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Ken Borland



Lions have earned universal respect despite failing to make playoffs 0

Posted on November 24, 2016 by Ken

 

The Lions may have failed to make the SuperRugby playoffs after their dramatic weekend draw against the Stormers, but the Johannesburg-based franchise has certainly earned the respect of all their opponents this season.

Just two years after they were controversially relegated from SuperRugby, the Lions have clinched second place in the South African Conference and boast an almost identical record to the Brumbies, who have snuck into the playoffs ahead of them because of bonus points.

They have maintained their positive style of play with ball in hand, but where they have improved most is defensively, boasting the best tackling success rate in the competition. The Lions play at the highest tempo of all the South African sides as they swarm around in defence and always have great intensity on the ball. Their powerful scrum has provided a solid platform and their lineout has also been efficient.

“It’s all about playing with intensity and hunger, and we have to up our performance every week. There are plans in place, but I also allow the guys to be free spirits and you have to live with the small mistakes that come from that,” coach Johan Ackermann says. “Obviously I’m very proud of the team, it must be one of our best years and it shows that hard work is worth it.”

The Lions have certainly deserved all the praise that has come their way, beating the qualified Waratahs and Highlanders in the last five weeks and showing all season that they are never out of the contest with some superb second-half comebacks.

“There’s great belief within this side, a real hunger. We want to close down the opposition’s space and put them under pressure. We’ve built our physicality in defence, we want to be in their faces and not stand back,” captain Warren Whiteley says.

Their impressive performances have seen several of their players grow into Springbok contenders. The most likely Lions player to feature in Heyneke Meyer’s Springbok World Cup squad is flyhalf Elton Jantjies, who dares to take the ball flat and attack the opposition line, has superb hands and is a strong defender, as well as kicking well this season.

Eighthman Whiteley is competing with Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Burger for a place at the World Cup, but he gets through a mound of work and is the only player in SuperRugby this year to have made more than 200 tackles, while also being highly effective in a linking role, possessing great skill and vision as befits a Springbok Sevens player who helped win the Commonwealth Games gold medal last year.

He is also adept at interfering with the opposition lineout, where Franco Mostert has also been a key performer for the Lions, as well as in the loose.

Warwick Tecklenburg has been outstanding in doing all the Lions’ dirty work, being second only to Whiteley in terms of tackles made, but fellow flank Jaco Kriel has been the most impressive forward.

A constant nuisance at the breakdown, he oozes raw talent in offence, having phenomenal pace, strength and hands, and has more often than not been able to spark the most sensational counter-attacks by the Lions.

Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe have proved to be two powerful centres, while scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and wing Ruan Combrinck are two other backs who have announced themselves as future Springboks this year.

Despite their success over the last two years, Ackermann says at the moment they are just playing pretty rugby and haven’t won anything yet, there is more growing to do.

“We can look back on a good season regardless of missing the playoffs. The players know where they stand with me and they know my expectation on deserving the jersey. As long as they do that, I can’t ask for more. The growth from last year is definitely there, but there is still a lot of work to do.

“Nobody has achieved anything yet. We are not in the playoffs, we haven’t won the Currie Cup yet, we haven’t won any trophies yet. But if you ask me if there is a lot of growth, both for me as coach and for the team, then definitely if you look where we started in January 2014 until where we are now,” Ackermann says.

 

Bavuma opening? That’s not the only weirdness we’ll see 0

Posted on September 12, 2016 by Ken

 

Temba Bavuma will open the batting on his ODI debut for South Africa in Benoni on September 25 having done that job in just two of the 69 List A games he has played in his career, but that’s not likely to be the only selection weirdness we see in the Proteas’ limited-overs teams this season.

That’s because, in order to meet the new quotas that will apply as an average at the end of the season across all three formats, it seems the national selectors will follow the sensible option of ‘loading’ the limited-overs teams in order to give themselves more leeway when it comes to Tests.

The targets they have to meet at the end of the season are 54% players of colour and 18% Black African players – measured as 27 matches with 11 players a side, therefore 297 individual playing opportunities, of which 161 must go to players of colour, including 54 appearances by Black Africans.

The last time Bavuma opened the batting in a List A match was actually in February, in the Lions’ Momentum One-Day Cup match against the Knights in Mangaung, when he scored just five before being caught behind off the evergreen Dillon du Preez.

Prior to that, the only time he had opened was back in March 2010 for Gauteng against Northerns in the CSA Provincial competition at the L.C. de Villiers Oval at the University of Pretoria. He scored 18 off 20 balls before being caught behind off Tumi Masekela. His opening partner that day was Grant Mokoena, and that’s not the only thing they have in common as they both scored sparkling centuries this week in the eKasi Challenge between the Lions and Titans at the Soweto Cricket Oval. Both hundreds were of sufficient quality to disprove the nonsense that there are no talented Black African batsmen around.

I am not criticising the quotas now imposed by Cricket South Africa at national level – I can see their need, I’m delighted that we are now being honest about them and don’t know how else much-needed transformation can happen at a reasonable pace – but I would like to point out that they are a double-edged sword.

While someone like Mokoena has undoubtedly benefited from the targets imposed at franchise level last season – he played more first-class matches than he had ever before and had his highest tally of runs as well as his best 50-over campaign – the other side of the equation is how established players like Bavuma could find themselves shifted into unfamiliar roles to fill gaps.

Is it fair on a wonderful craftsman like Bavuma, who showed against New Zealand how he has become a key figure in the Test line-up, to make his ODI debut in a once-off game batting out of position? The squad for the series against Australia that follows has already been named, so even if the 26-year-old scores a double-hundred against Ireland, Hashim Amla will take his place in the next game.

And what if Bavuma gets a good ball up front and is dismissed cheaply? What if he struggles to 12 off 38 balls on a Willowmoore Park pitch that can be tricky in the first hour? Will it dent the selectors’ confidence in him?

Bavuma has shown already that he has incredible mental strength so I don’t think it will dent his confidence, and he really is batting beautifully at the moment. When he gets on top of the bowers as he did against the Titans in Soweto, he is a wonderful strokeplayer, but just as impressive is the tenacity he showed in the second innings of the second Test against New Zealand to score 40 not out.

Andile Phehlukwayo will also make his ODI debut later this month and he is a real talent for the future. Also gifted with a great temperament – as displayed in his excellent death bowling – he will also get a chance against Australia. If he does not immediately succeed in this tough first assignment at the highest level, I hope he is not tarnished with a reputation for not being up to it, seeing as though he is only 20 years old!

Ludeke has big fat grin, with good reason 0

Posted on June 27, 2016 by Ken

 

Bulls coach Frans Ludeke sat with a big fat grin in the post-match press conference and with good reason as his team had produced one of their best performances this season in beating the Sharks 17-10 in a hard-fought local derby at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday.

The Bulls have struggled to win away from home in recent years, with the win over the Cheetahs in the first week of March their first victory on the road in two seasons, so the triumph over the Sharks could be a watershed.

“It’s a great feeling, we haven’t had a lot of wins here over the last few years and it’s always a tough assignment. You have to be at your best, and we played well and we played for the full 80 minutes, closing the game well by squeezing penalties,” Ludeke said.

The Bulls certainly did play well, enjoying the bulk of possession and territory, as their big ball-carriers dominated the attacking rucks and their pack, as a unit, exerted huge pressure at the defensive breakdown.

“We had all the possession and field position, especially in the first half, because we worked hard. We knew they would be competitive at the breakdown, so we put in an extra effort there in terms of ball-security, which all starts with the ball-carrier,” the coach said.

Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold said his team were in the contest throughout and said there was a very narrow line between winning and losing.

“There was no lack of effort, in fact it was a massive effort against such a big, physical team and we were in the game for a large part of it. But if you don’t take literally two or three opportunities and they do, then you’re going to lose,” Gold said.

The defeat has seriously trimmed the Sharks’ chances of winning the South African Conference as they are now seven points behind the Bulls, who have a game in hand, but Gold said their hopes have not been killed yet.

“There is still hope, even though there is unbelievable disappointment and it’s a very sombre dressing room.”

 

Kuhn has hope and inspiration from Cook’s selection 0

Posted on April 04, 2016 by Ken

 

The fact that the national selectors were willing to choose a 33-year-old new cap for Test cricket in Stephen Cook this summer has provided hope and no little inspiration to Heino Kuhn, who is the leading run-scorer in the Sunfoil Series this season.

The 31-year-old Titans batsman also averaged 60 in the Momentum One-Day Cup and a golden summer has pushed Kuhn right back into the picture for national honours after playing five T20 internationals for South Africa as a wicketkeeper/batsman between 2009 and 2011.

Kuhn is now strictly an opening batsman (and a quality fielder too) and regularly goes big, with six centuries in the last two seasons. His tally of 18 first-class hundreds includes three doubles and a 191 for South Africa A against Bangladesh A.

“It was nice to see Stephen Cook get an opportunity with the Proteas, I was happy for him because for years he’s been flippen good for the Lions. It was great that he took his chance and it’s great to see that South African cricket is now like Australian cricket where, if you’re a good enough batsman, you’re never too old.

“As long as my body holds, I’ll always believe that I can play for South Africa again and my fiancé Trudie probably believes even more than me! But I’m playing the best cricket of my career and luckily enough I have another two years on my contract with the Titans, so I hope I can continue this run because it’s the best I’ve ever batted,” Kuhn says.

The Titans stalwart – he has been granted a benefit season by the franchise – says his purple patch is not down to anything new in his technique but rather a better focus on the basics of top-order batting.

“I just try to bat time and play straight. I know I have the square shots, but if I just try and play straight and face a lot of balls then I know I’ll get runs. I know that if I face 200 balls then I’ll be close to a hundred. It’s about sticking to the basics and Rob Walter [Titans coach] is big on us just worrying about our own things and not the opposition,” Kuhn says.

It’s amazing to think of all the different jobs Kuhn has fulfilled on a cricket field since his days at Affies in the early 2000s, playing alongside AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis. He was actually a middle-order batsman who dabbled in leg-spin.

“I batted four at Coke Week for Northerns, behind AB and Faf, and I batted twice, scoring 40 not out and four not out, the winning runs. And at club level, Roelof van der Merwe kept wicket and I bowled leg-spin, and then one day I said we should swop. I made a stumping off Roela and our ways were set!

“I was very fortunate to keep to guys like Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Alfonso Thomas, Paul Harris and Imran Tahir in my early days at the Titans. But if opening the batting is the only way I can play in a team, I’ll definitely take it. Not many people enjoy opening, but I put up my hand, I like the challenge. It’s like I prefer a green pitch because then you have to work for your runs and you know you deserve them. It’s lovely to get runs in those tough conditions,” Kuhn says.

The likeable man from Piet Retief certainly deserves a successful benefit and another look-in at international cricket, and there have been few more loyal servants of the Titans.

“At the beginning of my career I was fortunate to have traditional team-mates like Martin van Jaarsveld and Pierre de Bruyn, so that was the way I grew up. My family are all here in Pretoria and the Titans are the best franchise in the land. I can’t see myself playing in another country and, if I don’t play any more cricket for South Africa, then I won’t play international cricket for anybody else,” Kuhn says.

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  • Thought of the Day

    1 Corinthians 3:3 - "For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?"

    One of my favourite U2 songs is a collaboration with Johnny Cash called The Wanderer, and it features the line "they say they want the kingdom, but they don't want God in it".
    Many people say they believe in God, but they don't experience his loving presence. They may be active in Christian work, but only if they have their way. If they cannot be leaders, they refuse to be involved.
    Because they refuse to allow God to fill their lives with his love, they remain weak and powerless.
    Spiritual maturity means developing a greater love for others.

    "When the love of Christ saturates you, immature attitudes such as pettiness, jealousy and strife are dissolved.
    "It is only when you have an intimate relationship with the Lord that you receive sufficient grace to rise above this immaturity and enjoy the solid food that the Holy Spirit gives you." - Solly Ozrovech, A Shelter From The Storm



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