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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column: SuperRugby quarters a good wake-up call for Lions 0

Posted on July 25, 2017 by Ken

 

It was probably a good thing for the Lions that their SuperRugby quarterfinal against the Sharks was so close because it was a good wake-up call for them.

Nevertheless, the Lions extended their record to not having lost to a South African franchise to 17 matches, dating back to their loss to the Bulls on May 2, 2015, in Pretoria, which is a phenomenal record.

It’s always difficult playing against a team back-to-back and sometimes you’re just not that mentally sharp. The Sharks certainly had more desperation about them, especially in the first half, which translated into a 14-3 halftime lead.

The key in the second half was the yellow cards and the one-man advantage they created, and the Lions took advantage of their numerical superiority.

I’m sure the Lions will be far more alert against the Hurricanes in their semi-final this weekend, especially since the defending champions gave them a good touch-up at Ellis Park and in the final last year.

The pressure game of the Hurricanes, especially their rush-defence, is hard to deal with, even though they do concede a lot of line-breaks. But they also force a lot of turnovers and there’s a big risk/reward factor in their play.

It’s going to be really interesting though how long they can keep rushing at altitude; it certainly gets harder after 30 minutes of line-speed at altitude with your tongue hanging out!

The Lions have to score points and make a statement in the first 20 minutes, and when they have enjoyed success in the last two years in the playoff games against New Zealand sides, that’s what they’ve done.

The Lions certainly have the set-pieces to put big pressure on the Hurricanes, it’s going to be a fascinating battle up front. I don’t see the Hurricanes competing at the lineouts because the Lions’ mauling is so good, they’re going to prefer to stay down and compete on the ground, try and kill the drive at source.

It will be very interesting to see how the Lions deal with Elton Jantjies this week after he obviously did not have a great game against the Sharks. For the Lions to be removing a key player from the field after just more than an hour says it all.

But Elton is highly self-critical and he really thinks about the game a lot. It will be a case of going back to basics for him and the Lions coaching staff will be reminding him of how good he is, he is the starting Springbok flyhalf after all and he played every minute of the series against France, which shows how great his season has been. There will be an honest video review and feedback and the player will roll up his sleeves, but he will be supported by everyone in the Lions camp.

I’m sure the other players will be 100% behind him in every aspect, because they know how important he is to the team on attack.

The Lions will not train very much this week because they need to be super-fresh for the semi-final. By now everybody knows the game-plan and it will be all about execution and accuracy. Short, sharp sessions will hopefully bring reward on the weekend with the Lions at their best.

I think the Lions will come through against the Hurricanes, especially since last weekend’s game was just what they needed.

In the other semi-final, I think the Crusaders will beat the Chiefs, they will just be too good for them.

But everyone starts at zero again in the semi-finals, previous results and form don’t matter!

 


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.

 

John McFarland Column – SuperRugby format definitely needs to change 0

Posted on March 16, 2017 by Ken

 

There has been some real conjecture and speculation about how SuperRugby is going to change in 2018, but the one thing that is clear is that it definitely needs to change – declining viewing figures and attendance at the games proves it.

While the administrators took the wrong direction when they changed the format back in 2015, the move to expand was the right decision. Promises had obviously been made to the Southern Kings and a Japanese team is vital if they are going to maintain the improvement they have shown and grow the sport in that country.

Argentina also now have a great development program and they’re no longer losing as many top players to Europe, so it’s vital they stay in as well.

The problem is I don’t think the administrators knew what they let themselves in for travel-wise. The Sunwolves are 10 hours from Australia so they should be in that conference and then they would travel a lot less.

The Southern Kings are probably going to be judged on the basis of their results, bankruptcy and as money-makers, but they did really well initially in terms of getting numbers to games. They have performed better this year, so credit must go to the coaching staff for that improvement, but they still have not really moved forward, there is still a big difference between them and the other teams.

Normally during the time of SuperRugby negotiations, there are people saying that South Africa will go play in Europe but that hasn’t happened that much this time around so we are obviously committed to SuperRugby and the three conferences.

It will be very disappointing if we lose the Cheetahs, but I expect to see a deal in our favour, especially since last time we managed to get two home semi-finals. The SA Rugby Union negotiators must stand up for what they believe in and push for what they want.

I don’t think the players are averse to travel, but being away for five weeks in Australia and New Zealand as the Bulls were in the past is a heck of a trip and that’s why it was virtually impossible for a South African team to win SuperRugby, having to play five matches overseas.

This weekend we have our first Friday night SuperRugby game when the Bulls host the Sunwolves, which is hard to believe considering the six hours of rugby we’ve had to sit through on Saturdays. People want to watch rugby when they come home on Friday evening around a barbecue, but unfortunately the TV schedules have not allowed it.

On a happier note, I was fortunate to attend the Springbok Sevens training for a couple of weeks and was able to see first-hand what good coaching, spirit and attention to detail there is in that set-up. The Blitzboks’ culture is second to none, the way they back each other, encourage one another and work in the training sessions is outstanding.

That’s their strength as well as continuity. Someone like conditioning coach Allan Temple-Jones has been there forever and does a superb job – the Springbok Sevens are the best-conditioned team on the circuit and they are reaping the benefits of that.

What is most encouraging is that people are talking about Sevens and what the Blitzboks have done, and watching the games.

They are also never scared to use specialists – Richie Gray was brought in to work on the breakdowns before the Olympics and Dawie Snyman, the former Western Province coach, is doing a lot of work on their footwork and coaching them in sidestepping. You can see that coming through in the way they are beating people, so credit to him.

Neil Powell is overseeing it all and is handling the job with great dignity, so I really hope they come through and win the series. England are the only team with the continuity to push them and will be their biggest competition.

Continuity breeds confidence in any high-performance sport.

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.

 

 

The John McFarland Column – the Rugby Coaching Indaba 0

Posted on October 18, 2016 by Ken

 

The Rugby Coaching Indaba this week will not make any difference in the short-term, but that does not mean it’s a bad thing for Springbok rugby.

Brendan Venter is a superb facilitator, he will ask questions and get the involvement of all the coaches, while Pieter Kruger is highly professional and used to dealing with these sort of gatherings. So I’m sure they will get to where they want to, I’m confident they will go in the right direction.

There will be discussions about a national philosophy of playing, the way Allister Coetzee envisages the Springboks should play and the skill set that needs to be developed to go with it.

Skill sets are what I feel should be discussed most. It’s what we as the Springbok coaching group between 2012 and 2015 felt was lacking at national level – things like high-ball work, box-kicking, lineout throwing, goalkicking etc.

We desperately need an individual skills programme for elite performance and high-quality skills coaches. Maybe we need a director of rugby, but without the right contractual model he can’t prescribe to the franchises, he can only influence the contracted Springboks. And Allister Coetzee did not get the job until mid-April, so what went on between last year’s World Cup and then?

I know Johann van Graan, who is the one assistant coach who remained in place, did go to the SuperRugby franchises to see what was going on there, but how New Zealand rugby works is that the national coaches even work with the franchises regularly.

In Heyneke Meyer’s time we had a good relationship with all the SuperRugby unions and we would pay two two-day visits to each franchise every year. So there was a lot of contact and from my point of view I knew all the defence coaches, how they coached, their strategies and how individuals defended, how they folded, their line-speed etc.

We would share information and how we saw the Springboks going forward, on where we were at that moment, and it was a two-way engagement so we would touch base about individual players and we would hear from them how they felt about certain players. Everyone was very honest about what needed to be worked on.

In 2013 I spent two weeks at the Sharks helping them with their kicking structures and I twice went and helped the Cheetahs, who changed a few things and made the playoffs for the first time.

So there was a good exchange of information and it worked out really well.

But it’s difficult to prescribe set things to the franchises because different teams have different strengths and abilities. If a team doesn’t have a good box-kicker at scrumhalf then they’re not going to spend a lot of time with the wings helping them to compete on the high ball. But every team needs to feel safe under the high ball.

Every coach has his own style and has to do whatever is right for his team. For example, at the Kubota Spears we have a close relationship with the Hurricanes and they play slightly differently to the Highlanders or Crusaders.

What’s really interesting about the Hurricanes is the amount of work done with the individual player and his skill set. New Zealand’s skills are highly developed because the players are helped with their skills, the resources are there for individuals around the country.

But skills work needs to be driven by the coach, he needs to be on top of the players’ individual skills. In 2012, I can remember Malcolm Marx didn’t make the SA U20s and Dawie Theron said to me that his lineout throwing was the major problem. So Malcolm would come through every week with Robbie Coetzee and work with me on that. What work has been done individually with him since then? I don’t know.

For four years we’ve had the High-Performance Mobi Unit in place, but what work has been done on Elton Jantjies’ right foot? He has a tremendous left foot, but it would be great if he could be two-footed like Jonny Wilkinson, it would mean he would not be under nearly as much pressure. Can Rohan Janse van Rensburg or Jesse Kriel kick? What is being done about that?

Dave Alred helped us in 2015 with the fielding of high balls, we put that structure in place.

The major problem is that the SuperRugby teams all play differently and the core of the Springbok team is no longer in South Africa, in the current 30-man squad, not many of them are locally-based all year round. The core values need to be kept the same so that a young player can seamlessly move through the system and be coached in the same fashion. We have to find the right balance in terms of game plan, there’s no point in the SA U20s playing a certain way and defending a certain way that is different to the senior side. Likewise if the SA U20s play a passing game with width and the Springboks are playing kicking and territory.

The coach can have a say in the Springboks and the SA U20s because they are contracted sides, and the higher the stakes, the more pressure there is on those games.

The All Blacks are on a different level to everybody at the moment and the Springboks are ranked fourth, but if we weren’t upset by their performance in Durban, if we just accept that, then there is something wrong with our rugby.

New Zealand played well, and as usual ran away with the game in the last 20 minutes, but what the match really underlined was the Springboks’ lack of ambition. They just relied on their set-piece and Morne Steyn kicking penalties and drop goals. Seeing as the All Blacks average 38 points per game, Morne would have had to break the world record for penalties and drop goals for the Springboks to have won!

But most Springbok coaches have been through something similar, because the expectation is so high for excellence. Hopefully the indaba will result in more excellence in our rugby going forward.

Of course, the disappointment of the Springboks’ performance has been put into perspective this week by the shock passing of Munster coach and former Ireland loose forward star Anthony Foley, and I would like to pass my condolences to his family and loved ones.

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012-15, having 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.

 

 

Player power and perfect storms 0

Posted on June 07, 2016 by Ken

 

I am totally behind empowering players and allowing them to lead the way in terms of the direction and culture of a team, but there are times when too much player power can become a bad thing.

Knowing Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold reasonably well, I know that he is the sort of coach who will look to empower the players, treat them as adults and allow them to plot their own destiny. But it seems the Sharks are embroiled in a perfect storm at the moment and it is showing not only in their results but in the shocking lack of discipline their senior players are exhibiting.

The Sharks are a team dominated by senior Springboks, a lot of older players who are eyeing one last World Cup before earning their pensions in Europe or Japan. This strong core of players totally lost respect for Jake White and it was their rebellion (which probably isn’t too strong a word given the stories I heard this week about what happened on tour last year) that forced CEO John Smit to release the World Cup-winning coach.

Gold will be well aware of his predecessor’s fate but his efforts to refresh the team, bring in some new blood, are hampered by the poor recruitment that has happened at the Sharks in the last couple of years.

Signing players like Matt Stevens, Mouritz Botha and Marco Wentzel merely strengthens the “old boys club” and, people being people, nobody likes the feeling that they’re about to be replaced by someone younger, so they cling on to whatever power or influence they have. Because most of these players spent their formative years elsewhere, their attachment to the Sharks’ brand and badge is perhaps not as strong as that of players like Pat Lambie or Marcell Coetzee, a duo to emerge with credit so far this troubled season.

A major part of the Sharks’ problems is that their academy is not functioning properly, its emphasis is more on making money than providing a pipeline of players for the franchise. Wealthy parents of kids who only played 3rd XV rugby at school are getting entries for their children, which only lowers the standard of the academy.

The Sharks must rediscover their soul, return to their roots and start looking closer to home for their answers. The best Natal/Sharks sides were made up of a core of players who studied in the province – think John Allan, Rod Gould (Glenwood), Mark Andrews, Tommy Bedford, John Smit (Natal University), Steve Atherton (Pinetown), Tim Cocks (Westville), Wayne Fyvie, Gary Teichmann (Hilton), Trevor Halstead (Kearsney), Henry Honiball (Estcourt), Butch James, Keith Oxlee, Joel Stransky, Jeremy Thomson, Craig Jamieson (Maritzburg College), Andre Joubert (Ladysmith), Dick Muir (Kokstad), Hugh Reece-Edwards (Northlands), Andre Snyman (Newcastle) Rob Hankinson (Michaelhouse) and Lood Muller (Voortrekker).

And the standard of schools’ rugby in KwaZulu-Natal has risen considerably in the last 30 years.

The senior players must either buy into the new vision or go elsewhere, but they certainly have roles to play in restoring Sharks rugby to even keel.

The happy days must return to Kings Park and that also involves tough decisions for Smit and the board.

Conversely, a bit more player power would probably be a good thing when it comes to South African cricket.

Although there probably won’t be any clarity on the whole Philander/Abbott selection issue any time soon, the deafening silence of the players has been telling.

If all the speculation that there had been a late, unpopular change to the team for the World Cup semi-final was totally wide of the mark, then surely either Philander or Abbott, AB de Villiers or some other player would have been quick to stand up and say it was absolute nonsense?

As someone very close to the team said to me: “Where there’s smoke there will always be fire”.

The day will come when, with a lucrative IPL contract in his pocket, a player makes a public stand, but at the moment there would be too many repercussions.

The last time a player protested against interference in selection – the courageous Charl Langeveldt – he was mercilessly bullied by the same person who is now the lead independent director of the Cricket South Africa board.

 



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