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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Lions’ efforts deserve Test selection 0

Posted on June 01, 2017 by Ken

 

The Springboks are back in camp and it will be interesting to see the team for the French Tests, two of which will be played at altitude, so it will definitely be an advantage to pick players that are full of confidence and successful on the Highveld.

There’s only one team that has been playing with real conviction and confidence, though, and that is the Lions, so I expect a few debutants from them over the course of the series. It will be a well-deserved honour and credit to their coaches, Johan Ackermann, Swys de Bruin and JP Ferreira.

The Lions’ 54-10 win over the Southern Kings showed that the difference in strength is vast between them and the other South African teams and they now have a great run-in towards the SuperRugby playoffs. They deserve it after winning three games overseas and they are reaping the rewards in confidence and the way they are playing.

It’s sad for SuperRugby that the playoff places are mostly already sorted out, especially in South Africa. It always used to go down to the last weekend and a very exciting final day of round-robin play. Anyway, it’s a huge advantage to finish first on the log and the Crusaders are three points clear of the Lions as our pacesetters go into the international break.

The Crusaders have some tough New Zealand derbies coming up though, including having to travel to the Hurricanes.

So I believe Rudolf Straeuli, the Lions CEO, can’t wait to pencil in 3pm playoff games on the Highveld. If you speak to the Highlanders players they will tell you that their legs felt like jelly during their semi-final at Ellis Park last year, they just could not get going, and that’s a side packed with All Blacks that lost 30-42.

The Lions will definitely have earned that advantage via their performances, especially their tremendous run of 15 unbeaten games against South African opposition.

Most of the Lions players have been let go by other franchises or picked up from other unions, so you have to credit their hard work and improvement. Guys like Andries Coetzee and Courtnall Skosan were playing for Tuks in 2012/13, while Franco Mostert was also part of that side and nobody has worked harder for their Springbok opportunity, so I’m sure he’ll take it with both hands.

A guy like Ross Cronje has worked really hard on his game, he’s been the second-choice at the Lions a lot of the time, but he kept his belief and keeps producing the goods, so his selection is also fully deserved.

It was really pleasing to see Warren Whiteley appointed as the new Springbok captain, he’s a really honest player and always totally committed on the field. You can never accuse Warren of shirking anything, whether that be in terms of workload or skill.

He was with the Sharks as a junior and was a very explosive, impact player who could really cause damage in the wide channels in the last 20 minutes. He has become a dominant captain who epitomises all that his Lions team stands for in terms of culture.

Warren is a superb lineout option and also has safe hands at the back, which is important because it’s vital these days for eighthmen to be able to counter-attack. He brings his Sevens skills to bear.

His journey to the Springbok captaincy has not been easy, he has worked so hard to get there and thoroughly deserves the honour.

The Springboks are heading into a phase of more inclusive leadership, Warren will take notice of the opinions around him and has great empathy. But he showed when he first came into the Springbok group in 2014 that he is strong enough to have his own ideas, he knows the path forward and will not just follow the party line, he will make sure he drives his own opinions. He’s also a great communicator, with the coaches and the playing group.

I wish him all the success he deserves and wouldn’t it be nice for him to have the Rugby Championship trophy in his hands in October?

And Duane Vermeulen playing at seven will definitely work, in terms of their defensive system, they want a blindside flank who can do a lot more when it comes to work-rate. I think the eighthman will stay at a lot of the set-pieces and save his energy for attack and ball-in-hand play.

Duane of course will be in France for the Top 14 final with Toulon and will only have a couple of days training with the Springboks after flying back to South Africa, which is why Jean-Luc du Preez has been called up.

The Sharks v Stormers game showed the difference in strength between the two conferences. The Stormers just could not get that final pass or offload away, which, given their style of play, is essential for them.

Under new coach Robbie Fleck, they’re always going to be involved in high-scoring games, but they need to convert their chances. One has to credit the Sharks for their defence holding firm, which bodes well for the Springboks.

I felt there was some improvement from the Bulls, they were far more physical at the gain-line. There’s obviously been a change in the coaching staff there, which possibly produced the improved display, but unfortunately it was not enough against a clever team like the Hurricanes.

The Bulls will regret those soft moments in defence when the Hurricanes were able to slice through them like a knife through butter.

The positives for the Bulls were Duncan Matthews, the young wing, who really took his opportunity well, and the way the forwards and inside backs competed on the gain-line against one of the most physical sides in SuperRugby (How we wish for the days when the Bulls were the most physical side in the competition!).

I was fortunate enough to be at the Cheetahs game against the Sunwolves and it’s always nice when the South African teams come to Tokyo – because of our relationships in the past, I get to catch up and spend some time with them. The smattering of survival Japanese I have helps them in the shops and with the very complicated subway system!

I thought the Cheetahs ran a very smart week in terms of preparation. Often when a team is coming off a massive losing run (nine games), the temptation is to go harder at the players in training. But the Cheetahs did not do much in Tokyo and Franco Smith ensured the players were very fresh, and they reaped the reward.

The match was quite tight until just before halftime when the Cheetahs scored a killer try to leave the Sunwolves 14-0 down.

I was impressed by the way the Cheetahs played, they kept their shape and Raymond Rhule and Sergeal Petersen were always a big danger on the wings.

It was a big event in Tokyo, because they only get to host a handful of games every season. It’s a huge thing for Japan to have a SuperRugby team.

We need a global game and we should get teams from the USA and Canada involved as well, it has to happen eventually. Look at the improvement in the Argentina team from having the Jaguares involved in SuperRugby – they have been exposed to a higher level of rugby and it has paid dividends.

The biggest drawback is the travel for the Sunwolves and Jaguares, they do nearly twice as much travel as anyone else. It’s always a great feeling going to a new country when you win, but the worst thing is then losing.

So I hope they change the conferences, but who knows because there has still been no clarity from Sanzaar.

 

 

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.

 

Bowling questions remain for Proteas 0

Posted on June 19, 2015 by Ken

The successful series against the West Indies did answer a few questions about the Proteas as they head into the World Cup, but a couple of glaring question marks remain – such as why the bowlers insist on banging the ball in halfway down the pitch so often?

Bowling coach Allan Donald was quoted as saying this week “I’d rather not have that many yorkers at the back end … at the World Cup, we want to be unpredictable in the last 10 overs and that is not going to be about bowling 40 yorkers in the last 10 overs.”

Not bowling yorkers is also becoming predictable, however, for this attack.

While the South African bowlers were generally dominant against the eighth-ranked West Indies – and let’s be honest, their batting was largely woeful – it was alarming to see how exposed the Proteas were once again in the death overs when Andre Russell, Darren Sammy and the tail took the tourists to an unlikely victory in the fourth ODI in Port Elizabeth.

The West Indies top-order was barely a factor through the series, meaning they were under pressure every time they batted; how will South Africa’s attack fare against much stronger batting line-ups at the World Cup, especially if the pitches are flat, without the luxury of early wickets?

Kyle Abbott was particularly disappointing in the series – taking just two wickets for 121 runs, conceded at a rate of 7.33 per over. It was depressing to see someone who had previously shown such skill in finding the blockhole, banging the ball in short and getting regularly smashed – perhaps Donald’s comments have something to do with that? There was surely a message in the second of those Abbott wickets coming from a full, straight delivery that bowled Marlon Samuels at Centurion.

Lady Luck has not been kind to South Africa in previous World Cups, but she tends to favour teams that are tactically astute, hard-working and gifted. The Proteas are certainly dedicated to their craft and in terms of talent we only need to mention AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn, so no issues there.

But while the batting looks so powerful – Rilee Rossouw adding his name into the mix of potential match-winners – their bowling remains vulnerable due to the current strategic thinking and I have a feeling opposing teams will back themselves to chase down whatever target South Africa set by putting them under pressure in the field.

The balance of the team – without a genuine all-rounder – is out, so JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien have to share 10 overs or someone like Vernon Philander or Wayne Parnell has to bat seven.

That fifth-bowler portion will certainly be targeted by the opposition and sides like India and Australia will probably have a go at Morne Morkel and Philander as well.

Immersed in the pressure of a knockout game, how cool can Morkel stay? His display under the pump in Port Elizabeth suggests the portents are not that good, while Philander, at no more than fast-medium pace and generally sticking to line-and-length, could also be vulnerable.

The positives, however, are that South Africa, with Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir, are better than most at taking wickets in the middle overs and there will be no more feared batting line-up at the World Cup.

The bookies are hawking odds of between 3/1 and 13/3 on South Africa winning the World Cup, but they are only second favourites behind Australia – who range from 2/1 to 13/4 to win their fifth title.

There are a million different scenarios that could play out – and South Africa have historically provided the weirdest of those – but I will be hugely frustrated if the Proteas post 350-8 in a semi-final and then lose by three wickets in the final over as Duminy/Behardien travel for 90 runs in their 10 combined overs and Morkel and Philander concede 75 each.

Ryan McLaren or David Wiese are not part of the squad to provide a genuine fifth bowling option and from what we’ve seen from the West Indies series, South Africa are not going to be able to stray too far from their first-choice attack.

Which is not entirely a bad thing. Barring the number seven position, South Africa are a settled combination, going to Australasia with confidence and not many teams will fancy taking them on.

 

Bulls taking Southern Kings seriously after overseas success 0

Posted on March 25, 2015 by Ken

The Southern Kings ensured on their amazingly successful overseas tour that the rest of South Africa will now take them seriously in SuperRugby and that is exactly the attitude the Bulls have been stressing as they head to Port Elizabeth for Saturday’s massive encounter.

The Kings will, of course, have to battle travel fatigue having arrived back from Australia, where they drew with the Brumbies and beat the Force in their last two outings, only this week, but that will be offset by the tremendous lift a capacity crowd at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium will give them.

While the Kings may only have four Springboks, including returning skipper Luke Watson, to the 13 of the Bulls, that’s not what visiting coach Frans Ludeke will be focusing on: Confidence and momentum will be far more important than previous history written on paper.

“I called it at the start of the season that the Kings would not be pushovers and I know their coaches well. They are quality and have great structures. Their achievements are what you want for SA rugby – they put pressure on the overseas sides.

“But we’re looking forward to the contest. It is sold out and that makes it extra special. It will bring the best out of our players on the night and we like that sort of challenge,” Ludeke said this week.

With the Kings having adjusted well to the pace of SuperRugby, especially in defence, the match is likely to be played at Test match intensity and that will suit the Bulls, simply because they have more experience of those sorts of clashes and they have players like Morné Steyn who love to grind out a win.

The Bulls will no doubt stick to the same percentages-based strategy that saw them return to winning ways last weekend against the Cheetahs, but they do have the attacking players to capitalise if the Kings make mistakes under pressure. Jan Serfontein made a highly encouraging first SuperRugby start at inside centre last weekend, while JJ Engelbrecht, Akona Ndungane and Lionel Mapoe provide plenty of pace and finishing ability.

The Kings may be tempted to go all-out attack against the Bulls, but their defence has been so good recently that all they need is a couple of dropped balls to pile pressure on the home side.

For the Bulls, it will be all about making a good start to reduce the amount of help the Kings get from the crowd. They don’t want to be chasing the game and nobody wants to be the first South African team to lose to the Kings, which just increases the pressure if they fall behind.

For the Kings, holding on to the ball for longer periods will be crucial because the Bulls game is all about suffocating the opposition and forcing mistakes. That’s hard to do when you’re the team doing the defending.

In Durban, there could be a major shuffling of the Conference standings if the Sharks lose to the Cheetahs.

The Sharks have won five of their seven matches and are third on the overall log, so there’s certainly no crisis at King’s Park, but they are about to embark on a tough overseas tour and they lost last weekend to the Stormers. So they really don’t want to go on tour on the back of two straight defeats and coach John Plumtree, mindful that his team haven’t really clicked yet this season (apart from massacring the hapless Rebels), has made key changes to his line-up.

Springboks Jannie du Plessis, Ryan Kankowski and Francois Steyn have been part of the furniture at the Sharks, but that could be changing based on the starting line-up for this weekend’s game.

Wiehahn Herbst’s impact at tighthead prop has seen Du Plessis relegated to the bench, with Steyn also dropping down to the substitutes and Riaan Viljoen starting at fullback. Kankowski has disappeared from the match-day 22 completely.

Plumtree said that both Steyn (France) and Kankowski (Japan) were battling to adapt to the greater pace and intensity of SuperRugby after stints overseas.

“Ryan’s not in good form at the moment. We are putting a plan in place for him going forward. I think that he’s still feeling the effects of the Japanese season and just hasn’t come right. Mentally he’s a bit stale, so it’s frustrating for him because he is trying his best but it’s just not working.

“It’s alarming for me because he’s one of our better players, but at the end of the day there are standards and there are consequences for not reaching those standards.”

Plumtree is also concerned over Steyn’s lack of fitness and match sharpness.

“As I said at the start of the season, Frans was coming back from an injury and wasn’t in great condition. So he’s battling to get back to his best. We’ve had long talks and I’m going to be patient with him, but he’s got to be patient as well. We’ll get there, it’s just going to take some time. He was out of South Africa for a while, so he’s just got to rediscover his form and the conditioning that’s necessary for SuperRugby,” Plumtree said.

The cold front that has been causing deluges in the Cape is expected to reach KwaZulu-Natal at the weekend and that could reduce the match to a tighter affair, with the exciting Cheetahs backline struggling to get into the match.

The Sharks pack was on the back foot last weekend against the Stormers, however, and Plumtree will hope the return of the confrontational Jean Deysel to the number seven jersey will provide the physicality and abrasiveness that was missing at Newlands.

Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske was considering changes after the Bulls loss and eight straight games for his bye-less team, but in the end made just one injury-enforced replacement, Coenie Oosthuizen coming in for the greatly-improved Trevor Nyakane at loosehead prop.

The Cheetahs used to be the bogey team for the Sharks, but that was a long time ago, with the Natalians winning the last five games since February 2010.

But having removed the “curse”, the Sharks know they will need to be at their best if they are not to suffer a crucial defeat just before their daunting overseas tour. Already missing a dozen players through injury, they could also lose first place in the Conference to either the Cheetahs or Bulls.

There could also be motion at the top of the overall standings, with the first-placed Brumbies visiting the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday.

It’s an enthralling prospect, with the Reds pitting their desire to move the ball against a Brumbies team that leans heavily on South African tactics, through former Springbok coach Jake White.

Australian media are reporting that the future destination of the Wallabies coaching job could depend on the outcome of the match, with White pitting his wits against Ewen McKenzie.

But the talents of Will Genia, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper and James Horwill will be even more valuable for the Reds, while the Brumbies have the attacking skills of Henry Speight and Jesse Mogg, two excellent game-managers in Christian Lealiifano and Matt Toomua, and plenty of forward grunt in Fotu Auelua, Ben Mowen, Peter Kimlin, Dan Palmer, Stephen Moore and Ben Alexander.

McKenzie has already flagged the efforts of the Brumbies at the breakdown as being largely illegal, which adds spice to the obviously crucial contest between opensiders George Smith, whose contract extension to stay with the Brumbies until the end of the season was confirmed on Thursday, and Reds tyro Liam Gill. DM

Teams

The Sharks (v Cheetahs, Saturday 17:05): Riaan Viljoen, Sean Robinson, Paul Jordaan, Meyer Bosman, Odwa Ndungane, Pat Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Keegan Daniel, Jean Deysel, Marcell Coetzee, Franco van der Merwe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Wiehahn Herbst, Kyle Cooper, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Craig Burden, Jannie du Plessis, Anton Bresler, Lubabalo Mtembu, Charl McLeod, Frans Steyn, Andries Coetzee.

Cheetahs (v Sharks, Saturday 17:05): Hennie Daniller, Willie le Roux, Johann Sadie, Robert Ebersohn, Raymond Rhule, Burton Francis, 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, Caylib Oosthuizen, Ligtoring Landman, Frans Viljoen, Tewis de Bruyn, Francois Brummer, Ryno Benjamin.

Southern Kings (v Bulls, Saturday 19:10): George Whitehead, Sergeal Petersen, Waylon Murray, Andries Strauss, Ronnie Cooke, Demetri Catrakilis, Shaun Venter; Luke Watson, Wimpie van der Walt, Cornell du Preez, David Bulbring, Steven Sykes, Kevin Buys, Bandise Maku, Schalk Ferreira. Replacements: Hannes Franklin, Grant Kemp, Rynier Bernardo, Jacques Engelbrecht, Nicolas Vergallo, Marcello Sampson, Siviwe Soyzwapi.

Bulls (v Southern Kings, Saturday 19:10): Jürgen Visser, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Lionel Mapoe, Morné Steyn, Jano Vermaak, Pierre Spies, Arno Botha, Deon Stegmann, Juandré Kruger, Flip van der Merwe, Frik Kirsten, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Morné Mellet. Replacements: Callie Visagie, Werner Kruger, Paul Willemse, Jacques Potgieter, Rudy Paige, Louis Fouchè, Bjorn Basson.

Other fixtures: Hurricanes v Force (Friday 9:35); Waratahs v Chiefs (Friday 11:40); Crusaders v Highlanders (Saturday 9:35); Reds v Brumbies (Saturday 11:40).

Byes: Stormers, Blues, Rebels.

 http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-04-19-superrugby-preview-bulls-must-take-kings-clash-by-the-horns/#.VRKar_mUde8



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