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Ken Borland

The John McFarland Column: Lions’ efforts deserve Test selection 0

Posted on June 01, 2017 by Ken


The Springboks are back in camp and it will be interesting to see the team for the French Tests, two of which will be played at altitude, so it will definitely be an advantage to pick players that are full of confidence and successful on the Highveld.

There’s only one team that has been playing with real conviction and confidence, though, and that is the Lions, so I expect a few debutants from them over the course of the series. It will be a well-deserved honour and credit to their coaches, Johan Ackermann, Swys de Bruin and JP Ferreira.

The Lions’ 54-10 win over the Southern Kings showed that the difference in strength is vast between them and the other South African teams and they now have a great run-in towards the SuperRugby playoffs. They deserve it after winning three games overseas and they are reaping the rewards in confidence and the way they are playing.

It’s sad for SuperRugby that the playoff places are mostly already sorted out, especially in South Africa. It always used to go down to the last weekend and a very exciting final day of round-robin play. Anyway, it’s a huge advantage to finish first on the log and the Crusaders are three points clear of the Lions as our pacesetters go into the international break.

The Crusaders have some tough New Zealand derbies coming up though, including having to travel to the Hurricanes.

So I believe Rudolf Straeuli, the Lions CEO, can’t wait to pencil in 3pm playoff games on the Highveld. If you speak to the Highlanders players they will tell you that their legs felt like jelly during their semi-final at Ellis Park last year, they just could not get going, and that’s a side packed with All Blacks that lost 30-42.

The Lions will definitely have earned that advantage via their performances, especially their tremendous run of 15 unbeaten games against South African opposition.

Most of the Lions players have been let go by other franchises or picked up from other unions, so you have to credit their hard work and improvement. Guys like Andries Coetzee and Courtnall Skosan were playing for Tuks in 2012/13, while Franco Mostert was also part of that side and nobody has worked harder for their Springbok opportunity, so I’m sure he’ll take it with both hands.

A guy like Ross Cronje has worked really hard on his game, he’s been the second-choice at the Lions a lot of the time, but he kept his belief and keeps producing the goods, so his selection is also fully deserved.

It was really pleasing to see Warren Whiteley appointed as the new Springbok captain, he’s a really honest player and always totally committed on the field. You can never accuse Warren of shirking anything, whether that be in terms of workload or skill.

He was with the Sharks as a junior and was a very explosive, impact player who could really cause damage in the wide channels in the last 20 minutes. He has become a dominant captain who epitomises all that his Lions team stands for in terms of culture.

Warren is a superb lineout option and also has safe hands at the back, which is important because it’s vital these days for eighthmen to be able to counter-attack. He brings his Sevens skills to bear.

His journey to the Springbok captaincy has not been easy, he has worked so hard to get there and thoroughly deserves the honour.

The Springboks are heading into a phase of more inclusive leadership, Warren will take notice of the opinions around him and has great empathy. But he showed when he first came into the Springbok group in 2014 that he is strong enough to have his own ideas, he knows the path forward and will not just follow the party line, he will make sure he drives his own opinions. He’s also a great communicator, with the coaches and the playing group.

I wish him all the success he deserves and wouldn’t it be nice for him to have the Rugby Championship trophy in his hands in October?

And Duane Vermeulen playing at seven will definitely work, in terms of their defensive system, they want a blindside flank who can do a lot more when it comes to work-rate. I think the eighthman will stay at a lot of the set-pieces and save his energy for attack and ball-in-hand play.

Duane of course will be in France for the Top 14 final with Toulon and will only have a couple of days training with the Springboks after flying back to South Africa, which is why Jean-Luc du Preez has been called up.

The Sharks v Stormers game showed the difference in strength between the two conferences. The Stormers just could not get that final pass or offload away, which, given their style of play, is essential for them.

Under new coach Robbie Fleck, they’re always going to be involved in high-scoring games, but they need to convert their chances. One has to credit the Sharks for their defence holding firm, which bodes well for the Springboks.

I felt there was some improvement from the Bulls, they were far more physical at the gain-line. There’s obviously been a change in the coaching staff there, which possibly produced the improved display, but unfortunately it was not enough against a clever team like the Hurricanes.

The Bulls will regret those soft moments in defence when the Hurricanes were able to slice through them like a knife through butter.

The positives for the Bulls were Duncan Matthews, the young wing, who really took his opportunity well, and the way the forwards and inside backs competed on the gain-line against one of the most physical sides in SuperRugby (How we wish for the days when the Bulls were the most physical side in the competition!).

I was fortunate enough to be at the Cheetahs game against the Sunwolves and it’s always nice when the South African teams come to Tokyo – because of our relationships in the past, I get to catch up and spend some time with them. The smattering of survival Japanese I have helps them in the shops and with the very complicated subway system!

I thought the Cheetahs ran a very smart week in terms of preparation. Often when a team is coming off a massive losing run (nine games), the temptation is to go harder at the players in training. But the Cheetahs did not do much in Tokyo and Franco Smith ensured the players were very fresh, and they reaped the reward.

The match was quite tight until just before halftime when the Cheetahs scored a killer try to leave the Sunwolves 14-0 down.

I was impressed by the way the Cheetahs played, they kept their shape and Raymond Rhule and Sergeal Petersen were always a big danger on the wings.

It was a big event in Tokyo, because they only get to host a handful of games every season. It’s a huge thing for Japan to have a SuperRugby team.

We need a global game and we should get teams from the USA and Canada involved as well, it has to happen eventually. Look at the improvement in the Argentina team from having the Jaguares involved in SuperRugby – they have been exposed to a higher level of rugby and it has paid dividends.

The biggest drawback is the travel for the Sunwolves and Jaguares, they do nearly twice as much travel as anyone else. It’s always a great feeling going to a new country when you win, but the worst thing is then losing.

So I hope they change the conferences, but who knows because there has still been no clarity from Sanzaar.



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.


Kiwis have some comforts to make them feel better 0

Posted on January 08, 2013 by Ken

Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, the venues for the two Tests against New Zealand this summer, are the two South African cities most like Auckland so the tourists should feel right at home.

And, while the Kiwis have generally had an awkward time in South Africa, losing 14 of the 21 Tests they have played here, two of their three triumphs have come at the two coastal cities.

And, just to make Brendon McCullum’s visitors feel even more at home, they will land in South Africa 50 years after they won Tests in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth – their first ever overseas – to share the 1962 series 2-2.

South Africa’s team is a totally different beast these days, however. They are the number one ranked team in Test cricket and the record-breaking exploits of Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander are the greatest in the country’s history.

Back in 1962, South Africa were a team in transition. Captain Jackie McGlew, swashbuckling batsman Roy McLean, wicketkeeper Johnnie Waite and fast bowlers Peter Heine and Neil Adcock were all at the end of their careers, while Eddie Barlow, Peter Pollock, Colin Bland and Tiger Lance were all playing in their first series and would go on to form part of the team that dominated world cricket at the end of the decade.

Having beaten their hosts by 72 runs in the second Test in Cape Town and by 40 runs in Port Elizabeth, New Zealand promptly won their first Test back in South Africa after isolation, winning by 137 runs at the Wanderers in 1994, but since then the Proteas have had a perfect record at home against the Black Caps.

In fact, since losing by nine wickets in Auckland in 2004, South Africa have been totally dominant in Tests against New Zealand.

Ken Rutherford, who captained New Zealand to that 1994 triumph at the Wanderers, is now living in Johannesburg and he believes his countryman are definitely the underdogs.

“On paper, New Zealand are clearly up against it. It will be a huge challenge against the world’s number one team. South Africa have half-a-dozen world-class players, while the current New Zealand team maybe just lacks a bit of star quality.

“South Africa have individuals who can take the game away from you. But New Zealand haven’t played good Test cricket for a while because they haven’t yet recognised that in one hour, someone can take the whole match away from you, they’re less able to spot those opportunities,” Rutherford said.

While the visiting batsmen should find the going relatively easy at Sahara Park Newlands – New Zealand scored 593 for eight declared (Stephen Fleming 262) in their last match there – Port Elizabeth, especially if it is cloudy, could be an entirely different prospect.

With a bit of grass on the pitch, Steyn, Morkel, Philander and Kallis will be out to break the Geneva Convention, but the visiting attack will also enjoy those conditions.

While the Black Caps are without second leading wicket-taker Dan Vettori, whose left-arm spin has frequently chained the South African batsmen down, Chris Martin has prospered against the Proteas before and is the leading wicket-taker in Tests between the two countries. Doug Bracewell has had his moments too, while Trent Boult and Tim Southee are two talented youngsters and Neil Wagner is returning to the country of his birth.

New Zealand’s batting will revolve around the ever-dangerous McCullum, while Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson are not to be underestimated. Their best batsman, Ross Taylor, is not touring however and his replacement, Peter Fulton, did not have a happy time in South Africa in 2005/6, scoring just 65 runs in four innings.


Massive increase in Test sponsorship for CSA 0

Posted on August 01, 2012 by Ken

The Willowton Group, through their Sunfoil brand, announced a massive increase in their sponsorship of cricket on Monday via a four-year deal that covers all first-class long format games, including home Tests.

Sunfoil became a sponsor during troubled times for Cricket South Africa last year, stepping in to back the Test series and ODIs last season when not many other corporates were interested. But with CSA’s reputation almost back to its best, the sunflower cooking oil brand has increased its sponsorship to R14 million a year, seven times as much as the previous deal.

“A lot of people thought that we were a one-season wonder and that was part of our motivation to continue our sponsorship. We wanted to show that we were not just catching things on the cheap, we’re in cricket for the long haul and it’s all about giving back for us,” Shoaib Moosa, the sales and marketing director of the Willowton Group, told at the sponsorship announcement at the Wanderers on Monday.

Sunfoil will also play a major role in domestic cricket, and will sponsor both the four-day franchise competition and the three-day amateur tournament.

SuperSport have been the sponsors of the four-day tournament for 16 years, the SuperSport Series replacing the old Castle Cup in the 1996/97 season, and CSA acting chief executive Jacques Faul praised the broadcasters for not standing in the way of their wish to bundle all long-format cricket together.

“We have to thank SuperSport for allowing us to take this sponsorship to Sunfoil because we wanted to group all the long-format cricket together. SuperSport have been a wonderful supporter of South African cricket and they will continue to be our broadcasting partner,” Faul said.

Brandon Foot, SuperSport’s head of acquisitions and legal said: “SuperSport is very proud to have sponsored the SuperSport Series and to have contributed to this important nursery of test match cricket. As the World of Champions steps aside from this role, SuperSport remains committed to CSA as its production and broadcast partner in all formats of the game, both domestically and internationally. SuperSport will also retain its interests in franchise and other cricket in South Africa.”

The Willowton Group also have a rich history of involvement in development cricket with their highly successful township programme in KZN being extended to Gauteng last year, while their cash for boundaries incentive in the 2011/12 tests raised R700 000 for their bursary fund, which now supports over a dozen children.

“The fruits of our involvement in cricket are seen where it matters most – at grassroots level – and hopefully we can produce some top-class cricketers from our development programme. But I will be happy even if we produce one doctor because of our bursaries and provision has been made for this programme to be expanded on a national level,” Moosa said.

The Pietermaritzburg-based businessman admitted that his company’s involvement with the senior national team had certainly benefited Sunfoil as well.

“Twelve months ago, if you asked the public, no particular brand of cooking oil would have come to mind. But now, the exposure and awareness and turnaround in volume of Sunfoil has been absolutely amazing and has assisted us in our goal of becoming the market-leader in South Africa,” Moosa said.

The success of that initial sponsorship deal means long-format cricket now has passionate backers from the Proteas down to the amateur teams, not forgetting Sunfoil’s key role at junior level as well.

Having secured yet another major vote of confidence in the way they have set about restoring the faith of corporates, Cricket South Africa are now looking for someone to take on another hugely valuable property in their twenty20 rights, both domestically and internationally, including for the Proteas team sponsor. The South African national team will provide a wonderful shop window in the ICC World T20 in Sri Lanka in September, with the normal rules being relaxed to allow sponsors’ names on their shirts.

Lancaster delighted to have midweek games 0

Posted on June 12, 2012 by Ken

England coach Stuart Lancaster said on Monday that he was delighted midweek games are in the tour schedule during their current trip to South Africa for three Tests.

England are playing a Southern Barbarians XV in Kimberley on Wednesday, before flying back to play the second Test against the Springboks in Johannesburg on Saturday. Next week they also play a midweek game, against the Northern Barbarians.

“The beauty of this tour is that there are opportunities in it to develop experience at the highest environment. It’s an opportunity to build a squad and work with the players. There’s nothing better for a coach than to coach players in a game situation,” Lancaster told a news conference in Johannesburg on Monday.

“There may be an element of distraction from the Test match because instead of having a day off on Wednesday, the whole squad will now travel to Kimberley to provide support. We think that’s important and the challenge is to get the right balance and our attention directed at the right place at the right time. The pros far outweigh the cons and I’d like to do it again in future.”

The eye injury centre Brad Barritt sustained in the first Test in Durban has ruled him out of the second Test and Lancaster said the midweek match provided the ideal opportunity for him to build some midfield depth, particularly in the number 13 jersey.

“I’m playing what would be regarded as two specialist 12s on Wednesday because I want to look at Anthony Allen at 13. I want options for England there and Anthony played outside Brad Barritt in the Churchill Cup.

“The plan is that Anthony will move to 12 in the second half and George Lowe will come on at outside centre. It’s about creating opportunities for everyone and not pigeonholing them,” Lancaster said.

“We must have options in different positions and you don’t get the opportunity to work on that in international rugby – there’s no pre-season and very few warm-up matches.”

England are building a new-look backline, with Saturday’s combination for the first Test only having 98 caps between them, with 72 shared between three players – wings Ben Foden and Chris Ashton and scrumhalf Ben Youngs.

“I’m not afraid to give players chances if they show the right temperament. These lads are coming through as a group, but 13 is an area we still need to look at, we still need to find people to fit in there. Manu Tuilagi was predominantly a wing in age-group rugby,” Lancaster said.

England will also want to be more systematic with their kicking game in Kimberley, a city on the highveld that boasts a hard, dry playing surface, giving kickers extra distance.

“This morning’s review of the Test centred around the third quarter and our lack of composure, especially in terms of our exit strategies – a good kick and chase. Both the halfbacks took responsibility, it’s an honest group and we’ve identified areas we need to work on,” Lancaster said.

Jon Callard, the England kicking coach, said the problems were due to technical issues and breakdowns in communication.

“We had some technical issues but also some communication problems that need to be resolved. For the box kicks, the chasing group were sometimes ready for a move with ball-in-hand so, with the best will in the world, they’re not going to be able to reach a 50-metre kick.

“I thought we dealt with the ball in the air well and produced some good ball to play with from it,” Callard said.

The England team for the second Test will be announced on Thursday.

“We have some important decisions to make in the training tomorrow and then on Thursday we have to make sure the team is cohesive and ready to play,” Lancaster said.

England lost the first Test 17-22 in Durban and have not won at the Springboks’ Johannesburg fortress – Ellis Park – since the 18-9 victory in 1972.

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