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Ken Borland



Leopard Creek 0

Posted on July 05, 2017 by Ken

 

The elusive, mysterious and secretive African Finfoot

The elusive, mysterious and secretive African Finfoot

Leopard Creek has recently been rated amongst the top 100 golf courses in the world by the prestigious Golf Digest magazine and it is surely the wildest top-class golf course in the world, situated as it is alongside the Kruger National Park.

The Crocodile River forms the northern boundary between Leopard Creek and the Kruger National Park and the back nine runs along the river, offering tremendous sightings of all the animals and birds made famous by one of the largest game reserves in the world.

A channel runs off the Crocodile River and flows right in front of the clubhouse, making the verandah of this opulent building an ideal spot for bird and animal spotting. Unfortunately the clubhouse is also extremely hard to access for the rank and file visitor to Leopard Creek, but the good news is that there is a little service road that runs along this channel for a hundred metres or so, before turning up the hill to the 10th tee.

Shaded by luxuriant riverine trees, the road passes right by the water and I always make a point of taking a quiet stroll along this area. It has always seemed to me to be a perfect spot for African Finfoot – which Roberts describes as favouring “quiet, wooded streams and rivers flanked by thick riparian vegetation and overhanging trees” – the very description of my favourite part of Leopard Creek.

And so, on my eighth visit to this special place outside Malelane for the Alfred Dunhill Championship, I finally got my Finfoot.

There in this shady channel I saw the bright orange legs first as the bird stood on the bank and then went into the water, gliding stealthily to the other side of the river.

A hippopotamus was contentedly passing the day between this channel and the main Crocodile River, while a Brownhooded Kingfisher called from high up in the trees and a Malachite Kingfisher hunted from low down on fallen branches close to the water.

Heuglin’s Robin, one of my favourites, also hangs around this area.

Coming back up out on to the golf course, a series of dams is in front of you between the ninth, 18th and 10th holes, with Lesser Striped Swallow flying over and African Pied Wagtail patrolling the banks.

Heading backwards through the front nine, Blackbacked Puffback is calling away and Blue Waxbill are in a sapling on the side of the ninth fairway.

The seventh hole, a par-three, shares a dam with the fifth hole, fringed by Fever Trees, and Spottedbacked, Southern Masked and Thickbilled Weavers were all nesting in the same specimen of this archetypal tree of tropical wetlands, from which gin and tonics (no doubt consumed in large quantities on the verandah of the clubhouse) originated.

Along the stream feeding this dam, a Giant Kingfisher was eating a good-sized fish, while a Greenbacked Heron was flying upstream.

Anywhere on the course, you are likely to see Whitebacked Vultures soaring overhead and Purplecrested Louries flying between patches of thicker bush. Whitefaced Duck are also often flying over.

But the 13th is the signature hole of Leopard Creek, not just because of its great design but mostly because of the dazzling vista it provides over the Crocodile River just beneath the elevated green and Kruger Park just across the way.

Charl Schwartzel when the going was still good

Charl Schwartzel when the going was still good

While sitting there on the final day and watching Charl Schwartzel’s challenge implode in the face of young Brandon Stone’s brilliance, I was able to admire Great White Egret, Purple Heron, Grey Heron, Black Crake, Egyptian Goose, Whitefronted Bee-Eater, African Elephant and Nile Crocodile along the river.

Away from the golf course, Leopard Creek is in an area of typical dense bushveld savanna with Forktailed Drongos, sometimes even perching on low aloes, ruling the day and Spotted Dikkops, marching around the parking lot, at night.

 

 

 

 

Where is Leopard Creek?

 

Sightings list

Forktailed Drongo

Spotted Dikkop

Impala

Bushbuck

Whitefaced Duck

Blackeyed Bulbul

Little Swift

Hippopotamus

Brownhooded Kingfisher

Malachite Kingfisher

African Finfoot

Heuglin’s Robin

Whitebacked Vulture

Lesser Striped Swallow

African Pied Wagtail

Blackbacked Puffback

Blue Waxbill

Spottedbacked Weaver

Southern Masked Weaver

Thickbilled Weaver

Giant Kingfisher

Grey Lourie

Greenbacked Heron

Yellowthroated Sparrow

Nile Monitor

Purplecrested Lourie

Great White Egret

Purple Heron

Grey Heron

Black Crake

Egyptian Goose

Whitefronted Bee-Eater

African Elephant

Nile Crocodile

Sombre Bulbul

Pintailed Whydah

 

Focus on the overseas-based players as Springbok selection draws near 0

Posted on May 10, 2017 by Ken

 

It is a rugby truism that any coach stands or falls by his selections and Allister Coetzee’s mind will be rapidly focusing on who will represent the Springboks in the three Tests next month against France, the bulk of whom will surely be invited to the final training camp from May 20-22.

And when the first Springbok squad of 2017 is selected towards the end of the month the focus will once again be on the overseas-based players. But SA Rugby, who have done their coach precious few favours since negotiations with him began in 2015, have put him on the back foot in this regard with their new ruling that, from July 1, only players with 30 Test caps can be chosen from overseas.

If Coetzee had to just choose the most in-form team from SuperRugby then a backline could run on to Loftus Versfeld on June 10 with less than 50 caps, which a coach, on as shaky ground as he is, is highly unlikely to gamble on. The form Super Rugby backline would probably be Bosch-Mvovo-Mapoe-Odendaal-Skosan-Jantjies-Cronje.

So it seems inevitable that Coetzee will call on overseas-based players, especially amongst the backs.

Jan Serfontein is on his way to France and only has 26 Springbok caps at the moment, so he will not be eligible for the Rugby Championship. Should Coetzee pick him anyway against France knowing that he won’t be part of the plans for the rest of the year?

Willie le Roux has been playing with typical enthusiasm for Wasps and is likely to be in the picture at fullback, but Coetzee will be curbing the development of Curwin Bosch by not selecting him against France and instead letting him play in another World Junior Championship for the SA U20s.

Bosch has been one of the standout players in SuperRugby and has come through the ranks having been tipped as a future Springbok star after his exploits with the SA U20s last year. He will surely be involved in the 2019 World Cup, and could quite possibly be needed during this year’s Rugby Championship, so why not get him involved now? Let him play at fullback where he will have more time to settle at senior international level.

Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen, Morne Steyn and Ruan Pienaar are all still playing well overseas, but the general feeling amongst rugby observers is that it is time we moved on from these superstars, particularly since none of them are likely to be around for the 2019 World Cup. Nevertheless, Coetzee is a desperate coach trying to avoid the axe, so don’t be surprised if he calls on some of these elder statesmen.

While there is probably more depth at forward, veteran hooker Bismarck du Plessis is almost certain to be summoned to play the role of a general in the tight five, and playing the French at the end of their gruelling season with two of the Tests being played on the Highveld should produce open rugby and encourage Coetzee to pick players suited to a free-flowing game plan like Warren Whiteley, Siya Kolisi, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Thomas du Toit, Coenie Oosthuizen, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Sikhumbuzo Notshe.

But the new 30-cap ruling on overseas players will also hurt Coetzee at forward. There is a hint of lawlessness in the way certain agents are shipping their players off overseas these days, so some tightening probably is necessary, but a hard-and-fast arbitrary number like 30 is not in the Springboks’ best interests.

Someone like Saracens tighthead prop Vincent Koch is playing unstoppable rugby at the moment, but he has only nine caps and is ineligible after July 1. If a couple of tightheads get injured during the Rugby Championship, how desperate will Coetzee be to select him? He may be forced to go back to Jannie du Plessis.

Ferocious flank Marcell Coetzee is in a similar position, stranded on 28 caps and currently out of action after another knee injury.

Instead of an inflexible rule, it should be left up to the national coach and Coetzee has already expressed his preference for locally-based players unless there is no viable option in a position, which is how it should be.

Hopefully the boring predictability of SuperRugby these days – those playing SuperBru will know this well – will give way to a thrilling Springbok resurgence next month, but there are numerous selection concerns for Allister Coetzee.

The rapid returns of Pat Lambie, Damian de Allende and Juan de Jongh to their best would help, but the lack of in-form options at scrumhalf is also an obvious worry. But let’s hope that the natural flair, tremendous tenacity and game-breaking ability of Faf de Klerk is not ignored. Not blooding Curwin Bosch will be a bad enough waste of talent.

 

 

 

Chilling with the golfers & the wildlife at Leopard Creek’s 13th 0

Posted on December 12, 2016 by Ken

 

With the Crocodile River and the Kruger National Park forming its one boundary and its excellent design, the 13th hole at Leopard Creek, outside Malelane, is surely one of the best holes in world golf.

A 505-metre par-five, an elevated tee shot has to cross a stream that splits the fairway, while avoiding a well-placed bunker on the right of the landing zone. With the fairway sloping right-to-left, and with the stream curving around to run the rest of the length of the hole down the left, any drive that goes left will land up in the water hazard.

If the first shot is successful, a big choice then awaits as to whether to take on the green, which hangs 32 metres above the Crocodile River and is protected by three bunkers and a pond, as well as thick grass behind the green.

Once on the putting surface, there is a wonderful view over the Crocodile River and into Kruger National Park, with Hippopotamus, Elephant, various antelope, Warthog and numerous different bird species almost always spotted.

Brandon Stone, who won last weekend’s Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek with a superb 22-under-par total of 266, the second-best winning score at the event, certainly rates the 13th hole very highly.

“That’s my favourite hole in the world, without even exaggerating one little bit, it really is special. The fact is it’s not just a location; the actual hole’s design itself, I think it’s a really tricky tee-shot. You’ve got to really hit a good tee-shot to hit that fairway.

“And then if you hit the fairway it’s still not an easy par-five green to get into. I mean nine times out of 10, I’ll actually lay up; I’ve even written on my book, if it’s anything more than a six-iron, it’s not even worth going at because that green is just so tricky to hit; you just can’t even see the left side.

“So I think if I can play that hole under-par for the week, I’ll be happy, because I think a lot of other guys are going to get a little bit too greedy and it’s going to come and bite them a little bit. And then if they go over the back, something else could bite them,” Stone said before going eagle-bogey-birdie-birdie on the hole.

On the final day, I watched two three-balls play the hole and the scores amongst those six golfers ranged from Keith Horne’s eagle to a couple of sevens by Bryce Easton and Pablo Larrazabal.

It’s a classic risk-and-reward hole designed by Gary Player and although 13 golfers over the four days made double-bogey or worse, at least they didn’t fall foul of the two-metre long crocodile that was lurking inside the pool next to the green!

It was also the hole when Stone finally closed the door on Charl Schwartzel in the final round, making birdie while the defending champion wasted a superb drive by finding a greenside bunker, taking two shots to get out and finishing with a bogey that left him five behind.

As captivating as the golf is, the view from the green into Kruger National Park tears you away and even the competitors linger a bit, the joy of spotting something special undoubtedly lifting spirits in a place that is often brutally hot and was 40 degrees in the final round.

The next day, while driving through Kruger, exactly opposite the 13th, perhaps 200 metres from the river, I came across a family of Wild Dog, just showing what special potential sightings are there.

 

Foreigner coach idea not discounted by Saru, but Coetzee still favourite 0

Posted on December 05, 2015 by Ken

 

The idea that a foreigner could succeed Heyneke Meyer as the coach of the Springboks was not discounted by South African Rugby Union (Saru) president Oregan Hoskins on Friday, but a strengthened emphasis on transformation means Allister Coetzee surely remains the hot favourite to take over the poisoned chalice.

Meyer’s dignified exit from the role means Saru have a week in which to hunt down his successor and, with former Stormers coach Coetzee and current Lions mastermind Johan Ackermann the only realistic local candidates, speculation has been rife that the Springboks might have their first overseas coach.

“Yes, a foreigner is an option. We shouldn’t rule out anyone because we want best for South Africa, so we have to consider all the possibilities. There were 13 foreign coaches in charge at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, that’s the way things are going in rugby,” Hoskins said at Saru House in Cape Town on Friday as he addressed media about the Springbok coaching position.

John Plumtree and John Mitchell are the leading candidates in terms of overseas-born coaches, with both of them having led South African franchises in SuperRugby.

But Mitchell is likely to have a long list of demands – such as a four-year contract and being able to choose his own support team – which has been a sticking point in his negotiations to take over the Stormers coaching role.

Plumtree coached the Sharks for four years from 2008, winning two Currie Cup titles but generally under-performing in SuperRugby. Following his dismissal by the Sharks, the New Zealander became the Ireland forwards coach, before joining the successful Hurricanes side as an assistant in this year’s SuperRugby competition.

Former All Black Wayne Smith, a visonary attack coach for New Zealand’s 2011 and 2015 World Cup triumphs, has also been mentioned as a candidate but, like Mitchell and Plumtree, he would appear to be more likely to be involved as an assistant.

Coetzee, the backline coach in the Springboks’ 2007 World Cup win, has always been the favourite to succeed Meyer, having controversially lost out in 2008 when Peter de Villiers was appointed, but what has certainly caused his stock to rise were Hoskins’ comments that transformation would be a priority for the next coach of the national team.

“For the next four years, transformation will be key for us – we signed an agreement with Sascoc and the government. It has been Saru’s policy that the leadership doesn’t interfere in team selection, but we might have to look at that. It’s very difficult to have Saru interfering in team selection, but if policy is not implemented, then we would address that discreetly and find solutions. Anybody applying for Bok coach needs to know transformation is at the top of the agenda – otherwise don’t apply,” Hoskins said.

An overseas coach would probably struggle with the implementation of such transformation policy, while it is an area in which Coetzee, a former scrumhalf star in non-racial rugby, excelled during his time in Cape Town, while still guiding them to four appearances in the SuperRugby knockout phase as well as two Currie Cup titles.

Other favourites of the South African rugby public are Nick Mallett, who has however said he does not want to return to coaching, Robbie Deans, who, like Coetzee is currently coaching in Japan, and Ackermann.

The viewpoint of those involved in making the decision, however, would seem to be that Ackermann needs to gain more experience and win trophies with the Lions over the next four years.

Coetzee as head coach with a high-profile overseas assistant, and the involvement of Saru rugby general manager Rassie Erasmus, would appear to be what the governing body are currently angling for ahead of the expected announcement of the new Springbok management next Friday.

 

 



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