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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.

Snyman & Bulls eager to avoid repeat of last year 0

Posted on October 12, 2016 by Ken

 

Listening to Western Province coach John Dobson talking about the Blue Bulls having all the pressure as favourites in this weekend’s Currie Cup semi-final, it reminds one of the same stage of the competition last year when the Capetonians came to Pretoria and upset the home side.

Bulls lock RG Snyman is well aware of the history and is eager to avoid the same painful result this time around.

“We were in the same situation last year playing against Western Province at Loftus Versfeld and we’d like to change what happened in that game. The way we do that is by not changing what we’ve been doing this season, we have to stick to what we’ve been doing. But the good thing is that this semi-final feels like nothing new, it’s quite a difference playing it now when we’ve all been through another whole Currie Cup season and a season of Super Rugby,” Snyman told The Citizen on Tuesday.

The Bulls have focused on an exciting brand of rugby, but they went down 23-18 to Western Province in last year’s semi-final thanks to the visitors not allowing them any platform or space to play the type of rugby they wanted to produce.

This year they come to Pretoria with a much-less hardened pack and the Bulls youngsters are all a year older and coming into their prime, most notably Snyman, who turned 21 only this year.

“Western Province have a good pack and it will definitely be a physical battle, especially in the set-pieces. But if we can dominate at forward then we should do really well. With the break we’ve had a bit more time to prepare and the team has clicked a bit better through the competition. Hopefully we’ll see that greater experience and better cohesion come through now at the end of the tournament,” Snyman said.

Springbok reserve hooker Bongi Mbonambi will be coming to Loftus, as should prop Oli Kebble and lock JD Schickerling, and the Bulls are going to have to show some real grunt up front to ensure they make the final.

Concerns through the team for Meyer ahead of quadrangular 0

Posted on May 04, 2016 by Ken

 

Fullback and flyhalf are the positions the public is talking about the most, but Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer will be equally concerned about lock, scrumhalf, centre and wing when he announces his squad on Saturday for the quadrangular series with Italy, Scotland and Samoa next month.

Flyhalf is actually one of the positions Meyer can rest easy over, with Morné Steyn making himself a certainty in the number 10 jersey with his great run for the in-form Bulls team.

South Africa are fortunate to have someone as talented as Pat Lambie as back-up, but a host of injuries have robbed Meyer of some key backline players. JP Pietersen, Jaco Taute and Frans Steyn are definitely out for at least the next month, while Juan de Jongh and Zane Kirchner have not played SuperRugby for some time.

That leaves some conundrums when it comes to the midfield combination and who will play fullback.

When Meyer first took over as Springbok coach, he chose Jean de Villiers as an outside centre and, given his polished display in the number 13 jersey in the Stormers’ return to winning ways last weekend, the national captain is likely to play there in the quadrangular series.

The Springbok management have given a big hint that 20-year-old Jan Serfontein is being lined up to make his Test debut inside the skipper as he has been withdrawn from the SA U20 team leaving today for the Junior World Championship in France. Robert Ebersohn has done much to make the Cheetahs serious SuperRugby contenders this year and is also an option but, despite his propensity to tackle way above his weight, he has still missed 31 tackles this season, the joint worst with Blues flyhalf Chris Noakes, according to rugbystats.com.au.

The other option is for De Villiers to play in the number 12 jersey he wore in the second half of 2012 and for JJ Engelbrecht to play 13. The Bulls youngster is almost certain to be in the squad, however, as he can also cover wing.

The back three is also a big problem for Meyer given the injuries to Pietersen, Taute, Frans Steyn and Kirchner. Bryan Habana, whose work rate and pace continue to impress, is the only certainty, while the coach might decide to move Francois Hougaard back to wing, given that the Bulls man has only recently returned from injury and has looked messy and off the pace at scrumhalf.

The other candidates for wing are Bjorn Basson, who could be favoured because of his tremendous ability in the air, Raymond Rhule, Lwazi Mvovo, Gio Aplon and Willie le Roux.

The latter two are also in the mix to be fullback. Meyer would be foolish to risk playing his regular number 15, Kirchner, given that he has not played any rugby in 10 weeks since having a finger operation.

But he could still pick an experienced international there by moving Lambie from flyhalf to fullback. Hopefully Meyer will also have the courage to consider playing Cheetahs magician Willie le Roux there, even if it is off the bench.

The Ulster-based Ruan Pienaar is likely to be the starting scrumhalf, with the pace on attack provided by Jano Vermaak a useful complementary attribute on the bench.

The second row is also going to be an interesting dilemma for Meyer. The great Bakkies Botha will be available, but the coach has already hinted that Pienaar and flank Francois Louw will be the only overseas-based players he will be calling on for the quadrangular.

The inconsistent Andries Bekker is not willing to play for the Springboks once he leaves for Japan – and is injured anyway – but Juandré Kruger will be available and is the obvious choice in the number five jersey, providing he is over the niggling injury that kept him from the field in the Springboks’ training camp this week.

Eben Etzebeth showed in his outstanding display for the Stormers last weekend that he will be able to fulfil the lineout general’s role as well, but if Bakkies is not going to be called up, the team might be stronger with Etzebeth at four.

Franco van der Merwe, so reliable for the Sharks this year, will then be the back-up number five.

The loose forward selection will inevitably be coloured by Meyer’s decision to once again ignore Heinrich Brüssow.

The Cheetahs openside flank has managed to con many critics that he is still as potent a fetcher as he was in 2009, but all the stats providers involved in SuperRugby show otherwise. He isn’t in the top 20 for pilfers on any of the stats sites, but where he does feature is in the top 10 for tackles made.

Meyer is right to be wary of unleashing Brüssow with northern hemisphere referees officiating and the rules of his trade much stricter these days, but contesting rucks is not the honey badger’s only skill. Brüssow is exceptionally strong for his size, has a great work rate and good ball skills and is hopefully not entirely out of Meyer’s plans, if even as an impact player.

It seems inevitable that the starting loose trio on June 8 against Italy in Durban will be Pierre Spies, Willem Alberts and Louw, with the bench spots contested between Marcell Coetzee, Arno Botha and new star Lappies Labuschagne.

Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss and Coenie Oosthuizen are bound to be the starting front row and Wiehahn Herbst is in line for his Test debut as reserve tighthead, with Chiliboy Ralepelle and Tendai Mtawarira the other reserves now that teams are compelled to have two props on the bench.

Bismarck du Plessis is in a similar position to Kirchner and should not be risked as he has not played a SuperRugby match the entire season. A run of three games for the Sharks after the June international window and Du Plessis should be ready to explode into Rugby Championship action having recovered properly from a serious knee injury.

Ralepelle will certainly not let the side down in the meantime, having shown accuracy at the lineout, great work rate and presence at the breakdowns for the Bulls this season.

What Meyer is not going to be conned into doing is playing flavours-of-the-month that may not be contenders for the next World Cup that is just 840 days away, no matter how vigorously their brilliance is debated in your local bar.

No more than a pair of new caps in Serfontein and Le Roux are worth betting on, but it should make fans happy that the Springbok coach can afford not to choose some of the other great talent laying around.

Probable squad – Pat Lambie, Willie le Roux, Bryan Habana, Lwazi Mvovo, Jean de Villiers, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Robert Ebersohn, Francois Hougaard, Bjorn Basson, Morné Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Jano Vermaak, Pierre Spies, Arno Botha, Willem Alberts, Lappies Labuschagne, Francois Louw, Marcell Coetzee, Juandré Kruger, Franco van der Merwe, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Flip van der Merwe, Jannie du Plessis, Wiehahn Herbst, Adriaan Strauss, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Coenie Oosthuizen, Tendai Mtawarira.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-05-30-springbok-squad-preview-a-few-headaches-but-no-migraine-for-meyer#.Vys00IR97IU

Hard words spoken, but now Bulls need to do their talking on the field 0

Posted on August 18, 2015 by Ken

 

Vodacom Bulls captain Pierre Spies disclosed this week that there were “hard words” spoken amongst the team after their lacklustre opening loss to the Stormers, but they are definitely going to have to do their talking on the field tonight if they are to beat a star-studded Hurricanes side in their SuperRugby match at Loftus Versfeld.

The details of the defeat to the Stormers will show that the Bulls were dominated at scrum time, failed to trouble the opposition lineout, missed 18 tackles and conceded eight linebreaks as they lost the gain-line battle, but the single biggest factor in the loss was attitude.

“We’ve had hard words for each other this week, we know that we’re a much better team than that. We made way too many mistakes, which means you can’t build pressure. Against the Hurricanes we have to execute what we do well, we have to take care of the ball and be clinical,” Spies said.

The Hurricanes will field a lethal backline featuring TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Julian Savea, the returning Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith and Cory Jane, hence the Bulls stressing the importance of not allowing them turnover ball.

“Broken field is what they want, turnover ball, and like all New Zealand teams if they get front-foot ball and get their offloads going, then they are lethal,” Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said. “But they also have a strong defence, they’ve definitely improved there, their work-rate is good, they get numbers up in defence, and they’re very competitive at the collisions.”

Judging by the performance against the Stormers, Ludeke’s new game plan seems to be going down with his team like oil with water, but the coach said he can live with the mistakes as long as the decision-making of his players is correct.

“You win games from broken field these days because if you just carry the ball all the time you will eventually lose it. It comes down to decision-making, it’s about space and numbers and not trying to create something that’s not there. Passes not going to hand can happen and sometimes the contact skills of the players let them down, but as long as the attacking mindset is there,” Ludeke said.

The Hurricanes, who beat the Lions last weekend at Ellis Park, don’t have a great record on tour here and the last time they won two games in South Africa was way back in 2006. But they certainly made a statement against the Lions and if the Bulls also make numerous mistakes, then the Wellington-based side has more than enough firepower to punish them.

The Bulls need to up their intensity up front so they don’t look like carthorses again against a mobile Hurricanes pack, while the scrum needs a drastic improvement in the absence of tighthead Marcel van der Merwe with a knee injury.

The Bulls have plenty of talent, but one can’t expect the younger players to do everything; the Bulls’ senior players really need to step up tonight.

Teams

Bulls: 15-Jesse Kriel, 14-Bjorn Basson, 13-JJ Engelbrecht, 12-Jan Serfontein, 11-Francois Hougaard, 10-Handre Pollard, 9-Piet van Zyl, 8-Pierre Spies, 7-Lappies Labuschagne, 6-Deon Stegmann, 5-Victor Matfield, 4-Jacques du Plessis, 3-Trevor Nyakane, 2-Adriaan Strauss, 1-Morne Mellet. Reserves – 16-Callie Visagie, 17-Dean Greyling, 18-Grant Hattingh, 19-Hanro Liebenberg, 20-Rudy Paige, 21-Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22-Jurgen Visser, 23-Dayan van der Westhuizen.

Hurricanes: 15-Jason Woodward, 14-Cory Jane, 13-Conrad Smith, 12-Ma’a Nonu, 11-Julian Savea, 10-Beauden Barrett, 9-TJ Perenara, 8-Blade Thomson, 7-Callum Gibbins, 6-Brad Shields, 5-James Broadhurst, 4-Mark Abbott, 3-Ben Franks, 2-Dane Coles, 1-Reggie Goodes. Reserves – 16-Brayden Mitchell, 17-Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18-Chris Eves, 19-Ardie Savea, 20-Victor Vito, 21-Chris Smylie, 22-James Marshall, 23-Matt Proctor.

 



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