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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column: Springboks still heading for a very good year 0

Posted on September 28, 2017 by Ken

 

It’s a very important Test for the Springboks against Australia in Bloemfontein on Saturday because victory will take them to six wins out of eight matches and that obviously means they are heading for a very good year.

Heading into the last two home Tests of the year, the good news is that the Springboks have a good chance to finish second in the Rugby Championship. If they win their last two games, then they are heading for a very good year indeed!

But first they need to get through Australia, but they are playing one of the top four teams, so it’s a chance to go up the rankings.

Traditionally the Wallabies have always struggled at altitude – South Africa have won 14 of the last 15 games on the Highveld – but there’s obviously more to it than that. The Springbok forwards were really in control at the back end of the game in Perth, they scored a really good lineout drive try and their scrum was dominant, so those are real positives.

I expect the scrum to go well again and garner penalties like they did at Loftus Versfeld last year and in Perth, and I expect the lineout maul to dominate when in good field positions. Hooker Malcolm Marx remains a helluva talent and the Springboks will definitely produce a better lineout performance. New Zealand have one heck of a competing lineout and it wasn’t the first time they’ve dismantled an opposition lineout and it won’t be the last.

So the Springboks should have different quality ball for the halfbacks and having Ross Cronje back and fit will definitely be a big help for Elton Jantjies.

In terms of any scarring from the 57-0 hammering in Albany, after a big loss the hardest thing is that the confidence takes a knock. It wasn’t the best day for the players or the coaches and they’ve got to regain trust in the system. It’s a good thing that they had a week off to clear the mind and Allister Coetzee needs to look at people who can bounce back and deliver a great performance.

The stakes are so high and there’s such immense pressure to perform at national level that the players will have real feelings of shame. They know how great the support is and how high the expectations are because the Springboks are one of the country’s flagship sporting teams.

It was obviously a great disappointment, but that all goes when they step back on to the training field and they’re back to normality. But there will still be that little bit of doubt in the back of their minds, which is why they need a good performance to erase that.

At altitude, it’s not so important to start well as we saw with the Lions in the SuperRugby semi-final. From 30 minutes onwards, the altitude starts to kick in and take the sting out of the opposition legs.

Test matches are like playing 12 Currie Cup finals in a year, such is their importance that they are live or die, every one of them.

Which is why I feel sorry for Raymond Rhule, who took full responsibility for his performance, but there’s no need to throw him away as a Springbok. In my time on the Springboks staff, we had a player who missed five tackles on the wing and weeks later he was still deeply upset and disappointed. You could see the hurt in his eyes a month later. But he went on to play stellar rugby for South Africa for the next three years, he recovered and became a regular throughout my tenure with the national team.

The players need to know they have the backing of their coaches and sometimes you get players who are immense talents on attack but their defence is not so strong. Then you have to ask: Is he coachable? Does he listen? Does he make the right decisions under pressure? Is his positional play such that he will be in the right place to execute the tackle?

Social media can be quite brutal, everyone has an opinion, but now it can be stated and broadcast far and wide. In the old days the players didn’t have to bother with any of that.

The Handre Pollard situation has also raised plenty of debate and it’s non-negotiable for me. A returning Springbok has to come back into the franchise 23 because the national interest comes first, sometimes coaches have to see the bigger picture.

He is an elite player for the Bulls and has been with them since he was 18, six years, and he has shown great loyalty and produced many good performances. A player of Pollard’s class should slot in seamlessly.

In 2004, I can remember Jake White released Victor Matfield from the Springbok squad and we were in the middle of our Currie Cup campaign at the Bulls, but we accommodated him on the flank against the Lions.

He was man of the match the next weekend against the All Blacks and that was the season South Africa won the Tri-Nations.

It is vitally important that if a Springbok needs game time, then you give it to him, even if it’s off the bench. We always used to play them at the Bulls and the Western Province, Sharks and Free State national squad players were all welcomed straight back into their teams.

John Mitchell has stated how important the Currie Cup is to build towards SuperRugby. Surely the chance to integrate a world-class player in a match situation is very much a bonus for the Bulls?

So for a week he gets to use his key tactical decision-maker in the Currie Cup while preparing for SuperRugby 2018. Surely you would take that any day?

 

 


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.

 



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