for quality writing

Ken Borland



Springboks suffering due to lack of solid structure below them 5

Posted on October 17, 2016 by Ken

 

The Springboks’ humiliating defeat in Durban last weekend was a painful reminder of the gulf in quality that exists between the administration and structure of the game in New Zealand and back here in South Africa, with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen making sure to mention the decision-makers in their rugby when he was asked for the reasons behind their world record equalling run of 17 successive wins.

A solid structure from schoolboys to the Springboks is what is needed for our rugby to remain amongst the best in the world, not yet another overhaul of the national team and their coaches; that’s just treating the symptom, shuffling people around, and does not address the root cause of our problems.

And, as great as next week’s Rugby Indaba sounds – except for the unfortunate two coaches who have their preparations for the Currie Cup final disrupted (another example of Saru’s awful treatment of their flagship competition) – it’s not going to address our real problems either. There might be some good ideas about game plans and what-not, but the coaches and the franchise CEOs do not have the power to change the structural failings in rugby, that lies with the South African Rugby Union and their turkeys who will steadfastly not vote for Christmas.

Below the national sides, there should just be six teams playing fully professional rugby based in the major cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein. And those six unions should have the power in South African rugby, not the eight lesser unions, largely amateurish and as relevant as dinosaurs, which are currently the tail that wags the dog.

Below that, all 14 unions can have semi-professional teams, but the amount of money that can be saved by only having six fully professional teams and by eight economically unviable organisations no longer drawing over R20 million a year in Saru grants could go a long way towards keeping our players in the country.

Just like in New Zealand, talented rugby players must fight for a limited number of professional contracts through their performances at club level, that lead to them playing for their provinces and then being chosen for a Super Rugby deal.

The vast majority of schoolboy players in New Zealand don’t become professional rugby players when they finish their education. They go to university and play rugby there, or play for their local club side while working, which is why so many All Blacks have had interesting occupations like lumberjack, piano mover or, as in the case of Aaron Smith, apprentice hairdresser.

It’s a system that builds character and ensures only the fittest and hungriest players survive to reach the top.

Good schoolboy players in South Africa should be lauded in their school hall and with selection for provincial and national schoolboy teams; not with professional contracts and way too much exposure on television.

There is far too great an emphasis on schoolboy rugby in South Africa and that just creates entitled, spoilt players, wastes a lot of late-developing talent, kills our clubs and also gets in the way of transformation in many cases.

This is not to say that our current Springboks and their management are beyond blame. The All Blacks have a relentless drive to improve on and off the field every day, they see every challenge as a means of getting better.

Do our Springboks and their coaching staff have that same hunger? The same desire to do whatever it takes? Because it will also come down to that if they are going to close the gap with the All Blacks.

Any top professional sportsman worth his salt would turn a record 57-15 hammering at home into motivation to lift their conditioning and skills to new levels.

The South African cricket team has just completed an historic 5-0 series whitewash of world champions Australia, with captain Faf du Plessis saying a culture camp they held before the start of the summer has ensured that they are now playing as a team again and, most importantly, are really challenging each other to be better.

Now that’s the sort of indaba that could be useful for our rugby players and coaches, but the administrators still need to make the major, unselfish changes that will really benefit the game in this country.

 

Titans eager to maintain momentum after bruising start 0

Posted on November 12, 2015 by Ken

 

 

The Titans took a bruise to their pride in their opening RamSlam T20 Challenge loss to the Dolphins, but successive victories have lifted the mood and left them eager to maintain their momentum as they head into a vital weekend.

The Titans travel to Bloemfontein to take on the Knights on Friday night, before returning home to face the Warriors on Sunday at Centurion in a double-header that also features the Dolphins playing the Cape Cobras.

“We weren’t happy with our performance in that first game against the Dolphins, we just didn’t adapt to conditions, we weren’t smart enough. So we’re very happy with our progression through the last two matches, but we’re still playing at only 70% of our capability. We’re executing better game plans and we’re very happy that the workload is being shared in terms of both batting and bowling,” senior batsman Farhaan Behardien said at SuperSport Park on Wednesday.

The inclusion of players like Graeme van Buuren and Lungi Ngidi has helped the change in fortunes, but there is likely to be another shake-up of the team this weekend with the return of all-rounder David Wiese after recovering from a hand injury.

While other captains are stumbling around in the fog when the pressure is on, Albie Morkel can chuckle and consider the luxury of fielding eight batsmen and nine bowlers – five pacemen, a dibbly-dobbler in Behardien, wrist-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi, a slow left-armer in Van Buuren and offie Henry Davids.

“We’re seeing in T20 now that you need eight batsmen, you need that depth if you go five or six down. The last two games, we’ve had enough batting to win and that takes the pressure off Albie and myself, everyone is chipping in. It’s where the game is going and we’ve taken a leaf out of Australia’s book – they have guys like James Faulkner, Mitchell Marsh and Mitchell Johnson; Chris Morris, Albie and David are a wonderful addition to our team. We have three frontline bowlers and three all-rounders with a wealth of experience internationally,” Behardien said.

“There are so many different combinations and it’s a quality 15-man squad. Anyone on their day can perform, we probably have more variety with our bowling than any other team and a lot of guys who love batting under pressure,” Van Buuren said.

 

Excuses flowing fast for frustrated Heyneke 0

Posted on July 27, 2015 by Ken

 

You know a coach is feeling the pressure when he makes 25 excuses in a dozen minutes at his post-match press conference, but you can forgive Heyneke Meyer for being frustrated as his Springbok team have faltered at the final hurdle in successive Tests against Australia and New Zealand.

The Springboks are injury-hit and they are not getting the crucial 50/50 decisions at the moment, but the bottom line is that they have shown a disappointing lack of composure when matches reach the critical final quarter.

They are an inconsistent side and perhaps the abiding feature of the Heyneke Meyer era has been the infuriating ability of his team to play both sublime and mediocre rugby in the same match.

There are, however, enough encouraging signs for Meyer to stop playing the victim and actually start spreading some positive vibes ahead of the World Cup.

There are players of top-class quality spread throughout the team – a seasoned front row and lock Lood de Jager have been outstanding against serious opposition in the last two weeks; there is a multitude of talent at loose forward; Handre Pollard is a gifted flyhalf; a thrilling midfield pairing has come to light; and Willie le Roux and Bryan Habana are a handful for any defence.

A team has seldom dominated the All Blacks in almost every facet of play as much as the Springboks did at Ellis Park last weekend and but for a lack of finishing, they would surely have claimed a second-successive win against the world champions.

That the Springboks are a serious contender for the World Cup is a certainty. With a few experienced players coming back to bolster the team, a semi-final against New Zealand is a mouth-watering prospect (although a final would obviously be better).

A one-off encounter against the All Blacks could certainly go either way judging by their last two meetings with the Springboks.

“South Africa were pretty good today and the game could’ve gone either way. They’ve developed a style of play that is difficult to counter, they have a lot of pace in an exciting backline and brutal forwards. They may be number two in the world, but there’s nothing between number one and number two, as we saw today,” New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said after the game at Ellis Park.

But for the Springboks to have a genuine shot at winning the World Cup, they have to be able to produce their best play for 80+ minutes. They also have to be clinical in taking points from whatever opportunities are presented to them.

Going the distance is the challenge for this Springbok team and perhaps the return of experienced campaigners like Willem Alberts, Duane Vermeulen and Jean de Villiers will add the extra few percentage points they need to get over the line.

“I really thought the plan worked against the All Blacks, we were brilliant at the breakdown and we wanted to play positive rugby.

“I thought we scrummed really well, we have experienced players there, and Francois Louw was superb at the breakdown, the two opensides played really well. But when Flo went off we lost a lot of experience and they started to get quick ball.

“The difference between winning and losing in the last two weeks has been a few millimetres, so we are very close. We’ve played some great rugby and scored some great tries. There are a lot of guys coming back and we need to work really hard and I think we’ll be ready for the World Cup. This team is on the go,” Meyer said.

To prove that, I am really hoping the Springboks can produce the same level of play for 80 minutes and blow Argentina away on August 8 and 15, rather than being dragged down to their level and struggling to beat them.

I really hope we will be seeing the same intent on playing a high-tempo game and putting width on the ball, because the Pumas put enormous pressure on the breakdown, slowing down play and spoiling possession.

By using offloads and putting pace on the ball, the Springboks can avoid the ruck-bottlenecks, stretch the Argentineans and hopefully register emphatic victories, like New Zealand and Australia have done against the Rugby Championship new boys.

 



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