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Ken Borland

Talent meeting opportunity at the root of development 0

Posted on May 10, 2017 by Ken


Gift Ngoepe has been making headlines this week, giving South African baseball a rare moment in the sun, and his incredible story just goes to prove that talent meeting opportunity should be at the root of all transformation or development efforts in this country.

Ngoepe became the first ever player born in Africa to play Major League Baseball when he turned out for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Chicago Cubs, the World Series champions, and made a single in his first at-bat, showing his ability as his hit registered the highest velocity off the bat in the whole game, and he then played a part in the double-play that ended the contest and sealed a thrilling 6-5 win for his team.

As is so often the case, nobody could have guessed what talent Ngoepe possessed for the quintessential American game. It was opportunity that unlocked the door and changed his life, leading to him becoming a tremendous role-model for all the less privileged people with sporting dreams in South Africa.

That opportunity came in the most extraordinary, and yet typical, South African way. His mother just happened to be employed as the cleaner at the national baseball headquarters in Randburg and Gift and his younger brother Victor, who plays in the Gulf Coast minor league, stayed with her in a little room on the premises.

Given the opportunity to have a go at this strange sport that is so foreign to most people on the continent, Ngoepe’s talent rapidly became obvious.

Of course there is a gap of several years between that and making history this week, filled with sacrifice, perseverance and a determination to fulfil his dreams. The joy of becoming the sixth South African and the first Black African to sign a professional baseball contract in 2008 gave way to the hard work of spending nine years in the minor leagues.

The magnitude of his achievement and the character of the man is shown by the reaction of both his team-mates and the Cubs to Ngoepe’s special day.

He was warmly greeted by his team-mates when he came on to field at second base and his single was wildly celebrated in the Pirates’ dugout, with chants of “For the Motherland!” and there were tears all round. The Cubs rolled the ball used for the single into the opposition dugout so Ngoepe could keep it as a memento.

The wonderful story of Ngoepe is in stark contrast to the other big sporting news item of the week, the almost certain demise of Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

Once the number one ranked bowler in international limited-overs cricket, Tsotsobe is the latest player to be charged in the corruption web that began with the machinations of Gulam Bodi.

The story of Tsotsobe features all the talent and even more opportunity than Ngoepe’s. The left-arm paceman comes from a well-off family in the Eastern Cape with strong sporting links, his sister Nomsebenzi being a former captain of the national women’s rugby team.

Tsotsobe had all the backing and opportunity in the world, but he lacked the work ethic and determination that so clearly drives Ngoepe. Conditioning, which is really just about hard work, was always a problem for Tsotsobe, and eventually the Proteas management lost patience with him.

Seduced by the bright lights and a glitzy lifestyle, it was perhaps inevitable that Tsotsobe would ultimately fall victim to the lure of easy money.

And yet there are current rising stars like Andile Phehlukwayo and Lungi Ngidi, who stand poised on the edge of stellar international careers having risen above similarly disadvantaged childhoods as Ngoepe, both being the sons of domestic workers.

Inconsistency of the batting the story of the Lions’ T20 campaign – Toyana 0

Posted on December 15, 2016 by Ken


The inconsistency of the Highveld Lions batting was once again to the fore as they bowed out of the CSA T20 Challenge in the playoff against the Warriors, and was the story of their campaign according to coach Geoff Toyana.

The Lions could only muster 136 for seven in their 20 overs against the Eastern Cape side, everyone in the top six reaching double figures but nobody scoring more than Reeza Hendricks’ run-a-ball 32, as the trio of Warriors spinners dominated the middle overs.

“It was disappointing and not good batting, we didn’t push through. The whole season we’ve been falling apart in the middle overs and losing wickets. The absence of Alviro Petersen’s experience was a big loss,” Toyana told The Citizen on Wednesday.

Opener Rassie van der Dussen was the only consistent Lions batsman through the tournament, scoring 345 runs, including three half-centuries – exactly half of the total amount scored by the team.

While the bowling of Bjorn Fortuin, Hardus Viljoen, Aaron Phangiso and Eddie Leie was excellent throughout, Viljoen lacked the support of another reliable pace bowler, with Dwaine Pretorius unable to match his form for the Proteas in the six games he played.

But Toyana pointed to the character showed by a young side and the occasional performances of inexperienced players like Fortuin (more often than not), Hendricks, Nicky van den Bergh and Wiaan Mulder as indications of a bright future.

“There have been lessons learnt and I’m quite happy with the whole competition, for a young side to come through to the playoffs. The bowlers were the highlight, they were superb, with the spinners choking the batsmen in the middle overs.

“It’s been good to give youngsters that opportunity and they will play better for it in the future. To lose the first two games with bonus points and then win three on the bounce to give ourselves a chance again showed their character, especially beating a quality Cobras side in Paarl. We fell short in the end, but I’m happy with the team,” Toyana said.


The Lions & the Springboks are totally different environments 0

Posted on August 15, 2016 by Ken


So it didn’t quite end in jubilation, but the Lions’ SuperRugby campaign still brought enormous pride and good feeling over their rags-to-riches story, and the public will carry many of those emotions into the Rugby Championship that starts next weekend.

But it is vital to realise that the Springboks and the Test arena are entirely different environments to the Lions and SuperRugby, and comments calling for the whole of Johan Ackermann’s team to be promoted to the national side or for coach Allister Coetzee to simply copy the game plan are ill-informed, ill-judged and have the potential to be divisive.

The health of any rugby team has a lot to do with its unity of purpose and their togetherness as people, and one could sense some frustration this week when the Springbok management and some of the players were constantly asked questions that referred back to the Lions.

Hopefully Lions captain Warren Whiteley, whose hard work on the field and wise words off it are nothing short of inspirational, put that all to bed this week when he highlighted in no uncertain terms that the Springboks are different.

“There’s no debate about using the same playing style, these are two different sides and we are not talking about unions any more. You’re talking about a team at provincial level against a national side. Sure, we as Lions players can bring confidence to the Springboks and there are similarities in the way we are trying to play. But there’s a step up when you come to the Springboks and the intensity and speed with which we’ve been training is at another level to the Lions,” Whiteley said this week.

Last weekend’s column bemoaned the parlous state of the Currie Cup, South Africa’s flagship rugby competition, but the performance of the Lions is one of the reasons for optimism when it comes to South African rugby.

Amidst the ritz and glitz of the Olympics there was another reason for cheer, even if the Blitzbokke flattered to deceive and had to settle for a bronze medal (still a notable achievement and more than New Zealand or Australia could manage). I’m talking about Rasta Rashivenge being given the honour of refereeing the Sevens final, an appointment that continues a long line of excellence when it comes to South African officials.

They receive way more criticism than plaudits simply because of human nature, but our referees and the high standards they maintain is one of the best stories in South African rugby.

Some of the media were privileged this week to be able to sit down with leading referee Jaco Peyper for an information session just to help us scribes better understand why certain decisions are made on the field and how the officials are interpreting the details of the laws these days.

Peyper said a referee makes about 400 decisions in every game and there will always be little mistakes, but the important thing is to ensure these do not have a major impact on the game.

He also said it is important to note that the key focus areas that referees are blowing these days have been decided in consultation with the coaches and other stakeholders, notably medical staff. They have had their say on what the shape of the game should look like and how to make it safer, and the referee’s job is to facilitate that.

Interestingly, there are some well-known phrases in our rugby lexicon, like “downward pressure”, “the direction of the hands when passing” and “bringing the catcher of the ball down safely” that don’t appear anywhere in the laws of the game.

This has led to some confusion amongst the public when watching games and the referees and TMOs don’t take any of those polluting myths into account, most often leading to filthy language in the lounge. For a clear and thorough view of the laws, including the opportunity to discuss issues with leading referees, I would recommend going to



Cultural storm could be rallying call for Sharks 0

Posted on September 14, 2015 by Ken


The Beeld newspaper ran a story this week alleging that Sharks captain Keegan Daniel believes there are too many Afrikaans-speakers in the team, with an opening paragraph that read “The Anglo-Boer War is apparently raging again in Sharks rugby”.

While the chances of Daniel actually being an Afrikaans-hater are absolutely remote – he is highly-regarded as a person and leader within the squad, which is dominated by Afrikaners – the storm the accusation has caused could provide the Sharks with the sort of rallying call they desperately need to end the five-match losing streak that has almost certainly ended the 2012 runners-up’s chances of making the playoffs.

The Sharks condemned the report, CEO Brian van Zyl saying the strength of the team has always been its diversity, while Daniel himself slammed the allegations both in the statement released by the union and on social media, where he posted photos of himself and colleagues like Jannie du Plessis, Franco van der Merwe and Pieter-Steph du Toit out and about together.

“I was shocked to hear about these allegations. I can’t believe that someone would say this about me in order to try and sell newspapers. It is an attack on my integrity, which is very disappointing, and it is most untrue.

“I have never had a problem with any person in our rugby squad. Since this report surfaced, I have had nothing but support from my team-mates of all cultures. This is a lesson that younger players in our squad can learn – when a team is struggling with form then you become an easy target,” Daniel said.

Where Daniel does need to look at himself, however, has been in terms of his own performances. Normally an inspirational figure leading from the front, Daniel has been pedestrian this season and in recent weeks the Sharks have struggled to get out of first gear and have been especially sluggish in defence.

He would seem to have the backing of his team and, if he can channel his anger into a rousing performance on the field, he could just spark a change in fortunes for the Sharks.

He will have the imposing physical presence of Willem Alberts back alongside him in the loose trio, while coach John Plumtree was no doubt mightily relieved that there were no further injuries during last weekend’s loss to the Reds in Brisbane.

He has, however, made four changes to the team with Alberts returning for Jean Deysel, Odwa Ndungane, fresh from earning his 100th SuperRugby cap off the bench, starting on the wing instead of Piet Lindeque, while tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis and lock Anton Bresler are rotated back into the tight five in place of Wiehahn Herbst and Pieter-Steph du Toit.

But whatever the changes in personnel, the Sharks must know that the unfocused, lacklustre displays they have produced so far on tour just won’t hack it against the Force in Perth.

Right now, the Force are much the better team, having lost by one point away to the Chiefs, drawing with the Reds and beating the Crusaders in recent weeks.

It’s now or never for the Sharks and if the hurt they are feeling right now doesn’t get them going on Friday, then nothing will.

The mood in the most Afrikaans franchise of the lot – the Bulls – is totally different at the moment. Fresh off a bye, they are in control of the South African Conference and playing slick, impressive rugby.

But they are up against one of the few New Zealand teams that knows how to win at Loftus Versfeld – the Highlanders, who have won four and drawn one of their last eight visits to Pretoria.

As SuperRugby nears the international break, it is teams like the Highlanders, playing with nothing to lose, who are especially dangerous as they come up against contending teams who are under pressure and have much at stake.

Playing at altitude is always a problem for overseas visitors to Loftus, but teams that don’t have a strong set-piece have a particularly tough mountain to climb. Fortunately for the Highlanders, it’s not an issue for them as rugged, experienced campaigners like Brad Thorn, Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore and Chris King mean they have solid scrums and lineouts.

The Bulls scrum will be under particular scrutiny and coach Frans Ludeke has changed his props with Frik Kirsten and Morne Mellett starting in place of Werner Kruger and Dean Greyling.

Two of the Bulls’ most influential players this season will also celebrate milestones on Saturday: Pierre Spies, who will almost certainly be Heyneke Meyer’s Springbok eighthman now that Duane Vermeulen is out injured, will play his 100th SuperRugby game for the Bulls and, as their leading ball-carrier (87) and tackler (96) this season, will lead the forward effort.

Morne Steyn will also be the favourite to reclaim the Springboks’ number 10 jersey and, in his record 117th match for the Bulls, he will be a key figure in pinning the dangerous Highlanders in their own territory.

It is going to be a tough outing for the Bulls, however, even if the Highlanders are at the bottom of the log, and the visitors have the pace to punish Bulls’ errors in the form of scrumhalf Aaron Smith, wing Hosea Gear and fullback Ben Smith.

Pace and attacking verve are things Stormers supporters are desperately hoping will return to their team as they take on the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday.

The Stormers will be playing for their lives in terms of the competition, having lost their last two games, and injuries and a new halfback pairing might force them into playing with more sparkle.

Elton Jantjies and Louis Schreuder will be at half-back and can hopefully get the best out of what remains a top-class backline.

The injury to Vermeulen, a battering ram if ever there was one, means Nizaam Carr, more of a traditional linking eighthman, will play at the back of the scrum which suggests a more dynamic, wider approach from the Stormers on attack. The absence of Rynhardt Elstadt, with mobile hooker Deon Fourie now playing flank, merely adds to the argument.

The Rebels are a better side than they are giving credit for, however, and a swing too far in the other direction by the Stormers could be fatal against a team that would prefer an unstructured, loose affair. A focus on gaining dominance in the set-pieces and on a strong territorial kicking game will help the Stormers to a morale-boosting victory.

The Cheetahs are also facing a critical outing on Saturday as they entertain the Reds in Bloemfontein. Defeat for Naka Drotske’s men, who slipped up last weekend against the Hurricanes, could leave them nine points behind the Bulls if they win at Loftus.

Although the Cheetahs eventually only lost by five points to the Hurricanes, one has to be critical of how they tried to play the New Zealanders at their own high-tempo, ball-in-hand game.

Coach Drotske seems to have inexplicably not learnt from that lesson, however, as he has chosen a “more attacking” flyhalf in Elgar Watts in place of Burton Francis, whose boot has been a vital part of the Cheetahs’ success this season.

The Cheetahs might be guilty of believing their own press that raves about their wonderful running rugby (even though it has brought them no trophies for many years) and even Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper was busy buttering them up this week when he said he loved their exciting playing style.

Taking on the Reds and beating them at their own game (superb vision, running lines and offloads) will be a ridiculously tough task for a Cheetahs team that, as exciting as they are, simply does not have geniuses of the calibre of Cooper, Will Genia, Digby Ioane and Rod Davies.


Stormers (v Rebels, Friday 11.40am): Joe Pietersen, Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Elton Jantjies, Louis Schreuder, Nizaam Carr, Siya Kolisi, Deon Fourie, Andries Bekker, Eben Etzebeth, Pat Cilliers, Scarra Ntubeni, Steven Kitshoff. Replacements – Martin Bezuidenhout, Frans Malherbe, Gerbrandt Grobler, Don Armand, Nic Groom, Gary van Aswegen, Gerhard van den Heever.

The Sharks (v Force, Friday 1.45pm): Riaan Viljoen, Odwa Ndungane, JP Pietersen, Meyer Bosman, Lwazi Mvovo, Pat Lambie, Charl McLeod, Keegan Daniel, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Franco van der Merwe, Anton Bresler, Jannie du Plessis, Kyle Cooper, JC Janse van Rensburg. Replacements – Monde Hadebe, Wiehahn Herbst, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Derick Minnie/Lubabalo Mtembu, Jean Deysel, Tian Meyer, Piet Lindeque.

Bulls (v Highlanders, Saturday 5.05pm): Jürgen Visser, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Lionel Mapoe, Morné Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Pierre Spies, Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Juandré Kruger, Flip van der Merwe, Frik Kirsten, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Morné Mellett. Replacements – Callie Visagie, Werner Kruger, Grant Hattingh, Arno Botha, Jano Vermaak, Louis Fouché, Bjorn Basson.

Cheetahs (v Reds, Saturday 7.10pm): Hennie Daniller, Willie le Roux, Johann Sadie, Robert Ebersohn, Raymond Rhule, Elgar Watts, Piet van Zyl, Phillip van der Walt, Lappies Labuschagne, Heinrich Brüssow, Francois Uys, Lood de Jager, Lourens Adriaanse, Adriaan Strauss, Coenie Oosthuizen. Replacements – Ryno Barnes, Trevor Nyakane, Ligtoring Landman, Boom Prinsloo, Sarel Pretorius, Riaan Smit, Ryno Benjamin.

Other fixtures: Hurricanes v Chiefs (Friday 9.35am); Crusaders v Blues (Saturday 9.35am); Waratahs v Brumbies (Saturday 11.40am).

Bye: Southern Kings.

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