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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: In praise of the Crusaders, SuperRugby champions 0

Posted on August 10, 2017 by Ken

 

Congratulations to the Crusaders for winning the SuperRugby final and one can only give them credit for an unbelievable season.

They lost just one game, against the Hurricanes in Wellington, and they are the first team to win the final after flying across the Indian Ocean.

Keeping the Lions to just two tries – even with just 14 men – was a heck of a defensive effort, especially with all the flying they had to do.

But the Crusaders are a very experienced group built on a tremendous forward pack. Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks and Israel Dagg, in the backline, are four world-class players and guys like Matt Todd and Ryan Crotty are really solid players too.

The Crusaders’ set-pieces were very strong and, as predicted, it was a different kettle of fish in the lineouts for the Lions, with Whitelock making some crucial steals, and they negated the lineout drive.

The Lions’ strength is built on forward dominance, at the lineout and scrum, but with four international front-rowers in their squad, the Crusaders stood up very well. They have an international-class tight five, plus Luke Romano off the bench and Kieran Read is one of the best lineout forwards in the world.

You could see how much it meant for the Lions – they really wanted to send off Johan Ackermann on a high – but the red card obviously had a huge effect.

It was the right decision by the officials, there’s no two ways about it.

The decision by Elton Jantjies to send up the high kick would have been because their ball was a bit slow, but then the chaser (flank Kwagga Smith) was sprinting and not even looking at the ball. The rule is quite clear that if you land up under the guy catching the ball – who is now in a very vulnerable position – it’s a red card.

In the Varsity Cup, there is already the rule that if the defending team catches an up-and-under and calls for the mark, then it’s a free kick, which makes teams less prone to try the high kick.

In a lot of situations, you’re dealing with specialists (the wings) doing the chasing and catching, but the problem comes when someone not used to it, it’s not their role, ends up doing the chasing or catching.

But rugby must never lose the contest for the high ball, it’s been part of the game since the 1930s in Ireland when the Garryowen was used in the rain.

If it’s a fair contest and both sets of eyes are on the ball, then all good, but Kwagga probably needed to wait until David Havili had come down before trying to tackle him.

The Crusaders were well in control at that stage, but the Lions are known for their finishing at altitude and it was 14-10 with 14 men in the second half and they were pushing hard.

Defensively, Kieran Read’s brilliant tackle on Elton Jantjies forced the turnover and a 70-metre try as the Lions ran out of width and Ross Cronje had to try and chase the wing; while Read’s own try came when Ruan Combrinck was the last defender at the goalposts, so the Lions were obviously in trouble there.

The Crusaders built up a big enough lead to force Jantjies not to kick for poles, but the Lions need to realise the importance of taking your points in finals rugby. It reminds me of 2012 with the Bulls in New Zealand when we lost 28-13 to the Crusaders in Christchurch. We outscored them two tries to one, but Dan Carter kicked six penalties and a drop goal. That’s always the right mindset in playoffs, especially at altitude because the game can change very quickly.

As the Crusaders coach back then, Todd Blackadder, used to say: “You must take every point,” and the New Zealand side certainly did that in this year’s final.

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.

SuperRugby final a benefit for entire city – Lions CEO 0

Posted on August 02, 2017 by Ken

 

Saturday’s SuperRugby final that the Lions will host at Ellis Park against the Crusaders is going to benefit not just the rugby franchise but the entire city of Johannesburg, according to CEO Rudolf Straeuli.

A sell-out crowd of more than 60 000 has already been confirmed for the showdown as the Lions look to complete their fairytale resurgence by beating the most successful team in SuperRugby history and becoming only the second South African side to win the southern hemisphere franchise competition.

“Hosting the final is going to be a huge benefit for everyone who finds value at Ellis Park. It’s not just the union that benefits, it obviously also helps the Ellis Park Stadium Pty and it’s a huge marketing opportunity for the Lions company and a great honour to host the final. There’s the money from the tickets and hospitality and some extra reward in the form of the prizemoney. None of that was budgeted for, so it’s a bonus.

“But it’s also a big positive for Johannesburg, the whole city, and especially the Ellis Park precinct, all our neighbours. We are really blessed to be able to host such great events, we’ve had the All Blacks here before and the Test against France this year was also a big success,” Straeuli told The Citizen on Tuesday.

The Lions have not only established themselves at the pinnacle of South African rugby, but have also had to manoeuvre themselves out of troubled financial waters in the last five years.

“You can’t take anything away from the team because they are our flagship, and our juniors have done very well too with our Craven Week side being the best and our U21s and U19s winning their competitions last year. But a few years ago we were a business that was having retrenchments. But some staff took pay-cuts and simplicity has been key to our operations.

“We don’t have a big staff for the big area we have to manage and we have had to cut our cloth according to our needs. But there’s a really positive mood and success breeds further success. Plus people like Kevin de Klerk (president) and Altmann Allers (vice-president) are serious businessmen. If we didn’t have them behind us and their business acumen and that of the board, never mind their own money they have put in, then we wouldn’t be here,” Straeuli said.

http://citizen.co.za/sport/sport-rugby/1595200/super-rugby-final-will-be-a-boost-for-joburg/

John McFarland Column – How the Lions turned around their SuperRugby semifinal 0

Posted on August 01, 2017 by Ken

 

 

In the last 45 minutes of their SuperRugby semi-final, the Lions beat the Hurricanes 41-7, which is a phenomenal achievement against the defending champions and a truly top-quality side.

Altitude was certainly a big factor and you could see the Hurricanes fading away, but the way the Lions set up their amazing comeback was highly impressive.

There were things they definitely needed to do better from the first half, starting with their first-phase defence. They were caught out with a simple second-man play from a lineout for the Wes Goosen try, when there were a couple of misreads, and the turnovers in their own half also provided the Hurricanes with position and points.

There was a lot of long kicking at the start of the game and very few contestable kicks, so there wasn’t a lot of counter-attacking either, with both teams playing safety-first rugby, and the Hurricanes generally capitalising on Lions’ mistakes exiting in their own half.

When the Lions carried the ball, they generally went close to the ruck, either in channel one or on the blindside, attacking the pillars. This did not give the Hurricanes defence the chance to rush, and even though the Lions did not get much momentum and made a few mistakes and turnovers, it kept the Hurricanes tight five making tackles, and by the end of the match they were stuffed, the wind had been taken out of their sails.

The turning point in the match came when Jaco Kriel made a steal just before halftime on halfway, when the Hurricanes had first-phase ball from a lineout. He got in over the ball, the Lions won the penalty and they went for position.

The previous time they had won a penalty in a similar position, they went for the tap-and-run which in hindsight was the wrong decision. But it came from the frustration the players on the outside would have been feeling because they weren’t in the game and someone obviously felt the space was there to attack. No player takes a tap just on their own volition, there would have been a call from someone else.

Jaco Kriel is such a warrior, he never gives up and he has a really tough streak, which influences the whole of the team. I felt that important steal totally changed the momentum of the game as it gave the Lions field position which led to the try just before halftime. The Hurricanes forwards just could not fold into position after a couple of lineout drives and in the end Jacques van Rooyen barged over to bring the Lions back into the game.

The Hurricanes had all the possession and territory in the first half, but the second half was all Lions. Their scrum was dominant enough to gain penalties to gain field position in the 22 for lineout mauls.

I felt the Hurricanes yellow card was very harsh. Beauden Barrett definitely rolled away, but the ball squirted out on his side and into his legs. It was definitely a penalty, but with their flyhalf and main general off the field, the Hurricanes fell apart and the game really opened up for the Lions.

They converted their field position into points well and were ruthless in terms of their lineout maul. It takes a fair amount of numbers to stop them setting it up and driving, so that opened up other options for them as well off the lineout.

The big thing though was that the belief was there in the Lions team and you have to also give credit to their whole coaching staff. And Cash [Ivan van Rooyen], their conditioning coach, is their real unsung hero. Against the New Zealand teams, it’s always in the last 20 minutes that they come back so strongly, but the Lions actually dominated the final quarter, which shows they are in tip-top shape.

In terms of defence, it was very difficult to go around the Lions with Andries Coetzee coming into the line very early as the extra man. That does leave them vulnerable at the back, but the Hurricanes weren’t able to get kick-passes or grubbers in behind.

And the Lions scored some really well-worked tries. Especially the one where their centres set things up and their loose forwards finished out wide. Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe have the size in midfield, and then they have the pace of Jaco Kriel and Kwagga Smith out wide to finish.

I thought Franco Mostert was immense and is really starting to look like a world-class lock, and his two consecutive lineout steals in the first half were crucial in keeping the Lions in the game.

The biggest compliment one can pay Malcolm Marx is that he did not lose anything to Dane Coles, who is possibly the best hooker in the world. A long Springbok career lies ahead of Malcolm and we are blessed to have someone of that size starting their international career so early.

In the final, however, the Crusaders will be a totally different kettle of fish to the Hurricanes. They have a number of All Blacks, especially in the tight five, and world-class back-row forwards. They have some of the best players in the world in Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read and Owen Franks, they are second to none and they all play in key areas.

So there’s going to be a lot more pressure on the Lions at the scrum and lineout. While the Hurricanes stayed down against the Lions lineout, which gave them a lot more latitude, the Crusaders will definitely compete.

I thought the Crusaders were very clinical in their semi-final against the Chiefs, even though they also don’t compete much at the breakdown (apart from Ryan Crotty), they concentrate on having numbers of defenders on their feet. That will mean a lot of free ball for the Lions, which is a big risk at altitude.

The key moment in that semi-final was the Tim Nanai-Williams grubber try and a great call by the TMO to cancel out even though Damian McKenzie was shaping for the conversion. It’s important to get those decisions right in matches like that and it was correct.

It’s great that the final will be a sell-out crowd and a great way for Johan Ackermann to finish his tenure at the Lions.

The Lions have now got a lot of belief and confidence and I think they will emerge as the 2017 SuperRugby champions. It has proven nigh-on impossible for a team to win a SuperRugby final outside their own country, never mind crossing the Indian Ocean. I think it will be done at some time, but hopefully not this weekend.

 

 

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.

 

 

Whatever they say, Lions prove travel is hard & territory is vital 0

Posted on July 29, 2017 by Ken

 

Whatever anyone may say, there are still two inviolable truths that apply in rugby – travel is hard and territory is vital – as the Lions proved in their remarkable 44-29 win over the Hurricanes in their SuperRugby semifinal at Ellis Park on Saturday.

It was an incredible victory because the Lions were trailing 22-3 after half-an-hour. Whatever mistakes they made, under the immense pressure of a Hurricanes side that was in their faces, were punished by the visitors, whose every touch turned to gold.

But a try just before halftime, prop Jacques van Rooyen carrying a hapless defender with him as he barged powerfully over the line, gave the Lions hope and, more importantly, showed them how to play in the second half.

The try had come after a penalty was kicked to touch and a couple of lineout drives had the Hurricanes back-pedalling. It was noticeable that flyhalf Elton Jantjies was twice pushed back from over the line when he tried to go it alone, but give the ball to a big, strong forward to carry and it was a totally different story.

The Lions had tried to beat the Hurricanes at their own game in the first half, taking quick tap penalties and spreading the ball wide, and they were being destroyed.

But, to their immense credit, those plans changed in the second half.

There was a much greater emphasis on territory, with the big boots of wing Ruan Combrinck and fullback Andries Coetzee playing a key role, they drove from the lineout and used the set-pieces to get the Hurricanes on the back foot.

As the altitude and travel kicked in, the Hurricanes wilted and they barely fired a shot in the second half, all the momentum going the Lions’ way.

The Hurricanes are absolutely ruthless on turnover or openfield ball and, after Jantjies had kicked an early penalty set up by the forwards, the visitors quickly reminded the Lions of that fact.

A pass from Jantjies missed scrumhalf Ross Cronje on a wraparound move and Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara twice kicked the ball through before winning the race for the touchdown.

But the Hurricanes are also extremely efficient at creating tries and a turnover from impressive eighthman Brad Shields enabled them to do just that in the 11th minute.

It was a disappointing defensive read from the Lions after the lineout, with too many defenders bunched in midfield, allowing flyhalf Beauden Barrett to come roaring through a big hole on the wraparound, and then freeing wing Wes Goosen on the outside for the try.

On the half-hour, there was a particularly poor moment of bad decision-making by the Lions as they were awarded a penalty inside their own half, but instead of kicking to the corner and squeezing the Hurricanes, they played into their hands by taking a quick tap and trying to run.

There was a hint of Cronje being played at the ruck as lock Sam Lousi knocked the ball out of his hands, but there was no doubt about flank Ardie Savea’s finishing ability as he pounced on the loose ball and roared away.

There was an early chance in the second half for the Lions to make amends, as they won a penalty. This time they set the lineout and then a midfield ruck, which created some space on the left. Cronje, who handled with aplomb the obvious pressure there was focused on him at the breakdowns, dived over from a ruck close to the tryline.

Jantjies, who put the disappointment of his poor goalkicking against the Sharks in last weekend’s quarterfinal behind him by nailing a solid six-from-eight against the Hurricanes, added the conversion and suddenly the Lions were just 17-22 behind and one could sense the momentum shift.

If there is one criticism of the Hurricanes side, it would be that they are not the most patient side and, with the Lions bossing territory through the boots of Combrinck and Coetzee, the frustrated visitors tried a dinky little chip kick from their own territory.

It was gathered by Combrinck, who burst into the Hurricanes’ 22 and forced a penalty for offsides. The Springboks are surely going to have to recall the powerful wing now that he is back to his best after injury.

The Lions once again set the lineout and hooker Malcolm Marx carried strongly to force his way over for the try, Jantjies’ conversion coming off the post to leave the scores level at 22-22.

But the kickoffs and exits are such vital parts of the game these days and, when the Lions dilly-dallied after receiving the kickoff, a well-timed counter-ruck by the Hurricanes turned over possession, which was then simply shipped down the backline until there were no more defenders left and outside centre Ngani Laumape was able to cross for the try.

Fullback Jordy Barrett converted, but they would be the last points the Hurricanes scored as the last 20 minutes were one big hiding for the defending champions.

Combrinck again broke clear but was tackled deep inside the Hurricanes’ 22, with flyhalf Beauden Barrett then playing the ball on the ground and being yellow-carded by referee Jaco Peyper. It was such a cynical foul in the red zone that there could be no buts about it, and Jantjies kicked the penalty to close the gap to 25-29.

The Lions then roared back on to attack; their efforts looked a little aimless at times, but at least they kept the ball alive and Cronje eventually found centre Harold Vorster coming through on a good line for the try that gave the Lions the lead for the first time since the fifth minute.

When flank Kwagga Smith misread a ruck for a collapsed maul and was penalised for hands-in, it meant Jordy Barrett would have his fifth and final shot at goal, but crucially he missed and the Lions’ momentum was not broken.

The Lions have one of the best scrums in the competition and they used it in the 73rd minute to destroy the Hurricanes set-piece and provide fantastic front-foot ball for the backs, which Jantjies used to go sniping over for another try, his conversion stretching the lead to 39-29.

It meant the Hurricanes would have to play from their own territory and a long pass from Perenara was duly intercepted by replacement hooker Akker van der Merwe, who was pleased to have Smith roaring up in support just as the attack seemed to be dying, the flank crossing for the final try.

This time there was no conversion from Jantjies, but there was no denying the Lions as they completed their remarkable triumph.

They showed once again that once the tide is with them, when they have the bit between their teeth, there is no stopping them.

Scorers

LionsTries – Jacques van Rooyen, Ross Cronje, Malcolm Marx, Harold Vorster, Elton Jantjies, Kwagga Smith. Conversions – Jantjies (4). Penalties – Jantjies (2).

HurricanesTries – TJ Perenara. Wes Goosen, Ardie Savea, Ngani Laumape. Conversions – Jordy Barrett (3). Penalty – Barrett.



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