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Ken Borland



Sharks surprise nobody but nearly unhinge the Lions 0

Posted on July 22, 2017 by Ken

 

Not many people, least of all the Lions, will have been surprised by the Sharks bringing an intensely physical, in-your-face approach to their SuperRugby quarterfinal at Ellis Park on Saturday, but it so nearly unhinged the home side, the overwhelming favourites.

In the end, the Lions had to be bailed out by a phenomenal penalty kick by wing Ruan Combrinck, who slotted the ball over in the 78th minute from six metres inside his own half and 10 metres from touch, to make the final score 23-21.

Combrinck did not have much opportunity in the match, thanks to the Sharks’ swarming defence swallowing up practically all the space on the field, but he showed that he is a person who thrives on the big moment.

“It’s just Ruan’s character that he’s always looking for opportunities and the big moments, he’s normally the last one to leave kicking practice, even though we don’t know how many kicks he gets over!” captain Jaco Kriel joked after the nailbiting victory.

“I always look to the touchline to see if the coach is giving any advice, and both JP [Ferreira, defence coach] and Cash [Ivan van Rooyen, conditioning coach] were pointing to the line to set up the lineout, but Ruan already had his tee in his hand, even though he told me he cramped when he missed his previous kick!”

More drama was to follow in the final minute as the Lions received the kickoff and then set up a series of slow-mo pick-and-goes and rucks as they counted down time. The incensed Sharks were screaming at referee Marius van der Westhuizen, who was the epitome of indecision throughout, for holding on, but the Lions refused to concede anything, even though Kriel afterwards admitted that “we nearly lost the ball in that last ruck”.

The Lions roared into Sharks territory from the first kickoff, which lock Stephan Lewies dropped, and showed their aggressive, confident intent as they turned down two penalties at goal to rather set up lineout drives.

The Sharks were also having early problems in the scrum and the Lions’ third penalty came from that set-piece, and this time flyhalf Elton Jantjies went for poles.

The easy kick from just inside the 22 hit the post, however, and it set the tone for an awful kicking display by the incumbent Springbok flyhalf.

Lionel Mapoe was chasing the rebound, though, and for the umpteenth time, lock Etienne Oosthuizen cost his team points as he took the outside centre out off the ball, giving Jantjies an even easier shot at goal which he slotted to give the Lions a 3-0 lead.

The Lions are always intent on playing the game their way, but in the face of such an aggressive defence and the Sharks’ strategy of getting players in-between their backs, perhaps they should have played the situation more than their preconceived tactics.

A case in point came straight after they had opened the scoring as they tried to pass the ball around in their own 22 after the restart, with both Sharks prop Thomas du Toit and outside centre Lukhanyo Am getting intercepts. Am cut inside and then fed flank Jean-Luc du Preez, who freed wing Kobus van Wyk to go racing over in the corner for the first try.

The Sharks were playing the knockout rugby, building their play around the intensity of their pack and defence, and using the boot of flyhalf Curwin Bosch to good effect.

Coach Robert du Preez played in the Currie Cup-winning Northern Transvaal sides of superboot Naas Botha, so it was no surprise to see Bosch using the drop-kick, and he succeeded with one in the 17th-minute, centre Andre Esterhuizen’s powerful run at the flyhalf channel providing front-foot ball and plenty of time for him to stretch the lead to 8-3.

Jantjies then missed a penalty from in front of the poles, after another Sharks scrum infringement, and the sense of unease grew at Ellis Park as the flyhalf then lost the ball in his own half and lock Andries Ferreira knocked on, forcing the Lions to play the ball on the ground and allowing Bosch to kick a penalty (11-3).

Just before halftime, the Lions were on the wrong end of a 50/50 ruck call and another Bosch penalty put the Sharks 14-3 in front at the break, and seemingly in command.

But the Lions came out for the second half playing much more direct rugby, and with a greater focus on hanging on to the ball rather than throwing speculative passes.

Immediately, the pressure shifted on to the Sharks and a couple of offsides calls led to Lewies being yellow-carded in the 46th minute, an important development as the Lions scored two tries, both unconverted, while he was off the field.

The great work of the Lions scrum set up the first try as lock Franco Mostert plunged over the line a couple of phases after the set-piece had the Sharks forwards going backwards; and four minutes later, flank Kriel burst through the weak defence of Bosch to score.

The woeful kicking of Jantjies meant the Lions were still one point behind though (13-14), but just after the hour mark they won a penalty on their own 22 for a high tackle – although it was not the most obvious offence.

Centre Harold Vorster took a quick tap and jinked his way through the disorganised defence, making it well into the Sharks half before he freed Mapoe on his outside for the Springbok to speed over for the try. This time Jantjies converted (20-14).

But the Sharks regained the lead four minutes later.

Ferreira was blatantly offsides at a ruck and the Sharks kicked the penalty to touch to set up the drive, which was collapsed by Mostert. But the Sharks, playing with the advantage, went over the line as scrumhalf Cobus Reinach nipped over from a ruck close to the poles.

But the TMO referral showed that the ill-disciplined Oosthuizen had once again cost his team points, this time by shoving Mapoe to create the gap that Reinach went through.

The Sharks had another chance though, because Mostert was yellow-carded for his earlier offence and the visitors chose a five-metre scrum, where this time they had the edge and eighthman Daniel du Preez scored against the post.

The Bosch conversion made it 21-20 and the lead lasted all the way through until the thrilling final couple of minutes, with Combrinck missing a penalty in the 70th minute.

The Sharks nearly scored in the right corner as Van Wyk, under pressure from Courtnall Skosan, just failed to gather the bouncing ball. The Lions had the throw-in, under severe pressure, five metres from their line, and Akker van der Merwe, having replaced the excellent Malcolm Marx at hooker, threw over the top for Kriel, charging forward on a storming run.

Mapoe gave great support and the Lions were out of their territory and able to win the fateful penalty that gave Combrinck his moment of glory.

 

Pressure is mounting so it’s no surprise Boks are wobbling 0

Posted on August 17, 2015 by Ken

 

There is an old saying in sport that “the closer you get, the harder it is”, so we probably shouldn’t be surprised that the Springboks have had a serious wobble shortly before the World Cup and that coach Heyneke Meyer seems to be feeling the pressure more than ever.

So we might be going into the World Cup on the back of five successive losses for the first time since 2006, or the Springboks might win today in Buenos Aires and end that streak; either way it won’t really matter much come the World Cup because the concerns will still be there.

There have been encouraging performances against Australia and New Zealand, but we still haven’t won, and then last weekend was one of the lowest points in Springbok history, so we actually don’t know whether Meyer has the team on the right track or not.

Which brings me to one of the topics making big news this week, the allegation that Meyer has already signed a renewal to his contract. My understanding is that the report is false; the South African Rugby Union have been in talks with the coach about a possible extension of his term, nothing more. It would beggar belief if they have actually given Meyer the job for the next four years already, given that we have no idea how the Springboks are going to perform in the World Cup; a quarterfinal exit now suddenly looks possible based on the ugly showing in Durban last weekend.

Continuity is an attractive prospect and many people point to how Graham Henry was kept in the role of All Blacks coach despite failing at the 2007 World Cup, and of course ended up winning the title in 2011.

But Henry had won the Tri-Nations for three years in a row prior to the 2007 World Cup, so he was clearly on the right track but just lost a single game in the knockout stage. While Henry had plenty of silverware to show for his CV, sadly Meyer does not.

While I firmly believe Meyer has achieved a lot, keeping us in touch with the All Blacks as they raised their dominance of world rugby to new levels and inculcating a more high-tempo, fluid style of play in the Springboks, he has to be judged on the end goal, which is the World Cup, simply because it is his last chance to actually win something. Even the rankings aren’t on his side, with our drop from second to fifth duplicating what Peter de Villiers (how unsavoury his bitter comments have been) managed to do.

I’m also a firm believer in coaches having a shelf-life with a particular team and South African rugby has always been set up around the four-year cycle of World Cups, no coach has been in the job longer than that.

I think it’s unfair on a lot of players if there is one Springbok coach for eight years, unless he’s won the World Cup, because that’s basically the career-span of the average player these days and a really good talent could be wasted by never getting a chance at international rugby simply because he’s not the type of player the coach wants. There are several stars in the Western Cape who fit that bill and Jaco Kriel of the Lions is also a prime example.

At the moment, it looks as if the old guard of Fourie du Preez, Willem Alberts, Duane Vermeulen, Victor Matfield and Jean de Villiers are going to have to rescue the Springboks’ World Cup campaign and Meyer’s hopes of continuing in the job, but we have no idea whether their superman capes still fit them.

 

West Indies fold to Steyn, but no free pass for SA 0

Posted on March 04, 2015 by Ken

Hashim Amla confirmed he was surprised by how quickly the West Indies folded and Dale Steyn described his bowling as “nothing special”, but there was no way South Africa were merely given a free pass on their way to their crushing innings and 220-run victory at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Saturday.

It took fast bowling of the highest quality from Steyn, the sort of intense, destructive spell that he and so few other fast bowlers are capable of at Test level.

Steyn’s quick mopping up of the West Indies second innings has ensured some extra, much-needed rest for a South African side that was beleaguered by injury during their first Test in four months.

“We’re glad to have an extra one-and-a-half days rest because this felt like a long Test, being the first one we have played in a long time. I was surprised by how quickly the match finished, I didn’t expect to get seven wickets in the session, but the pitch was getting quite difficult to bat on and it was exceptional bowling from Dale. Any team in the world would have found him very difficult to handle today,” Amla said after winning his first Test at home as captain in the most convincing fashion.

“We were standing behind the stumps, AB de Villiers and I, and we could feel that things were going to happen after he hit the left-hander [Leon Johnson] early on. The pitch had quickened up and when Dale gets a sniff he runs through teams, we’ve seen it many, many times before. We’re just glad he’s on our side … “ Amla added.

Steyn had gone wicket-less in the first innings and, although he denied he was particularly striving to make up for it, there seemed a determination and an extra intensity about his performance on Saturday morning.

“I’m never upset as long as we bowl the opposition out and then I’m happy. I thought Vernon [Philander] and Morne [Morkel] bowled beautifully yesterday and even Dean Elgar got a wicket, which made me a bit bummed!

“There was nothing special about today, maybe I was a bit more consistent with my line and length and I got rewarded. Some days you find the edge, other days you go past it, that’s cricket. I deserved it today, but yesterday I didn’t.

“The ball came out nicely and today I got the first edge and then you tend to make the batsman play more and get on a roll,” Steyn said.

The world’s number one fast bowler also gave credit to the fantastic catching behind the wicket, with Alviro Petersen a stand-out at second slip.

For their part, West Indies captain Denesh Ramdin said his team are going to have to show more application if they are going to keep the series alive in Port Elizabeth from Boxing Day.

“We need more application, it was disappointing the way the batsmen got out once they had got starts. It’s very important for us to bat longer sessions, we have to be smart, leave the ball alone, sway away, myself included. We’re up against a very good bowling attack, number one in the world, and they hit very good areas. They don’t give many opportunities and it’s very difficult to get starts on these pitches,” Ramdin said.

In terms of application and skill, the West Indies can do no better than to try and emulate Amla (208) and De Villiers (152), whose record partnership set up South Africa’s impressive victory.

 



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