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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column – The intent is obviously there 0

Posted on March 03, 2017 by Ken

 

Judging by the quality of the games last weekend, I am really looking forward to this weekend’s SuperRugby action, with the Stormers, Bulls and Lions looking like South Africa’s three major contenders.

Last weekend we saw very different South African derbies to what we normally see and the will to attack was clearly there. The intent was obviously there to play with ball in hand and the teams played with real speed in terms of tempo, and pace, which made a heck of an impact.

An example of this was when the Stormers took a quick tap and scored seven points against the Bulls; they, in particular, showed more intent than they have in the past.

The effects of the new tackle law, meaning players now have to go lower with their hits, were also evident in that there were more offloads. Attacks can now continue through the tackle because the arms are free and the tall guys can get the ball above the tackle. It keeps the ball alive and it has led to a lot more continuity.

What was really impressive to me was how lean some of the leading Springboks looked. Guys like Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Siya Kolisi looked in great shape and the speed they played at was a direct consequence of their fitness levels.

There’s definitely been a huge emphasis on conditioning through the franchises and it could mean the end of the New Zealand and Australian sides feeling that a high ball-in-play figure is their secret to success because the South African teams will tire.

While the Stormers were fantastic, what was encouraging about the Bulls was that they never gave up, which is huge. They denied the Stormers a bonus point, which at the end of the day could be vital; from 24-0 up at halftime, the Stormers really needed to get that bonus point. The second half would have provided a huge swing in confidence for the Bulls.

In the Cheetahs versus Lions game in Bloemfontein, the visitors really got out of jail, but if you can score three tries away from home then you deserve your victory.

Rohan Janse van Rensburg showed his finishing power and speed, while the Lions’ try down the short side to win the match showed again that rugby is about defending the full width of the field, even if you only have two or three metres to touch.

The penalty try given off a driving maul was a game-changer; most referees would have copped out and just given a penalty, but if the maul is set and moving forward then it deserves that decision, so credit to referee Quinton Immelman for his brave call.

The Southern Kings looked better and scored some really good tries, but again conceded turnovers at crucial times. During the first half they were in control for long periods, but a yellow card really cost them and prop Ross Geldenhuys was lucky not to get a red card, which a knee to the back should be penalised with.

The major talking point of the last week in the rugby world, however, was Italy and their decision not to contest rucks against England.

I had lunch with Brendan Venter last week and he mentioned that they were going to do it. Any tactic that is new and innovative has to be applauded and it certainly took England a long time to cope with it, so credit to Brendan and the rest of the Italian coaching staff and players for that.

But I believe World Rugby do need to look at the law. As defence coaches, we encourage players to get back on their feet and in the defensive line, but now teams might just try to herd the attacking team into a small radius of the ruck, which would not be good for the game.

It would take a full week of coaching to get a game plan against Italy’s tactic. It was  a real shock-and-awe strategy and difficult to adapt to on your feet. In fact, England played into Italy’s hands with their counter to it, so it clearly worked as a tactic.

 

 

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.

Injury-hit Alberts back for one last hurrah 0

Posted on December 13, 2016 by Ken

 

The hard-hitting Willem Alberts returns to the Sharks’ starting line-up for one last hurrah at Kings Park in their final SuperRugby match against the Stormers on Saturday before he joins the foreign legion.

The Springbok loose forward has had a badly disrupted season due to injury, playing just six games in which he has had six hours of action, but he has apparently recovered just in time to earn his 73rd SuperRugby cap for the Sharks before heading for Stade Francais.

Saturday’s SuperRugby finale (for the Sharks at least) is also the farewell for the Du Plessis brothers, Bismarck and Jannie, who are also heading to France, most probably to join the previous  Sharks coach, Jake White, at Montpellier.

Another Springbok flank, Marcell Coetzee, also returns to the Sharks line-up, boosting an outfit that is otherwise largely unchanged from the squad that has won two games in a row, against the Reds and the Rebels.

Coach Gary Gold said on Thursday that the team were eager to end a tough campaign on a high note, with three successive victories.

“We want to make the same statement as when it was important to beat the Reds and Rebels, and why it was important not to give up the fight on tour after two good performances against the Hurricanes and Waratahs. Teams do go through tough times; there will be critics, people who want to throw stones, that we’ll take on the chin. But the people that really matter know the challenges we’ve had, that it’s been a complicated year and the thing that would really frustrate them would be if the team gave up and rolled over. That we’re not prepared to do.

“The statement a win would make is that it matters, whoever you’re playing. We have to pitch up and we owe it to the people who have been loyal to us through the bad times, we need to give them good times now. It is critically important that we put up a proper performance and finish the campaign on a high. Not for any other reason other than the fact that it would be three wins on the bounce and give us confidence moving into the next chapter of our lives.

“I can’t sit here and say I’m happy with where we’re sitting on the log, I’m not happy at all. But in terms of the team and turning it around, I’m very proud of the character they’ve shown, I’m really appreciative of how the players have stuck together and stuck by us as a coaching staff; I never felt at any time that there was a divide between us and them. If there were issues, we spoke openly about them and that helped us turn the corner; too late unfortunately.

“But there have been lots of positives, youngsters who we never thought would get Super Rugby experience and now they have six or seven games under the belt, that can only do them the world of good,” Gold said.

Team – Lwazi Mvovo, Odwa Ndungane, JP Pietersen, Andre Esterhuizen, S’bura Sithole, Lionel Cronje, Stefan Ungerer, Renaldo Bothma, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Marco Wentzel, Etienne Oosthuizen, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira. Bench: Franco Marais, Dale Chadwick, Lourens Adriaanse, Lubabalo Mtyanda, Khaya Majola, Conrad Hoffmann, Fred Zeilinga, Heimar Williams.

 

Sharks confirm worst-kept secret of Bok trio’s departure 0

Posted on November 24, 2016 by Ken

 

The Sharks have finally confirmed one of their worst-kept secrets and announced that Saturday’s SuperRugby match against the Stormers in Durban will be the last in Black and White for the Springbok trio of Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis and Willem Alberts.

As reported in The Citizen on May 19, the Sharks have been unable to hang on to the trio of hard men, who will all be heading for the riches of France after the World Cup. Loose forward Alberts is heading to Stade Francais, while the Du Plessis brothers will be going to Montpellier for a potentially awkward reunion with Jake White.

Hooker Bismarck du Plessis has been at the Sharks for 11 years and is their most-capped Super Rugby player, due to finish on 130 appearances after the Stormers game. Jannie joined the Sharks in 2008 and has 117 Super Rugby caps for the KwaZulu-Natalians, while Alberts arrived in Durban from the Lions in 2010 and made 72 appearances.

Chief executive John Smit told the Sharks website that it had been a privilege to have the trio in Durban.

“These three gents have played an instrumental and invaluable role at the Sharks over the years. It is naturally disappointing to lose players of this calibre that have given so much to Sharks rugby. As in many senior statesmen’s careers, they felt the time was right to experience something different abroad.

“We will never forget the many courageous performances from these three players, the countless outstanding performances and steals from Bissy, the rock-solid anchor at tighthead in Jannie and the enforcer in Willem. Not to mention Jannie playing the victorious Currie Cup final in 2013 with a broken hand.

“On behalf of the Sharks, I take this opportunity to thank them for their dedication, commitment and outstanding contribution to the franchise. We wish them and their families the very best for this new chapter they are embarking on,” Smit said.

Waratahs powerhouse Jacques Potgieter and newly-signed former Cheetahs and Biarritz loose forward Philip van der Walt will fill in for Alberts, but at the moment the Du Plessis brothers will have to be replaced by home-grown talent.

 

 

Lions have earned universal respect despite failing to make playoffs 0

Posted on November 24, 2016 by Ken

 

The Lions may have failed to make the SuperRugby playoffs after their dramatic weekend draw against the Stormers, but the Johannesburg-based franchise has certainly earned the respect of all their opponents this season.

Just two years after they were controversially relegated from SuperRugby, the Lions have clinched second place in the South African Conference and boast an almost identical record to the Brumbies, who have snuck into the playoffs ahead of them because of bonus points.

They have maintained their positive style of play with ball in hand, but where they have improved most is defensively, boasting the best tackling success rate in the competition. The Lions play at the highest tempo of all the South African sides as they swarm around in defence and always have great intensity on the ball. Their powerful scrum has provided a solid platform and their lineout has also been efficient.

“It’s all about playing with intensity and hunger, and we have to up our performance every week. There are plans in place, but I also allow the guys to be free spirits and you have to live with the small mistakes that come from that,” coach Johan Ackermann says. “Obviously I’m very proud of the team, it must be one of our best years and it shows that hard work is worth it.”

The Lions have certainly deserved all the praise that has come their way, beating the qualified Waratahs and Highlanders in the last five weeks and showing all season that they are never out of the contest with some superb second-half comebacks.

“There’s great belief within this side, a real hunger. We want to close down the opposition’s space and put them under pressure. We’ve built our physicality in defence, we want to be in their faces and not stand back,” captain Warren Whiteley says.

Their impressive performances have seen several of their players grow into Springbok contenders. The most likely Lions player to feature in Heyneke Meyer’s Springbok World Cup squad is flyhalf Elton Jantjies, who dares to take the ball flat and attack the opposition line, has superb hands and is a strong defender, as well as kicking well this season.

Eighthman Whiteley is competing with Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Burger for a place at the World Cup, but he gets through a mound of work and is the only player in SuperRugby this year to have made more than 200 tackles, while also being highly effective in a linking role, possessing great skill and vision as befits a Springbok Sevens player who helped win the Commonwealth Games gold medal last year.

He is also adept at interfering with the opposition lineout, where Franco Mostert has also been a key performer for the Lions, as well as in the loose.

Warwick Tecklenburg has been outstanding in doing all the Lions’ dirty work, being second only to Whiteley in terms of tackles made, but fellow flank Jaco Kriel has been the most impressive forward.

A constant nuisance at the breakdown, he oozes raw talent in offence, having phenomenal pace, strength and hands, and has more often than not been able to spark the most sensational counter-attacks by the Lions.

Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe have proved to be two powerful centres, while scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and wing Ruan Combrinck are two other backs who have announced themselves as future Springboks this year.

Despite their success over the last two years, Ackermann says at the moment they are just playing pretty rugby and haven’t won anything yet, there is more growing to do.

“We can look back on a good season regardless of missing the playoffs. The players know where they stand with me and they know my expectation on deserving the jersey. As long as they do that, I can’t ask for more. The growth from last year is definitely there, but there is still a lot of work to do.

“Nobody has achieved anything yet. We are not in the playoffs, we haven’t won the Currie Cup yet, we haven’t won any trophies yet. But if you ask me if there is a lot of growth, both for me as coach and for the team, then definitely if you look where we started in January 2014 until where we are now,” Ackermann says.

 



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