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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Tremendous effort by the Springboks 0

Posted on June 29, 2017 by Ken

 

For Springbok captain Warren Whiteley to be ruled out on the morning of the third Test against France would definitely have been quite upsetting for the guys, because it is difficult to lose your captain and leader when they thought that he would play.

So to score those tries and get the points they did at Ellis Park last weekend was a tremendous effort by the Springboks and Allister Coetzee will be really pleased with the defence and work-rate of his team.

There are many ways to score tries in rugby and it was great to see some inventiveness from the Springboks, for example when Jan Serfontein jumped at the front of the lineout and then sent the ball down to Eben Etzebeth, for them to maul the space defended by the scrumhalf, which is so difficult to defend. So credit to the coaching staff for the ideas they came up with.

The first try, by Jesse Kriel, just shows how hard the Springboks were working off the ball, which was one of the most impressive aspects of their performance, it shows the culture of the team. The kick-chase induced an error from the French back three, there was a wild pass and it was pounced on, giving Kriel an easy run-in for what we call a “culture try”.

You can see that the players are in such a good space and it is evident that they enjoy each other’s company. The players have all been so positive about their experiences with the Springboks this year and you can see their happiness by the way they celebrate their tries, for example the Rudy Paige effort off the back of a well-worked lineout drive.

So you have to credit Allister Coetzee and all the coaching staff for how far they have come and how they have turned things around. Warren and Allister and the assistant coaches deserve credit for the culture they’re building.

The country also got behind them and there was a steady increase in the crowd until there were 55 000 people at Ellis Park, which was great.

The Springboks ticked so many boxes in the series against France and they should be full of confidence now for the Rugby Championship. If one compares them with the way Australia and Argentina have performed, then the Springboks are definitely in with a real shout in the Rugby Championship.

The Springboks will have had even more time together before they play Argentina home and away, and they should enjoy the continuity of two-and-a-half months together in one block, which is a major positive.

The big thing for the Springboks will be the three away games in the middle of the tournament, which are always hard. But if they can get two wins on the road, then they’ll definitely be in with a shout. The Lions won all their games on tour and the Sharks won a match as well, while all our SuperRugby teams have done well in Argentina, so that’s encouraging.

The real ones to win though are the New Zealand Tests and I just hope the tournament is not over by the final game as it normally is because the draw usually really suits New Zealand. Let’s hope it all comes down to the Test in Cape Town between the Springboks and All Blacks on October 7.

Some combinations really put their hands up, such as the two locks, with Franco Mostert really announcing himself as a player at this upper level. The quality of his work-rate, tackling and cleaning out was phenomenal and he would certainly have been one of the contenders for man of the series.

As was Jan Serfontein. We’ve always known his ability but he has had a fair amount of injuries over the last few years. He’s such a quiet, down-to-earth guy, but against a player like Gael Fickou, who is a real big unit, Jan put in some massive tackles.

The balance of the back row was also very good and Siya Kolisi had the best three Tests he has managed to string together in his career. He was world-class and not just at the things we know he can do – he always carries well and we know he can stop momentum, but his work on the floor and his effort and skill to get up for that intercept in Durban were exceptional.

Malcolm Marx also really announced himself, he was outstanding in all three games, a beast with ball in hand and his basics were so good too.

Although it was a real advantage for the Springboks to play at altitude, those were three quality wins. France did not really click in the last Test, they obviously had the mindset to try and out-play the Springboks, but the home side’s defence was really, really good. One can say that the French were at the end of a long season, but they were well-beaten in each Test.

To average more than 36 points per game takes some doing at Test level and they scored tries through their defence, set play and kicking game, which was great to see.

The Springboks will be a little riled, however, that the lineout was not at its best at Ellis Park, but again, the late change due to the withdrawal of Whiteley left them with less jumping options. But the lineout did really well in the first two Tests.

Allister could have picked some of the old guard, but he was very consistent in his selection and backed the guys in South Africa, the players who had been at the camp in Plettenberg Bay, and his systems. He also backed key members of his team. For instance, Lionel Mapoe was very good in Durban, but he then rewarded Jesse Kriel for his very good display in the first Test.

Continuity and consistency in selection builds confidence amongst the players.

It was good that he was able to give Ruan Dreyer a start and some experience at international level, and what a reward he got at his first scrum! Those are the little battles that are great for a pack of forwards, like being able to control the ball at the back of a scrum and then scoring.

I still have not heard anyone from SA Rugby congratulate the players or coaching staff on a job well done, which amazes me! Why has nobody publicly congratulated them on the way they played and the manner in which they brought the public back and reinstored belief in the Springbok brand?

France have a lot of work to do, they definitely have talented players, but they need to look at their game plan and conditioning, which was not up to the level required at Test level. But it’s a very long season in France, they basically play from August to June, so they need to look at their structure and contracting of players.

The British and Irish Lions game against the All Blacks was quite a Test and at one stage the Lions had made it quite a tight battle. They had their chances, but against New Zealand you must finish, especially in Auckland.

The Lions’ try from a counter-attack was absolutely brilliant – the run from the back by Liam Williams and the way it was finished, it was one of the great British Lions tries.

But they will be seething that they conceded a very soft try from a quick tap, to allow such a compressed defensive line meant they did not have time to get any width and it was very dozy. In the biggest Test of their careers, there’s no way they can blame fatigue.

The All Blacks were deadly again off turnover and open-field ball and Rieko Ioane produced two special finishes, showing sheer speed.

The Lions also need a bit more to their play than Conor Murray box-kicking, even though that’s probably their advantage over the All Blacks. They got quite good returns from the tactic at the start, with Ben Smith dropping a few, but they did not take all their chances. New Zealand will score an average of three or four tries per game, so you must score tries to beat them.

The highlight of the first Test was the way the All Blacks played against the Lions’ rush-defence: they used the blind side a lot and played close to the ruck off Aaron Smith. They still scored four tries despite all the disruptions to their backline.

Smith also never telegraphed which side he was going to pass to, which most scrumhalves indicate by their body language or the way they stand, and he was constantly testing pillars one to three around the ruck. Because it was never clear which side he was going to play, it was very difficult for the defence to get set. So the All Blacks were constantly getting momentum and tiring out the Lions forwards, which is why they were so passive in the set-pieces.

There has been a lot of talk about Jerome Kaino preying on Murray’s non-kicking foot and it was a tactic that originated with Glasgow Warriors in the Pro12 League. Teams generally put up a wall on the right side of the maul or ruck in order to protect the kick, but the blindside was not guarded and that would also have been Murray’s blind spot.

Steve Hansen and the New Zealand media have vociferously condemned Warren Gatland’s claims of deliberate dangerous play, but there’s no doubt they wanted to make sure Conor Murray always felt the heat. If they touch him after he has kicked then it’s unfair, you are not allowed to play the kicker after the ball has gone. The All Blacks are not always whiter than white!

I hope the second Test is as good though. The Lions need a more athletic pack, with Maro Itoje at lock, and they should stick with Ben Te’o for longer in midfield, he played well. It will be exciting if the Lions can get the win and set up a series finale back in Auckland, but unfortunately I don’t really see it happening.

For South African rugby, it’s back to SuperRugby now and I hope the country will get behind our most realistic winners – the Lions. After the Test series, they are all full of confidence and they have a wonderful run-in to the final games.

I managed to bump into Rudolf Straeuli while I was in South Africa and he confirmed that he is very much looking forward to hosting the New Zealand teams at 3pm in the afternoon!

 

 


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.

 

Bursting with pride over Faf 0

Posted on December 01, 2016 by Ken

 

I think it’s fair to say most South African cricket fans almost burst with pride when Proteas captain Faf du Plessis produced the most magnificent riposte to all his detractors with his century on the first day of the third Test against Australia in Adelaide.

Under huge pressure for a week – hounded by the International Cricket Council’s desire for a scapegoat and persecuted by the Australian media, who even went so far as to launch a physical assault through the pushing-and-shoving goon with a microphone, Will Crouch – Du Plessis played an innings of immense mental strength, skill and determination as he rescued the South African innings from total collapse in tough conditions.

The Adelaide airport incident was undoubtedly a set-up because there were go-pro cameras stationed ahead of time on the walkway and all media were well aware that Du Plessis was not allowed to comment anyway as per ICC rules.

The South African camp believes the original ball-tampering video was placed in the media’s hands by Cricket Australia and, desperate for something to deflect from the massive problems in their cricket, the media pushed it to the limit.

At which point the ICC stepped into the fray and the song-and-dance about the Proteas captain doing two entirely legal things at the same time – eating a sweet and using his saliva to shine the ball – and something the Australian team themselves have sportingly admitted they do as well, turned into a full-scale operetta.

The ICC’s behaviour in this matter has been truly pathetic and to hear CEO David Richardson whingeing on Friday about how disappointed he is that Du Plessis is appealing, as is his right, his guilty verdict astonished me.

Richardson is a trained lawyer and yet he thinks Du Plessis has been fairly treated when the ICC laid the charge and appointed one of their own employees, match referee Andy Pycroft, as the judge, with other employees, the umpires, as the star witnesses. To make matters worse, because the ICC wanted to rush the whole process to completion before the start of the Adelaide Test, Du Plessis was denied the right to have the legal representation he wanted, being unable to fly them in from South Africa in time.

I know this all happened in Australia, but to make it an absolute kangaroo court was taking things too far.

If Du Plessis is guilty of an offence, what about all those cricketers who put sunscreen on and then wipe their sweat on the ball? The infused mixture is a wonderful ball-shiner.

What about the ubiquitous practice of chewing gum and then using your saliva to polish the ball?

If Richardson really wants to uphold the integrity of the game then perhaps he should be applying his mind to the blatant shortcomings in the laws of cricket.

Du Plessis’ tremendous performance in adversity has had even more people wondering if he should not continue as captain even once AB de Villiers returns.

Personally, I rate Du Plessis as the more natural captain and probably someone who wants the job more. But you cannot just ditch De Villiers as he has done little wrong as captain and also has a wonderful cricket brain. Convenor of selectors Linda Zondi has said all the right things in this regard.

I believe you have to leave that sort of decision to De Villiers himself and, with his workload issues, he may well decide to hand over the reins to Du Plessis.

The only other issue is that Du Plessis might have been the batsman earmarked to make way for De Villiers, but you surely cannot leave him out after his Adelaide masterpiece?

Last rites take a while, but the clean sweep is achieved 0

Posted on February 24, 2013 by Ken

 

The last rites took a while, but the summer of ’13 still ended on the most triumphant of notes for South Africa as they completed an innings-and-18-run victory over Pakistan at Centurion and a 3-0 sweep of the series.

It’s just the third time South Africa have claimed a whitewash in a series of at least three Tests, the other two instances being the great Springbok team of 1969/70 that hammered Australia 4-0 and the impressive 5-0 clobbering of the West Indies in 1998/99, when the tourists had such greats as Brian Lara, Curtley Ambrose and Courtney Walsh in their ranks.

The Pakistan second innings came to an end just before 5pm on Sunday on 235 all out, the last pair of Rahat Ali and Mohammad Irfan having frustrated the South Africans for 45 minutes.

Pakistan were in a good state at lunch as Azhar Ali and Imran Farhat batted with defiance and positivity to take them to 87 for two, but Dale Steyn and Rory Kleinveldt reduced them to 176 for six by tea.

Steyn finished with four for 80 and Kleinveldt and Abbott took two wickets each. Considering it was a dead rubber game and South Africa were missing two key cogs in Jacques Kallis and Morne Morkel, it was an emphatic statement of their intent to truly dominate Test cricket.

“It’s been a very special summer at home and this result is very important. We wanted to step up, we were a bit uncertain about what to do on the first day, but we took on the challenge of batting. It would have been easy to be soft in this Test and not totally commit to the cause, but if you’re 10% off your game at this level, then you’re not going to produce a performance,” captain Graeme Smith said.

“It shows we’re hungry and we have a real pride in our performance. There was maturity and professionalism. We’ve had a few injuries, but to see the new guys come in and step up shows that there’s a good environment and platform for them to perform.”

None more so than Abbott, who owned the third best match figures ever on debut for South Africa of nine for 68. South African cricket’s house is clearly in order on the field considering how well debutants have done recently.

Three of the last four pace bowlers – Vernon Philander and Marchant de Lange being the others – have taken a five-wicket haul in their debut Test, while Faf du Plessis and Dean Elgar both have centuries to their name.

Kleinveldt is the odd seamer out, but he bowled well at Centurion and eventually had some reward when he picked up the wickets of Misbah ul-Haq (5) and Asad Shafiq (6) midway through the second session.

Azhar and Farhat had added 54 for the third wicket and South Africa were in need of a breakthrough after lunch.

And it came, as ever, from Steyn, although this time it was a run out.

Farhat had turned left-arm spinner Robin Peterson to fine leg and Azhar was looking for a second run, but was turned back and couldn’t make his ground from just two metres down the pitch as Steyn fired in a superb bullet throw straight over the stumps.

Quite how the lower-order wagged so enthusiastically – Sarfraz Ahmed (40), Saeed Ajmal (31), Ehsan Adil (12) and Rahat (22) didn’t really mind how the runs came – baffled many, but victory was never in doubt.

Pakistan had begun the day on 14 for one and Azhar and Younis Khan survived for the first half-hour, before the opener and Farhat added 48 for the third wicket to take the tourists to lunch and cut the deficit to 166 runs.

The match situation was right down the obdurate Azhar’s alley and the 28-year-old batted for nearly three hours and faced 110 balls in scoring his 27.

Farhat, in contrast, once again looked keen to tee it up and struck five fours in his 43 off 91 deliveries.

Philander and Abbott were both probing, but the pick of the bowlers in the morning was Steyn, who had bowled nine overs for 22 runs and taken both wickets.

He removed Mohammad Hafeez with the first ball of the innings on the second evening and added the scalp of Younis for 11 on Sunday.

Steyn struck with a beautiful late away-swinger, Younis reaching for the ball to try and play it to mid-on, getting the outside edge and sending a comfortable catch to Smith at first slip.

 

Kyle Abbott: ‘A captain’s dream’ 0

Posted on February 23, 2013 by Ken

AB de Villiers described him as “a captain’s dream” and this was after just 11.4 overs in his first Test.

But this was Kyle Abbott South Africa’s vice-captain was talking about after the Dolphins paceman had taken an extraordinary seven for 29 on debut to make sure the third Test against Pakistan at Centurion will always be indelibly linked to his name.

With three days to go, the third and final Test is in South African control as Abbott’s amazing bowling dismissed Pakistan for just 156 and, forced to follow-on 253 runs behind on first innings, they have already lost a wicket in their second innings.

Pakistan’s batting is ill-equipped to handle skilful seam bowling on helpful pitches and many cricketers have enjoyed sensational debuts without kicking on, but Abbott is blessed with the basic, yet seemingly most difficult skills, to make this an idle warning.

The 25-year-old is pacy enough and the nagging line just on or about off stump that he bowls, with his height often giving him steepling bounce, is guaranteed to put batsmen in danger.

Six of the seven wickets Abbott took fell to catches behind the wicket and the Kearsney College old boy is a perfect fit for the preferred South African tactics of controlled aggression, bounce and aiming for the edges of the opposition bats.

“He’s a captain’s dream. He bowls with a lot of control, he’s really consistent, hits the deck hard and finds the outside edges. He gets good torque on the ball and gets the batsmen to play. He was amazing today,” De Villiers gushed.

The Zululand product’s figures were the best ever in the first innings of a debut Test for South Africa (fifth overall) and the second best by a Proteas bowler in his first Test. The South African record is held by Lance Klusener, who just happens to be the lanky paceman’s coach at the Dolphins, and who took eight for 64 in the memorable 329-run victory over India in Kolkata in 1996, the tourists’ first win there.

The famously taciturn Klusener has undoubtedly been the major factor in Abbott’s rise from talented paceman to the best on the domestic circuit, but the advice the debutant received from his mentor on the eve of his big day was of the brief but meaningful variety.

“He phoned me on Thursday night and I was telling him that Jacques Kallis had got injured and I was going to play, and he was just saying ‘yes, ja, ok, yes’, but then he just said ‘keep it tidy’ and that was the end of the conversation,” Abbott said.

The reserved Klusener was unfairly criticised during his playing days for not being a team man, but it must now be official, the man is a man-management genius.

“Lance has been unbelievable, what a guy! He has really helped me mentally the most, he hasn’t changed anything technically. He’s just taught me a different mental approach, to be more aggressive and to hit the deck hard.

“Lance and I have just clicked, he understands what I need to fire and he presses the right buttons,” Abbott said.

While pace and aggression are definitely there, the most impressive aspect of Abbott’s bowling was his probing line just on or about off stump.  With the occasional delivery standing up as well, the rookie was in charge from the moment he had Mohammad Hafeez caught in the gully off the last ball of his first over.

After having Pakistan captain Misbah ul-Haq brilliantly caught in the slips by Alviro Petersen, Abbott had two for 16 from six overs at tea, which the visitors took on 91 for four.

The Pakistanis never recovered from Dale Steyn trapping Asad Shafiq lbw for six in the first over after the break, with Abbott piling on further misery for the tourists by removing Sarfraz Ahmed (17) and Saeed Ajmal, both caught at first slip by Graeme Smith, with successive deliveries.

Ehsan Adil (9) then edged Abbott to third slip and the Sunfoil Series’ leading wickettaker then added the wickets of Mohammad Irfran (0) and Younis Khan (33) to finish with the ninth best debut figures in Test history.

South Africa captain Smith then forced Pakistan to follow-on – to show how positive he is and how much faith he has in his bowling attack – and there was immediate reward as Mohammad Hafeez edged Dale Steyn’s first ball into his stumps.

Azhar Ali (5*) and Younis (8*) then took Pakistan through to stumps on 14 for one.

South Africa’s weakened pace attack had already shown that they meant business as they reduced Pakistan to 91 for four at tea on the second day.

South Africa were right on top, having scored 409 in their first innings after De Villiers’ superb century and strong support from Vernon Philander had considerably boosted their innings from 248 for six.

Resuming on nine without loss after lunch, Hafeez and Imran Farhat looked on their way to just the second half-century opening partnership against South Africa this summer as they reached 46 without loss after 16 overs.

Ed Cowan and David Warner of Australia had been the only other opening pair to prosper as they put on 77 in Adelaide in November.

But the seventh delivery of Philander’s first spell from the West Lane End pitched on middle-and-off and straightened, trapping Farhat lbw for 30 as the left-hander tried to play around the front pad.

The aggressive Farhat had faced 60 balls and hit three fours, but the slips were always interested when he was at the crease.

The next over saw Abbott bowl the first over of his international career. The first ball was too straight and tucked through square-leg for four with the sweetest of timing by Azhar.

The 25-year-old Abbott thereafter settled on a steady line just outside off stump and, being tall, he occasionally obtained steep bounce, making it a risk for the Pakistan batsmen to attack him.

Hafeez did try at the end of his first over and was cramped as the ball nipped back into him, and the catch went low to gully, where it was well-taken by Dean Elgar.

Hafeez had survived for 85 minutes and 44 balls, and scored 18.

Both openers were out within 11 balls of each other and worse was to follow when Philander removed Azhar (6) with the next delivery.

Azhar was conned by a delivery that kept low outside off stump, edging the ball back into his stumps. Although it is not a pitch batsmen can fully trust, it was a lame stroke by Azhar, hanging a limp bat out to dry.

The West Lane End was giving Abbott steep bounce and that’s what undid Misbah ul-Haq, who provided the slips with an edge as he was squared-up. Alviro Petersen dived low in front of first slip to take a great catch and the Pakistan captain was back in the hut for 10.

Younis had been in for almost an hour when tea arrived, but had scored just 13, while Asad Shafiq was with him on two not out.

Philander had taken two for 21 in seven overs and Abbott two for 16 in six, while Rory Kleinveldt, wicketless in eight overs, had been most unfortunate in his first spell.

He beat the bat several times and seemed to have trapped Farhat in front on 27, only for Hawkeye to say the ball pitched outside leg-stump. It merely added more fuel to the fire for those who don’t have complete faith in DRS’s ball-tracking abilities.

The morning belonged to De Villiers and Philander.

It’s becoming apparent that De Villiers is maintaining his brilliant batting form despite having to keep wicket as well, while Robin Peterson and now Philander have made crucial contributions down the order in successive Tests.

South Africa had resumed on their overnight score of 334 for six, with De Villiers on 98 not out, and his second scoring stroke, another classical drive through the covers, brought him three runs and his 16th Test century. It came off 186 balls and included 13 wonderful strokes to the boundary.

Just a ball later, Pakistan had one of two chances to strike an early blow but fluffed it as Philander edged a drive at Rahat Ali which wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed dived for but could not reach, while first slip Hafeez hesitated.

Philander was obviously going to play his shots on Saturday morning and he went to his second Test half-century off 85 balls and made it to 74, a career-best, before Younis proved the surprise package and had him caught low down by Hafeez at first slip.

De Villiers continued to score freely, going to 121 off 215 deliveries, with 15 fours, before he chased after a short-pitched delivery from Rahat and Shafiq took a very well judged catch on the midwicket boundary.

South Africa were all out four overs later as Rahat claimed his fifth and sixth wickets, removing Kleinveldt (0) and Abbott, the debutant who showed some ability with the bat in scoring 13. The straight drive he hit off Rahat for his only boundary was the shot of the morning.

Rahat was the most successful of the Pakistan bowlers, the Centurion pitch providing him with just enough nibble, while the ball also swung for him, and the 24-year-old who entered the Test scene at the Wanderers finished with six for 127 in 27.2 overs.

The debutant, Ehsan Adil, was unable to bowl on the second morning due to the calf injury that took him off the field shortly before the close of play on the first day, so the visitors were grateful for the penetration Rahat provided.



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