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Ken Borland



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.

 

Our archrivals aren’t scared of age, why should we be? 0

Posted on July 20, 2015 by Ken

It’s always been a very South African thing, especially in rugby and cricket, for us to look over the Indian Ocean at our archrivals New Zealand and Australia, and try and copy what they are doing.

Notwithstanding the fact that Australian cricket teams and New Zealand rugby sides have generally been the best in the world during the last two decades, it is a habit that is not always beneficial for our national teams. Mostly because we have different strengths and therefore what works best for them won’t necessarily be the best approach for us.

But there is one current debate in Springbok rugby which I believe can be neatly resolved by taking a leaf out of the All Blacks’ book.

Amongst the many unfair criticisms that are being hurled at Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, one of the least intelligent ones is that he is going to take a geriatric team to the World Cup. In this regard, I have to say, like our venerable Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu did recently in supporting HelpAge International, that “I am for people of all ages”.

Looking back at the previous seven World Cups, it is clear that nobody is going to win the Webb Ellis Cup without experience. Meyer is certainly not alone in wanting to include some cool older heads in his side – we need only look at the team New Zealand coach Steve Hansen put on the field yesterday to open their Rugby Championship campaign.

With only a handful of matches left before they begin the defence of their 2011 title, Hansen is not going to be messing around with players that aren’t going to be in contention for the World Cup.

The All Blacks team that belted Argentina in Christchurch yesterday contained half-a-dozen players who are over 30 – Ma’a Nonu, Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Jerome Kaino, Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock. Add in 29-year-olds Kieran Read and Luke Romano, and the average age of yesterday’s starting XV was 29.13 years.

The likes of Ben Smith (29) and Conrad Smith (33) are almost certainly going to be World Cup starters and other players who should return and will push up the average age are Julian Savea (24 compared to Charles Piutau 23), Aaron Smith (26, while TJ Perenara is 23) and Liam Messam (31).

The likely All Blacks team for a World Cup final would have an average age of 29.60 years.

Meyer’s probable first-choice team – Le Roux, Pietersen, De Villiers, De Allende, Habana, Pollard, Du Preez, Vermeulen, Alberts, Louw, Matfield, Etzebeth, Du Plessis x2 and Mtawarira – is actually younger than that – 29.33 years.

There are nine players over 30, but there are also three key players who are 23 or younger – 23-year-old centre Damian de Allende (Jan Serfontein is 22), 21-year-old flyhalf Handre Pollard and 23-year-old lock Eben Etzebeth. That seems to me to be a good balance between experience and youthful energy.

And there’s even a chance that the Springboks will have some outrageous young talent like Marcell Coetzee (24), Pieter-Steph du Toit (22), Frans Malherbe (24) and Steven Kitshoff (23) dancing around the UK fields, which would make South Africa’s team even younger.

So the next time an ill-informed someone moans about the geriatric Springbok team at the World Cup, those are the facts to dispel that argument; New Zealand, the outright favourites and world number ones, have an even older side!

In the pressure-cooker environment of a do-or-die knockout game at the World Cup, you need players who have been there and done it, who have proven their mettle when the stakes are highest.

 



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