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Ken Borland

John McFarland Column – Defence and touring are the talking points 0

Posted on March 30, 2017 by Ken


Two of the main talking points among South African SuperRugby followers at the moment are the apparent slackening in the defence of the local franchises and the resting of players for the away matches against the Jaguares and Sunwolves.

Questions have been raised about the defence of the South African franchises, especially after the Bulls leaked six tries against the Blues in Auckland last weekend. But it’s not just the Bulls – there are a lot more tries being scored this year in general.

The reason is that over the last year the attack has gone a lot wider and there are more players behind the ball. Sure, the rules have changed a bit, like the tackle law favouring more offloads, but the game has changed over the last year with people more willing now to leave forwards in the wide channels.

Most teams now play 2-4-2 or 1-3-3-1 with their forwards spread out across the field, and we are seeing more loose forwards standing in the backline.

In terms of the tries the Blues scored against the Bulls, we often saw two forwards in the outer extremities running against backs. When you have a big man on a smaller man, you’re more likely to be able to get an offload away. The Blues were able to score either because the Bulls simply ran out of numbers or they were able to effect excellent offloads by having support players behind the ball.

Three or four years ago, teams would have their forwards in two pods of four, but now they leave them in channels across the field and you will often see a hooker or back-row forward in the 15-metres-from-touch zone. The All Blacks have been doing this for the last five years and England did it between 2000 and 2003.

The reason it’s being done is because it’s now been proved, thanks to every player being fitted with a GPS that measures how many metres they have run and at what speed, that a lot less energy is used if the forwards are spread across the field than if they follow the ball. That’s how this new trend has evolved.

I actually thought the quality of the Bulls defence was very good in the first half, but they were found out in the second half when they just ran out of steam, too much juice had been taken out of their legs. That meant the Bulls’ backs and wings were always in a numbers situation, they could not get their width back and get back into line, so they were always under pressure.

To be fair though, the try from the restart was because at the kickoff you usually leave players back – the three outside backs and the scrumhalf on the chip-kick – and with four players out of the defensive line you will be vulnerable. But it was a good try and the Blues’ first try also featured fantastic offloads.

It’s difficult to stop offloads in the wide channels because you’re also dealing with footwork because of all the space available out there.

We always faced these same difficulties against New Zealand sides and some days we were more successful dealing with them than on others. The keys are a high level of conditioning, especially amongst the forwards, and to work hard at the breakdown. If you can’t get tacklers over the ball to slow it down, then the opposition just gets quick ball and quicker ball, and momentum, and then it’s difficult to set a defensive line. That’s what happened to the Bulls and it put Jamba Ulengo under real pressure on the wing.

But Pine Pienaar is an experienced defensive coach, now in his fourth year in the job, and he will be very aware of all this and will know how to fix it. After all, the Blue Bulls made the Currie Cup final last year and you don’t get there without having a good defence.

Handre Pollard had a better game and I’m looking forward to him coming through, he’s going a level up every week.

But it’s an horrendous draw for the Bulls to have all those away games up front, it’s the hardest draw in Super Rugby because you can never get on the front foot. Even a brilliant coach like John Plumtree was let go by the Sharks in 2013 after that sort of draw, and Allister Coetzee also had a season starting with numerous away games with the Stormers.

So it can happen that you get on a downward spiral. Super Rugby is such a tough competition that you always go through crises, but it’s how you deal with them that counts.

There have been suggestions that South African teams are concentrating more on attack to the detriment of their defence, but they will always get enough time during the week to work on their defence, that will never change. Generally teams train for 50 minutes on the Monday, then Tuesday is virtually a full session, the major day for defence, with contact. Then on Thursday attack will be the focus, but it’s not true that teams are concentrating too much on attack!

Each coach will have equal time to work within that on their area, teams split their time evenly between attack and defence.

In terms of weakened teams going to play the Jaguares in Argentina, that would have been pre-planned. Teams have to rest their frontline players in accordance with the Saru guidelines and it’s a helluva trip. You leave on the Sunday morning, flying 10-11 hours to Sao Paulo, where you have a three-hour wait before flying for four hours to Buenos Aires, only arriving on Monday afternoon, so you can’t train then. Teams will have a light practice on the Tuesday, with just one major session on the Thursday.

And coming back from Argentina is even worse!

What coaches like Johan Ackermann and Franco Smith have done is look at their next games and those have been vital, the problem with travelling to Argentina is always the game after that one, but that’s just the nature of the competition.

Singapore is also 10 hours away and it’s very humid and hot there. The Stormers took it as a chance to get some fringe guys some rugby.

Teams are merely following medical advice on how to keep their players fresh and get their best rugby out of them, plus players are more susceptible to ailments on these long trips.

The Lions proved last year that you need home advantage to win SuperRugby, but they needed to be at their best in the knockout games, hence their decision to rest players for their last round-robin game in Argentina.



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.

60% Sharks stutter into playoffs 0

Posted on July 18, 2016 by Ken


The Cell C Sharks operated at about 60 percent of what will be required from next week as they stuttered to a 40-29 win over the Sunwolves at Growthpoint Kings Park in Durban on Friday night to seal their place in the Vodacom SuperRugby playoffs.

They were far from the well-oiled machine coach Gary Gold wanted them to be in their last league game before the knockouts and, for much of the match the bottom-placed Sunwolves actually had the scent of a massive upset win in their nostrils.

The Sharks only led 21-19 at halftime and the advantage was only 28-22 going into the last 10 minutes, before flyhalf Garth April finally made an impact by scoring himself and setting up a first SuperRugby try for replacement fullback Curwin Bosch.

While the Sharks held on to the ball and used their forwards to lay the platform, they looked good and two tries in the first seven minutes came after the pack had driven well.

Tighthead prop Coenie Oosthuizen barrelled over for the opening try and then scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer ran off the base of a maul, centre Andre Esterhuizen stepped outside his marker and went straight through the gap, allowing wing Lwazi Mvovo to have an easy run-in for the second try.

But the Sunwolves then began dominating possession as the Sharks became loose and error-prone. Although they initially struggled to breach the staunch Sharks defence, with nearly 70% of the ball the visitors were able to bend and stretch it with clever play and eventually break through.

Their first try came from a nifty set-piece move as flank Liaki Moli soared high at the back of a split lineout and then passed the ball straight to scrumhalf Kaito Shigeno, who ran straight through the gap to score untouched.

Flyhalf Yu Tamura converted and then, in the 21st minute, he put a clever chip over the defensive line. It was a tricky bouncing ball for fullback Rhyno Smith, but he gathered well and had seen the space, launching a great counter-attack, good hands by forwards and backs getting the ball to captain JP Pietersen, who beat the last man to score the Sharks’ third try.

But battering ram centre Mifiposeti Paea then barged his way over for a try and completed a top-class individual first-half performance by making a fantastic break from his own 22, lock Faatiga Lemalu dotting down from close range after several phases to ensure the Sharks only took a two-point lead into the interval.

The Sharks started the second half like a team with a renewed purpose as Oosthuizen produced a bullocking run and a fabulous offload, hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle providing a slick ball out wide and Esterhuizen a determined finish.

April continued a great run of successful kicks at goal with the conversion to give the Sharks a 28-19 lead, but a Tamura penalty cut that to 28-22 on the hour.

The Sharks made life hard for themselves by not looking after the ball at the breakdown and an anxious last 10 minutes awaited the Kings Park faithful before April made up for all his defensive failings with two moments of magic.

Outside centre Pietersen played a big role in April’s try with a lovely run after the flyhalf’s initial dart before a superb offload back to April, who rode a tackle to get over the line.

April’s precise chip over the top set up Bosch for his try, which would have secured a bonus point for the Sharks were it not for the reaction from the Sunwolves.

April had a kick charged down, leading to a loose ball which went to replacement scrumhalf Yuki Yatomi, who put the Sunwolves on attack with a lovely break, Paea finishing off to take the bonus point away.

But a Sharks team that lacked spark and accuracy scarcely deserved anything more than a scrappy victory.


Sharks: Tries – Coenie Oosthuizen, Lwazi Mvovo, JP Pietersen, Andre Esterhuizen, Garth April, Curwin Bosch. Conversions –April (5).

Sunwolves: Tries – Kaito Shigeno, Mifiposeti Paea (2), Faatiga Lemalu. Conversions – Yu Tamura (3). Penalty – Tamura.

Bulls romp to victory because of aggressive defence 0

Posted on July 11, 2016 by Ken


The Vodacom Bulls overwhelmed the Sunwolves 50-3 in their SuperRugby match at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, running in seven tries without reply, but it was more because of their aggressive defence than any scintillating attacking play that the bonus-point win was recorded.

The Sunwolves had enough of the ball, especially in the second half, to have troubled the Bulls, but the home side, probably playing their last match at Loftus Versfeld this season, were fired up in defence and dominated the gain-line, as well as scrambling well and generally looking eager to make an impression.

The attacking work of the Bulls was by no means bad, but at times there was a lack of fluency and a few mistakes as well.

But it was obviously a pleasing evening for the Bulls as they kept the pressure on the Sharks for the last South African qualifying place, gaining a two-point lead over the KwaZulu-Natalians ahead of their crunch game against the Cheetahs in Durban.

It took the Bulls 12 minutes to break down the defence of the Sunwolves, who were fortunate not to be reduced to 14 men early on when outside centre Derek Carpenter received the benefit of the doubt for a trip and was not yellow-carded.

The Bulls’ efforts to bash away at close quarters were nullified by the Sunwolves spoiling their breakdown ball and tackling bravely, and the opening try eventually came when the Bulls were able to exploit the wide open spaces from deeper out. The Sunwolves cleared their lines with a kick, but Jesse Kriel, whose play at fullback was a breath of fresh air compared to his fettered efforts in midfield, took a quick lineout and wing Jamba Ulengo produced a great run from 58 metres out, beating several defenders and then popping the ball up in the tackle to flank Lappies Labuschagne, who was up in support and able to go over for the try.

Unlike the Bulls, the Sunwolves were able to get points from their first visit to the 22, as flyhalf Yu Tamura kicked a penalty after scrumhalf Piet van Zyl spent too long on the wrong side of a ruck.

Bulls flyhalf Francois Brummer, whose kicking game was sharp, added an 18th-minute penalty to his earlier conversion and would eventually finish with a five-from-six record with three more conversions.

The Bulls crossed the tryline again in the 21st minute as Van Zyl detected the space and launched a great counter-attack. Labuschagne was once again up in support and he sent centre Dries Swanepoel over for the try.

Labuschagne was all over the field, linking, tackling and winning turnovers, which suggests his move to Japan after Super Rugby is going to be a major blow for the Bulls. In the 27th minute, he was stopped just short of the line, but fellow flank Jannes Kirsten was on hand to pick up the ball and drive over the line (24-3).

It was one-way traffic in the first half and the Bulls grabbed a fourth try before the break as the Sunwolves tried to run their way out of the 22 – spurning the big boot of fullback Riaan Viljoen – and the ball went to ground in the backline. Brummer pounced, kicked through and had an easy path to dotting down, his conversion making the halftime score 31-3.

The scent of a real thrashing was in the air early in the second half as Van Zyl went on another jet-propelled dash through the defence, captain Adriaan Strauss finishing the move with a bullocking run.

The Sunwolves were 36-3 down, but they did not run out of gas, to their credit. Surviving on scraps up till then, they certainly stretched the Bulls defence in the second half and coach Nollis Marais will be fuming over the penalty count.

But the Bulls are the team with the best tackling success rate in the competition and they kept the Sunwolves out, before adding the finishing touches to their win with two late tries, both by wing Travis Ismaiel.

The Bulls are a skilful side when they get it right and there were some lovely hands involved in the first try, especially a brilliant, long, flat pass out wide from centre Burger Odendaal to Ismaiel.

The Sunwolves then went back on attack but, to their immense disappointment, a grubber through was tidied up by replacement fullback SP Marais, who then broke through and released Ismaiel on a 55-metre open run-in to the line.

The outstanding work-rate of Labuschagne meant he fully deserved the man of the match award, but the other star players were the eighthman Renaldo Bothma, who was at the forefront of smashing the Sunwolves back, and Van Zyl, who sparked much of the attacking play.

Pierre Schoeman’s first start in the number one jersey was also impressive, showing he can ably stand in during the absence of Trevor Nyakane and Lizo Gqoboka through injury, while the midfield pairing of Swanepoel and Odendaal also rose to the occasion.


Vodacom BullsTries: Lappies Labuschagne, Dries Swanepoel, Jannes Kirsten, Francois Brummer, Adriaan Strauss, Travis Ismaiel (2). Conversions: Brummer (4), Tian Schoeman (2). Penalty: Brummer.

SunwolvesPenalty: Yu Tamura.

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