-maturing Juandre Kruger has returned in the number five jersey.

Providing everyone does their job clinically, the Springboks should have too much firepower for Argentina, who lost 27-6 to the Springboks in Cape Town in their Rugby Championship debut last year.

Speaking of debuts, Ewen McKenzie will make his first appearance as the new Australian coach when they take on the All Blacks in Sydney on Saturday.

McKenzie, the Queensland Reds coach until last month, has put his trust mostly in a bunch of players who led the Brumbies into the SuperRugby final.

Chief among those is Matt Toomua, the debutant who has been put in the crucial flyhalf position, ahead of Reds pivot Quade Cooper, who is back in the Wallabies squad after falling out with previous coach Robbie Deans.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-08-16-preview-boks-and-bafana-have-their-work-cut-out-at-fnb-stadium/#.WFkjr1N97IU

Bulls not relying on home ground advantage but knockout experience 0

Posted on July 08, 2016 by Ken

 

While the army of supporters at Loftus Versfeld might not actually sell out the stadium, the Bulls will appreciate their help but not be relying on it for victory in their Vodacom SuperRugby semi-final against the Brumbies on Saturday.

Instead of home ground advantage and a phenomenal record at Loftus Versfeld, the Bulls will put their faith in being a well-drilled team that makes the right decisions at the right time, and the fact that they have way more experience of knockout SuperRugby than the rebuilding Brumbies do.

The Bulls have won two semi-finals and two finals and lost in just one qualifier since 2009, while the Brumbies last appeared in the playoffs back in 2004, when they won the title, which explains the presence of veterans George Smith and Clyde Rathbone in their starting line-up.

Brumbies coach Jake White knows how important it is for his team to make a good start in order to silence the passionate Loftus Versfeld crowd, which may or may not be a full-house, with only 30,000 tickets sold by Thursday morning.

The last time the Brumbies came to Pretoria and won was back in 2006 and White doesn’t want his team to “freeze” in the opening exchanges, like the Cheetahs did against them last weekend in Canberra.

The Brumbies have carried the ball more than the Bulls this season, have gained more metres and beaten more defenders so they might just decide to keep ball in hand a bit more than they did against the Cheetahs, especially in the opening stages. They did this to great effect against the Sharks in Durban in March, scoring four first-half tries to settle the outcome early on.

The Bulls will certainly be mindful of stopping the Brumbies’ attacking threats out wide, with wing Henry Speight being the second leading try-scorer in SuperRugby this season and long-striding fullback Jesse Mogg always a threat when he joins the line or counter-attacks.

The Bulls have one of the best kicking games in the competition and the best lineout (hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle has been the best thrower overall), so they will undoubtedly look to force the Brumbies back into their own territory and then pressurise them at the set-piece.

Where the Brumbies will target the Bulls will be in the scrums and at the breakdowns. The Australians earned six scrum penalties off them in Canberra when they beat the Bulls 23-20 at the end of March, while Smith has served them well at the rucks, where the Brumbies have won the third-most turnovers in the competition.

The Brumbies will follow the Sharks’ and Stormers’ approach of disrupting the Bulls at the breakdown, and injured captain Pierre Spies spoke of the importance of ensuring the referee (Craig Joubert) favoured them in that crucial area on Saturday.

“You have to make the breakdown work for you and a lot depends on how the referee interprets that area. George Smith is a brilliant player and we’ll obviously have to nullify him, but the breakdown is something you have to look at during the game and sort out. Even if it’s a tough day at the breakdown, as long as you get the result, that’s the important thing,” Spies said.

Interestingly, not losing possession at the rucks is an area the Bulls have generally been able to tick in this year’s competition, as they have conceded the fourth-least turnovers, just marginally more than the Brumbies. Other areas the Bulls can tick are discipline – they’ve conceded the fourth-least penalties while the Brumbies have infringed the most – the ability of their backline to make clean breaks (7th, Brumbies 11th) and their goalkicking, which has been the best in the competition thanks to Morne Steyn’s 86% success rate.

White, who had a reliable goalkicker as his first choice for the Springboks, will be nervously contemplating the 70% success rate of the Brumbies when kicking at goal this season.

As devout as most of the Bulls are, the Brumbies know there will be no Christian charity awaiting them at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday. Jake White’s men have lengthy odds to overcome but if they hold their nerve and do the basics better than the Bulls, then they can certainly come away victorious.

“It’s finals rugby, so it’s about pressure, both applying and absorbing it. We have to use our opportunities and I hope for a clinical performance,” Spies added.

While the Bulls are favoured to win at home, maintaining their unbeaten record at Loftus Versfeld this year, it seems only a minority of people are backing the Chiefs to win at home against the Crusaders in their semi-final in Hamilton.

Finals rugby is when the Crusaders, appearing in an extraordinary 12th successive semi-final, are generally at their best and the Crusaders machine is growing more powerful every week. They sent out a chilling warning last weekend that they are peaking when they demolished the Reds 38-9 in their qualifier and the scarring is still fresh for the Chiefs after the seven-time champions hammered them 43-15 three weeks ago.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie is saying it suits his team to be underdogs, but his anxious state of mind is perhaps revealed by the seven changes he has made to his team.

The Crusaders are settled and have the sort of players you would go to war with in Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett, Luke Romano and Andy Ellis.

The biggest battle for the Chiefs will be up front, where the Crusaders pack are playing with the sort of cohesion and ferocity that has been the trademark of the All Blacks. The front-foot ball is bound to be used well by the masterful Carter, who has the luxury of potent attacking forces outside him in Israel Dagg, Tom Marshall and Ryan Crotty.

The Chiefs will be dangerous in broken play, but the Crusaders’ lineout and territorial game is also amongst the best, and the patience and composure of the Cantabrians means the mistakes are few and far between.

Ironically, the most high-stakes game of the weekend will involve the SuperRugby team that finished last as the Southern Kings host the Lions in Port Elizabeth in the first of two promotion/relegation matches tonight.

They are playing ostensibly for the right to be the country’s fifth SuperRugby franchise, but in fact they are basically playing for the survival of their professional status.

Without the security of a long-term, guaranteed presence in SuperRugby, neither the Kings nor the Lions have been able to attract decent sponsorship or sign marquee players and the harsh economic times means both franchises are battling to stay afloat.

The Kings, who are without the injured Luke Watson and Andries Strauss, have the conditioning of being exposed to the pace and intensity of SuperRugby for the last five months and the backing of one of the best crowds in the competition.

The Lions have been bolstered by the return of lock Franco van der Merwe, flyhalf Elton Jantjies and hooker Martin Bezuidenhout from loan deals to the Sharks and Stormers, and will be fresher and desperately hungry after looking in from the outside all year.

With Springbok tourist JC Janse van Rensburg anchoring the front row, they should be able to match the Kings in the set-pieces and much will depend on how Jantjies responds to being back with his former colleagues.

The Kings have a tenacious defence which Jantjies will need to unlock, and in the boot of Demetri Catrakilis and the rolling maul, they have two of the most efficient points-gathering mechanisms in the competition.

There is a fine line between desperation and anxiety, and the team making the least mistakes is bound to win in Port Elizabeth.

*Statistics courtesy of Opta and allblacks.com – http://files.allblacks.com/kickoff/opta/ISR-Season-Review-Opta.pdf

Teams

Bulls: Zane Kirchner, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Morné Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Dewald Potgieter, Jacques Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Grant Hattingh, Flip van der Merwe, Werner Kruger, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Dean Greyling. Replacements – Callie Visagie, Frik Kirsten, Morné Mellett, Paul Willemse, Jono Ross, Jano Vermaak, Jürgen Visser.

Brumbies: Jesse Mogg, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, Clyde Rathbone, Matt Toomua, Nic White, Ben Mowen, George Smith, Peter Kimlin, Scott Fardy, Sam Carter, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Scott Sio. Replacements – Siliva Siliva, Ruan Smith, Fotu Auelua, Colby Faingaa, Ian Prior, Andrew Smith, Joseph Tomane.

Southern Kings: SP Marais, Hadleigh Parkes, Ronnie Cooke, Shane Gates, Marcello Sampson, Demetri Catrakilis, Shaun Venter, Jacques Engelbrecht, Wimpie van der Walt, Cornell du Preez, Darron Nell, David Bulbring, Kevin Buys, Bandise Maku, Schalk Ferreira. Replacements – Charl du Plessis, Hannes Franklin, Steven Sykes, Devin Oosthuizen, Nicolas Vergallo, George Whitehead, Waylon Murray.

Lions: Ruan Combrink, Antony Volmink, Stokkies Hanekom, Dylan des Fountain, Deon van Rensburg, Elton Jantjies, Michael Bondesio, Warren Whiteley, Derick Minnie, Jaco Kriel, Franco van der Merwe, Hendrik Roodt, Julian Redelinghuys, Martin Bezuidenhout, JC Janse van Rensburg. Replacements – Robbie Coetzee, Martin Dreyer, Willie Britz, Warwick Tecklenburg, Ross Cronjé, Marnitz Boshoff, Chrysander Botha.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-07-26-superrugby-expect-no-mercy-this-weekend/#.V3-alfl97IU

Sixes have Titans CEO Faul whistling a happy tune 0

Posted on September 16, 2014 by Ken

Titans CEO Jacques Faul was whistling a happy tune at SuperSport Park yesterday after the success of the inaugural Global Softech Sixes held at the stadium over the weekend.

“We’re very happy, the Franchise Challenge was very competitive and the Africa Challenge was good too. We learnt a lot from the first event, we had fun too and we’re proud of this new tournament. We really got our brand and the stadium out there.

“It’s a massive hospitality opportunity so you don’t really expect the general public to come in their droves, but we were pleasantly surprised by how many people were there on Sunday. Compared to a one-day domestic cup event, the crowd was very good,” Faul told The Pretoria News yesterday.

The concept is now set to be taken to neighbouring countries, with two of the participants in the Africa Challenge, Namibia and Zimbabwe, eager to host the event.

“We will roll it out to Walvis Bay and Harare, their representatives were very excited by the tournament and they want to host something similar next year,” Faul said.

Although the format of the competition is set to change, Faul warned that the actual rules of the Sixes game are unlikely to be fiddled with.

“We’ll maybe go for six franchises and four African nations in two pools in the next event, and play it on Friday, Friday night, Saturday and Sunday.

“What we don’t want though is for the event to just be normal cricket. We want something else, which is why we bring the boundaries such a long way in and we have five overs with very small boundaries.

“We’re happy with the format of the games, it’s been trialled for years at the Hong Kong Sixes. People mustn’t look at this event with a traditional cricket perspective,” Faul said.

For eons, cricket has somewhat naively been associated with fair play, but the end of the Franchise Challenge, with the Titans deliberately trying to avoid getting someone out so as to avoid Dolphins captain Morne van Wyk, who had an incredible tournament, returning to the crease after his enforced retirement, showed that there are rules in Sixes that can be exploited in ways that some may consider to be “not cricket”.

But Faul said there was no need to change those rules.

“Different strategies will happen as the players play more of the format; the feedback from the players was very positive,” Faul said.

The South African team proved invincible in the Africa Challenge and Faul suggested they would not play in future events so as to level the playing fields. Logistically, it was also well nigh impossible to pick the national team from performances in the Franchise Challenge, leading to a player like Van Wyk being omitted.

 



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