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Ken Borland



Whatever they say, Lions prove travel is hard & territory is vital 0

Posted on July 29, 2017 by Ken

 

Whatever anyone may say, there are still two inviolable truths that apply in rugby – travel is hard and territory is vital – as the Lions proved in their remarkable 44-29 win over the Hurricanes in their SuperRugby semifinal at Ellis Park on Saturday.

It was an incredible victory because the Lions were trailing 22-3 after half-an-hour. Whatever mistakes they made, under the immense pressure of a Hurricanes side that was in their faces, were punished by the visitors, whose every touch turned to gold.

But a try just before halftime, prop Jacques van Rooyen carrying a hapless defender with him as he barged powerfully over the line, gave the Lions hope and, more importantly, showed them how to play in the second half.

The try had come after a penalty was kicked to touch and a couple of lineout drives had the Hurricanes back-pedalling. It was noticeable that flyhalf Elton Jantjies was twice pushed back from over the line when he tried to go it alone, but give the ball to a big, strong forward to carry and it was a totally different story.

The Lions had tried to beat the Hurricanes at their own game in the first half, taking quick tap penalties and spreading the ball wide, and they were being destroyed.

But, to their immense credit, those plans changed in the second half.

There was a much greater emphasis on territory, with the big boots of wing Ruan Combrinck and fullback Andries Coetzee playing a key role, they drove from the lineout and used the set-pieces to get the Hurricanes on the back foot.

As the altitude and travel kicked in, the Hurricanes wilted and they barely fired a shot in the second half, all the momentum going the Lions’ way.

The Hurricanes are absolutely ruthless on turnover or openfield ball and, after Jantjies had kicked an early penalty set up by the forwards, the visitors quickly reminded the Lions of that fact.

A pass from Jantjies missed scrumhalf Ross Cronje on a wraparound move and Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara twice kicked the ball through before winning the race for the touchdown.

But the Hurricanes are also extremely efficient at creating tries and a turnover from impressive eighthman Brad Shields enabled them to do just that in the 11th minute.

It was a disappointing defensive read from the Lions after the lineout, with too many defenders bunched in midfield, allowing flyhalf Beauden Barrett to come roaring through a big hole on the wraparound, and then freeing wing Wes Goosen on the outside for the try.

On the half-hour, there was a particularly poor moment of bad decision-making by the Lions as they were awarded a penalty inside their own half, but instead of kicking to the corner and squeezing the Hurricanes, they played into their hands by taking a quick tap and trying to run.

There was a hint of Cronje being played at the ruck as lock Sam Lousi knocked the ball out of his hands, but there was no doubt about flank Ardie Savea’s finishing ability as he pounced on the loose ball and roared away.

There was an early chance in the second half for the Lions to make amends, as they won a penalty. This time they set the lineout and then a midfield ruck, which created some space on the left. Cronje, who handled with aplomb the obvious pressure there was focused on him at the breakdowns, dived over from a ruck close to the tryline.

Jantjies, who put the disappointment of his poor goalkicking against the Sharks in last weekend’s quarterfinal behind him by nailing a solid six-from-eight against the Hurricanes, added the conversion and suddenly the Lions were just 17-22 behind and one could sense the momentum shift.

If there is one criticism of the Hurricanes side, it would be that they are not the most patient side and, with the Lions bossing territory through the boots of Combrinck and Coetzee, the frustrated visitors tried a dinky little chip kick from their own territory.

It was gathered by Combrinck, who burst into the Hurricanes’ 22 and forced a penalty for offsides. The Springboks are surely going to have to recall the powerful wing now that he is back to his best after injury.

The Lions once again set the lineout and hooker Malcolm Marx carried strongly to force his way over for the try, Jantjies’ conversion coming off the post to leave the scores level at 22-22.

But the kickoffs and exits are such vital parts of the game these days and, when the Lions dilly-dallied after receiving the kickoff, a well-timed counter-ruck by the Hurricanes turned over possession, which was then simply shipped down the backline until there were no more defenders left and outside centre Ngani Laumape was able to cross for the try.

Fullback Jordy Barrett converted, but they would be the last points the Hurricanes scored as the last 20 minutes were one big hiding for the defending champions.

Combrinck again broke clear but was tackled deep inside the Hurricanes’ 22, with flyhalf Beauden Barrett then playing the ball on the ground and being yellow-carded by referee Jaco Peyper. It was such a cynical foul in the red zone that there could be no buts about it, and Jantjies kicked the penalty to close the gap to 25-29.

The Lions then roared back on to attack; their efforts looked a little aimless at times, but at least they kept the ball alive and Cronje eventually found centre Harold Vorster coming through on a good line for the try that gave the Lions the lead for the first time since the fifth minute.

When flank Kwagga Smith misread a ruck for a collapsed maul and was penalised for hands-in, it meant Jordy Barrett would have his fifth and final shot at goal, but crucially he missed and the Lions’ momentum was not broken.

The Lions have one of the best scrums in the competition and they used it in the 73rd minute to destroy the Hurricanes set-piece and provide fantastic front-foot ball for the backs, which Jantjies used to go sniping over for another try, his conversion stretching the lead to 39-29.

It meant the Hurricanes would have to play from their own territory and a long pass from Perenara was duly intercepted by replacement hooker Akker van der Merwe, who was pleased to have Smith roaring up in support just as the attack seemed to be dying, the flank crossing for the final try.

This time there was no conversion from Jantjies, but there was no denying the Lions as they completed their remarkable triumph.

They showed once again that once the tide is with them, when they have the bit between their teeth, there is no stopping them.

Scorers

LionsTries – Jacques van Rooyen, Ross Cronje, Malcolm Marx, Harold Vorster, Elton Jantjies, Kwagga Smith. Conversions – Jantjies (4). Penalties – Jantjies (2).

HurricanesTries – TJ Perenara. Wes Goosen, Ardie Savea, Ngani Laumape. Conversions – Jordy Barrett (3). Penalty – Barrett.

A passionate, top-class SA coach without a job 0

Posted on May 24, 2017 by Ken

 

Despite a poor final year in charge of the Springboks, there is little doubt Heyneke Meyer remains a top-class coach and it is a symptom of a sick South African rugby system that the 49-year-old is without a full-time coaching job despite making it clear that he still wants to make a difference to the game in this country.

Meyer was back at Loftus Versfeld a couple of days ago to launch the Beachcomber World Club 10s, a unique tournament for professional teams in a social environment, that will be held in Mauritius next month, but there is no doubt he still harbours a burning desire to be involved in the cauldron of top quality rugby again judging by the passion with which he answered a range of questions on South African rugby.

Although a great admirer of New Zealand rugby and a personal friend of All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, Meyer makes a good point when he says a drive to play like the Kiwis do is a case of chasing the wind for South African rugby.

He reckons it will take us 10 years to catch up to their style of play, by which time their game will have evolved and they will still be 10 years ahead of South Africa. It is perhaps a symptom of our insecurity as a nation that we are always trying to copy other teams – in the early 2000s it was Australian rugby that was the flavour of the month.

Meyer, who has been working with plenty of New Zealanders and Fijians in his part-time role as coach of the Asia Pacific Dragons team, points to a higher innate skills level as one of the main reasons South Africans will find it very difficult to emulate the free-flowing, expansive style of the Kiwis.

“South Africans don’t have the same natural understanding of space that they do, but I truly believe any of our teams can still beat a New Zealand team, especially at home. But if we try and follow them then we’ll never be the best in the world. We have to rediscover what we stand for and play South African rugby – brilliant set-pieces, driving, strong defence. We must do what we’re good at and kick intelligently, not just kick the ball away,” Meyer said.

The national coach from 2012 to 2015 made the point that ex-Springbok coaches are practically driven out of the country and pointed to Eddie Jones travelling from Australia to South Africa and now to England as an example of the value of experience, even if it comes from losing a few games.

“Eddie lost eight games in a row with Australia and was fired, he then helped the Springboks and learnt a lot there. In fact England are now playing like the Boks used to – they have great set-pieces, a great defence and kicking game, they still score tries and they’re on a winning run. It would be 50/50 right now between them and the All Blacks.”

Many observers have pointed to the speed at which New Zealand teams play the game and Meyer said this difference was most marked towards the end of matches, due to the superior fitness of the Kiwis.

“The All Blacks have always been superior in terms of fitness. We have big, strong guys, but it’s harder to get them fit. New Zealand have smaller but more mobile players and they run you ragged in the last 10-15 minutes. Central contracting means Steve Hansen knows the fitness of all his players and whether they need to rest or work harder.

“But you can’t do major fitness work if your players are tired or injured and our guys going overseas makes it very difficult, I’m very concerned about all the guys in Japan because you can’t play for 12 months. Before the last World Cup, I did not see the players for eight months so I asked for fitness reports from the franchises and nobody sent them in.

“So when I got the players I knew we were in trouble and the guys were not fit for the first game against Japan. But the All Blacks get to rest for three months after SuperRugby, so they’re super-fit for the next year, but we’re playing Currie Cup or in Japan. It’s very difficult for the South African coaches,” Meyer said.

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-gauteng/20170513/282578787965088

Bulls earn credit, but still lose 0

Posted on April 01, 2017 by Ken

 

The Bulls will earn deserved credit for their improvement, but the end result was still the same as they went down 28-12 to the Chiefs in a bonus point defeat in their SuperRugby match in Hamilton on Saturday.

A superb first-half display by the Bulls in which intensity crackled through everything they did – in attack they were direct and handled superbly, while their defence was physical and uncompromising – saw them claim a deserved 9-3 lead at the break.

But the Chiefs showed their class as they stayed composed and were able to pull away from the 50-minute mark, scoring three tries in an ultimately impressive victory.

The Chiefs had a terrible time in the first half trying to contain superb Bulls inside centre Burger Odendaal, who led the visitors’ resurgence with some powerful ball-carries and excellent midfield defence. It led to the home side having missed an awful 15 tackles by halftime.

But the Bulls just lacked the attacking incisiveness to convert their gains into points on the scoreboard.

When centre Jan Serfontein went inside instead of pinning his ears back on the outside following some storming runs by Odendaal in the fourth minute, it was one of many moments when the Bulls were left wondering what might have been.

The Chiefs had been caught offsides in the build-up, however, and flyhalf Handre Pollard was at least able to kick a penalty for an early 3-0 lead.

More superb carries and direct running by the Bulls, and a determined rumble forward by prop Trevor Nyakane, led to another Pollard penalty in the 10th minute, but the Chiefs dominated the first scrum four minutes later, earning a penalty kicked by flyhalf Aaron Cruden (3-6).

But the Bulls had the final say in the first half as the Chiefs tried to run the ball out of their own 22 after conceding a free kick, but were turned over, allowing the Bulls to string several phases together and earn another Pollard penalty for not releasing at the ruck.

But the tide began to turn in the 51st minute as wing Jamba Ulengo suffered another horrible moment in defence, wing Shaun Stevenson leaving him flatfooted as the Chiefs attacked off a lineout, and then grubbering through and regathering the ball for the first try of the match. Cruden converted to give the Chiefs a 10-9 lead.

That was quickly stretched to 13-9 with another Cruden penalty after Bulls captain Adriaan Strauss stupidly went off his feet at a ruck in front of his own poles, but the visitors had a stroke of luck in the 62nd minute when a dominant Chiefs scrum was penalised for illegal wheeling, Pollard’s long-range penalty closing the gap to one point (12-13).

But it was all the Chiefs in the final 15 minutes as the Bulls suffered another late-game fade.

The Bulls lost a four-man lineout in their own 22 but a superb tackle by lock RG Snyman prevented fullback Damian McKenzie from knifing through to score. But an earlier infringement allowed Cruden to kick a penalty and stretch the lead back to 16-12.

A lovely 71st-minute move from a scrum saw scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow running at the line before putting a grubber through that McKenzie raced on to and dotted down.

Another slick backline move with two minutes remaining saw different angles of running and McKenzie bursting through, before replacement prop Atunaisa Moli charged through and reached over the line for the bonus point try.

The scrums were hard-fought transactions, but they did allow the Chiefs to release some of the pressure on them as they had the edge in that set-piece. Nyakane’s move to tighthead was again a talking point.

Lock Lood de Jager was a hardworking – if not always accurate – member of the pack, with partner Snyman also shining, while Jannes Kirsten came off the bench after 20 minutes to replace eighthman Arno Botha and made his presence felt. He should be in the starting line-up next week.

Jesse Kriel was impressive at fullback and halfbacks Rudy Paige and Pollard were on the same page.

But while the Bulls were much-improved, being gutsy losers is not a tag they or their supporters will take kindly to.

Scorers

ChiefsTries: Shaun Stevenson, Damian McKenzie, Atunaisa Moli. Conversions: Aaron Cruden (2). Penalties: Cruden (3).

BullsPenalties: Handre Pollard (4).

Sanzar’s SuperRugby Christmas present is likely to be meh 0

Posted on February 20, 2017 by Ken

 

Rugby fans who have had enough of the current fatigue-inducing set-up will be eagerly anticipating Christmas and the expected announcement by Sanzar of a new SuperRugby format from 2016. But what they find in their stocking might still leave them unimpressed because Sanzar are unlikely to go the most obvious route of two pools of nine, eight matches home and away and semi-finals and a final.

Because the Southern Kings had such a dramatic impact on rugby in the Eastern Cape, certainly in terms of crowd figures, the South African Rugby Union (Saru) seem to have accepted that they can no longer leave such a massive region out in the cold even though they lost the promotion/relegation series to the Lions. And Argentina, full Sanzar partners now, look set to be rewarded with a place in SuperRugby as well, expanding the competition to 17 teams. Judging by the noises coming out of New Zealand and Australia, some sort of Japanese involvement is also being strongly considered to make it an even 18.

But the same Australian demands that impacted so heavily on the previous broadcasting agreement, which brings in all the money and therefore decides the format, seem set to ensure common sense does not apply. In order to sustain the ailing code of rugby union in Australia, they want their own conference, even if they have to share it with some New Zealand teams.

So the three proposals that Sanzar are considering are to keep the status quo (yes, many stakeholders, most of them living on a big island, actually think the current format is great), to split into South African and Australasian conferences, or to expand the competition even more and include other Asian teams, and the USA and Canada as well.

It would appear the two-conference system has been most positively received by Saru, and hopefully their negotiators will show much more skill when Sanzar meet in Sydney next week than the muppets who negotiated the previous deal. That could mean six South African franchises, which play each other home and away, making 10 fixtures. If the Australasian conference is split into two pools, with Japan in one and Argentina in the other, then they, too, could play 10 round-robin matches. The idea is then for the top six or eight teams across the conferences to play in the finals. If six teams go through and play each other, that’s five more matches. A semi-final and a final would then mean a maximum of 17 games per team – much cleaner, much simpler and less of a slog than SuperRugby is at the moment for all concerned.

What is vital is that Sanzar consult the players, on whom they rely to sell their product. There is a strong suggestion that the current exodus of players from the southern hemisphere to Europe is not just because of the power of the euro, but also because they are on their last legs due to the unceasing intensity and quantity of rugby Sanzar has foisted on them.

Bulls captain Pierre Spies, one of many on the injured list after the prolonged SuperRugby campaign, is pegging his hopes on change. “I’d really like to see the competition end before the international season. That three-week break for the internationals in June is a waste. I’d like to see all the focus on SuperRugby, get that done with and then give all the teams three or four weeks to prepare for the Tests. We could then finish the Rugby Championship at the end of October and either go back to our franchises or prepare for the end-of-year tour. I’d prefer there to be one global schedule and to finish SuperRugby in one go. That would also give all the teams one extra bye,” Spies told Daily Maverick on Thursday.

There does seem to be growing agreement on the sense of having one global rugby season. The International Rugby Players’ Association has come out in favour of it and even Sanzar CEO Greg Peters has said it makes sense. “The idea of moving June to July, in a Sanzar context, certainly holds a lot of appeal, for a lot of reasons,” Peters told The Herald Sun. “We could complete the SuperRugby season without a break, which is something in an ideal world we would want to do. Then you would move straight into the international program, have a short break, the Rugby Championship, short break, and then the Spring Tours. We would certainly be interested in sitting down with the northern unions and getting their views about whether it would work. And obviously we are interested in the views of the players’ associations as well.”

The Currie Cup Premier Division also looks set to change, with a new eight team format apparently agreed to in principle by the Saru executive committee, just two years after they went to great lengths to justify a cut to six teams. The phrase “political expediency” immediately springs to mind, but the thought of the Kings and the Pumas, who have dominated the First Division in recent times and are based in the rapidly-growing centre of Nelspruit, competing at the top table does have appeal.

The administrators sit in the boardrooms and make the decisions over lavish lunches, changing tune according to their own vested interests, but it is the players who have to go out, put their bodies on the line, and make these formats work.

“I’ve only been playing SuperRugby for six years and I’m struggling to get on the field now,” says Springbok star Francois Steyn, who has been out of action since May after two operations for compartment syndrome in the leg – an over-use injury.

“In South African rugby, we all worry about saying something wrong and stepping on someone’s toes, so I should probably keep my mouth shut. But it’s all about bringing the fans out and less rugby is probably better. Then the top players can play for longer. At this rate, if you play for 10 years, you’re a lucky guy.”

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-08-30-quo-vadis-superrugby/#.WKrl_2997IU

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