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Ken Borland

The John McFarland Column: SA’s SuperRugby downgrade hard to understand 0

Posted on April 12, 2017 by Ken


Sanzaar obviously had to make changes to SuperRugby because the crowds were not reflecting the status of the competition, but I struggle to understand why South Africa have to give up two teams.

Our previous wins at the Sanzaar negotiating table have been because we could always use the threat of going to Europe and our TV figures to get our own way.

So why do New Zealand keep five franchises and South Africa have just four, but we’re a much bigger nation! I know the argument based on the performance of the teams, but in 2013 we had four teams in the top eight and in 2012 three sides in the top six. So we have had the strength, and the Bulls were a dominant force in SuperRugby from 2005-2010, which is not so long ago!

So I struggle to comprehend how a team like the Cheetahs, who are such a strong rugby region, can be facing the axe. Everyone understands that the Kings will have to go due to their financial woes and because they are propped up by Saru, but it will be very disappointing to lose the Cheetahs after they have been in SuperRugby for so long. And the Free State and Griqualand West region has provided a heck of a lot of players who have gone on to greater things.

What really concerns me is that the Springboks will miss out on an extra 30 players to choose from, while New Zealand will have a pool of 150 SuperRugby players, a 20% bigger selection pool.

And it’s easy to say we will retain more players because we will now have more money, but as Faf de Klerk’s offer from Sale shows, guys can still earn more than triple what they’ll get in South Africa by going overseas. I believe we’ll actually retain fewer players because there will be less opportunity with only four franchises. Our coaching ranks will also be diminished with less opportunity for them too.

The funny thing is, a year ago Sanzaar said everything was fine and a big fuss was made about how the new format would mean much less travel for South African sides – a maximum of two flights overseas.

The tournament did need expansion and Argentina have now been able to keep their best players, they haven’t gone to Europe, because there’s a clear pathway for them to develop and express themselves at the highest level. We’ve seen that with the Sunwolves too.

People say it’s not our job to develop rugby in South America and Asia, but that’s shortsighted. Rugby has to be a global game, if it just stayed within the Commonwealth and Argentina, it would die.

Exposing a team from Japan to higher levels of rugby has certainly brought an improvement to their play. There were 22 000 people at the Bulls game in Tokyo and the excitement was incredible, especially considering that the last game in Tokyo saw the Sunwolves lose 83-17 to the Hurricanes!

But there was a great atmosphere and huge interest in the Bulls game, but more on that shock result later on.

In my view, the SuperRugby format should be a 16-team competition – so five New Zealand and South African franchises, four from Australia and the Sunwolves and Jaguares – with everyone playing everyone else once. You would have two three-week tours as part of that.

Six teams would then progress to the playoffs, with the top two sides initially having a bye straight into their home semis against the winners of the quarterfinals, which would be third versus sixth and fourth against fifth.

This weekend I am really looking forward to the match between the Lions and the Stormers, which should be a high-tempo, all out attacking game, but the side that defends best will win it. For the main Easter weekend game to be between the two conference leaders is going to provide a great spectacle.

The quality and skill level of the Stormers last weekend against the Chiefs shows that they have reached a new dimension and you have to credit Robbie Fleck and his staff, and the players, for their willingness to play like that. It’s really high-risk, high-reward rugby and, believe me, it has to be coached!

What was especially pleasing was the way they really matched a New Zealand team at the back end of the game, when it’s normally been a huge struggle for South African teams.

The Sharks also had a good win, even though they are not scoring a lot of tries. They are playing off the other side’s mistakes, like their spectacular intercept try against the Jaguares.

They hung on in there against the Argentinians and it was an important win for their conference, although they will be a bit disappointed they gave the Jaguares a point. But it’s good that they were able to grind it out, hopefully they can get on a roll and get their confidence going.

The humidity in Durban made the ball very slippery and there were similar conditions for the Bulls in Tokyo, a match I was fortunate enough to attend. It was very wet and the Sunwolves managed the conditions better. The Bulls are not far off but they were simply not good enough last weekend.

They took time to get into their stride, they struggled to get control of the game. But then they had control when they were nine points ahead, they were in the pound seats, but the yellow card obviously had a huge influence.

After that the Sunwolves took a scrum with 10 minutes to go and scored the matchwinning try. The lesson for the Bulls is that when a backline player like Jan Serfontein gets a yellow card, then you must replace him. It’s better to have a full backline because you need that speed on defence. It was standard procedure when I was with the Springboks that if a backline player got a yellow card late in the game then we would take a forward off and replace him. Otherwise you’re defending with six versus seven, which is why the Sunwolves were able to break out so easily.

The Sunwolves were also able to keep the ball in play and did a good job of nullifying the Bulls’ lineout maul threat by standing off. That meant the Bulls had to mostly play from static ball. The home side were also very good with their kicks and chips, while the Bulls could have done much better with their chips, especially the one from their own 22 that led to a try.

The Bulls will be really hurting, but they now have a lot of games at home. No other team in the competition has had such a tough start away from home, and the Bulls will now hope they can get some form and a winning run at Loftus Versfeld.

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.

Focus on immediate results & lack of resources for coaches will cost SA franchises – Mitchell 0

Posted on June 25, 2015 by Ken

Former All Blacks and Lions coach John Mitchell says a continued emphasis on immediate results and resources not being dedicated towards developing coaches will mean South African Super Rugby franchises will continue to struggle.

The Bulls and Stormers are both looking for new head coaches for Super Rugby, the Sharks are restructuring their coaching staff and the Southern Kings are yet to appoint their leading man.

“It is going to be a serious worry if those franchises make emotional appointments. They need to look at due process and appoint a group of coaches, not just make a one-man appointment.

“It’s a really grave concern in our industry, we’re the only sport where a player can become head coach two years after he has finished playing. Coaching is about experience and wisdom and there are a lot of fantastic minds around. But it’s scary how results-based everything is. These organisations don’t realise that many of them are in a development phase and that takes more than 18 months.

“There’s also a lack of resources, time and money spent on coaches. A lot of them aren’t ready for Super Rugby level and I don’t believe in the whole system at the moment, there needs to be a change in mindset, we need to find ways to get smarter. Rugby has become a game of transition, it’s about how quickly you re-form on attack or defence, it’s about building pressure with the ball and moving it into space, not over-working by trying to bash it through the gain-line all the time,” Mitchell said at a Powerade launch for their new ION4 sports drink.

New Zealand’s 2003 World Cup coach has been linked with the coaching jobs at both the Stormers and Sharks, but he said that although he still loved coaching, a full-time post was not his desire at the moment.

“I’m really enjoying being a businessman at the moment, I’ve been given a great opportunity, and I’ve done 20 years of coaching all around the world. I’m at peace with what I’m doing and I’ve actually learnt a lot being on the outside, looking in.

“I turned down the Stormers, although I could really work with Gert Smal [Director of Rugby], but I didn’t want to come in on top of another coaching group and I wasn’t keen on commuting. The Sharks could have asked me a long time ago and they need to be accountable for the last two tenures.

“A coaching job has to be right for me and neither of those are at the moment. This time I will coach on my own terms, with the right people, I want to play a part rather than be the focal point. I’m 51, so I’m still young in coaching terms and I have a lot to offer. I love coaching, it will never leave me, but I believe I can share and serve the game in other ways at the moment. Being a consultant coach is still an option, but it needs to be the right fit and frequency, not full-time,” Mitchell said.


Stumbling West Indies face uphill struggle to avoid follow-on 0

Posted on March 02, 2015 by Ken

The West Indies were facing an uphill struggle trying to chase down the follow-on mark as they stumbled to tea on 184 for six on the third day of the first Sunfoil Test against South Africa at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Friday.

With South Africa having declared their first innings on 552 for five, the West Indies need 353 to avoid the follow-on, but it was a frustrating day for them as all six dismissed batsmen made it into double-figures, with two of them out in controversial fashion

Vernon Philander’s tight off-stump line with movement away was exacting a heavy toll on the West Indies and he had four for 26 including the big wicket of Shivnarine Chanderpaul for 21.

The awkward, slow-scoring left-hander pushed forward to an excellent delivery that pitched on off-stump and moved away, edging a low catch to second slip, where Alviro Petersen made a good diving take.

The ball was really talking for Philander and four overs later he drew an edge from Jermaine Blackwood (12) that, despite the batsman’s soft hands, just about made it to Petersen diving forward at second slip. It was a superb take, but television replays suggested the batsman should have been given the benefit of the doubt.

Morne Morkel, meanwhile, had given Marlon Samuels a rough, bareback ride in the previous spell from the Hennops River End, but the batsman mounted a spirited defence, surviving for two hours as he scored 33.

Morkel was targeting the body from around the wicket and eventually a delivery jagged back and dribbled off the inside edge into the stumps, ending a 45-run stand with Chanderpaul.

Leon Johnson also made a start, reaching 31 before he was dismissed in soft fashion, driving Kyle Abbott to cover in the third over after lunch.

An opening stand of 72 had nicely teed up the West Indies’ reply before both openers were dismissed and they reached lunch on 110 for two.

Kraigg Braithwaite (34) and Devon Smith (35) were the batsmen who defied the much-vaunted South African pace attack for 21.4 overs in cloudy conditions and it took an extraordinary decision by TV umpire Paul Reiffel for the breakthrough to come.

Philander had just returned for his second spell when Smith tried to pull a shortish delivery and wicketkeeper AB de Villiers, standing in for Quinton de Kock who rolled an ankle in the warm-up, tumbled to his left to make the take. Faf du Plessis was also off the field due to abdominal cramps.

On-field umpire Billy Bowden turned down the caught-behind appeal that came mostly from Philander and South Africa decided to refer the decision.

Reiffel decided that a flimsy scratch on Snicko could be pinned down to when the ball passed the bat and overturned Bowden’s decision, which left most people watching the replays utterly bemused and the West Indians less than happy.

Braithwaite was then nailed by Philander in his next over, the accurate paceman getting a delivery to nip away, a firm push sending the ball low and to the right of Hashim Amla at first slip, the captain claiming a good catch.

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