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Ken Borland



I know a week is a long time in sport, but … 0

Posted on March 20, 2017 by Ken

 

I’ve always known that a week can be a long time in the world of sport, but I go away for eight nights to the bush of northern Limpopo and return to find rugby’s entire landscape changing with indecent haste compared to the months of feet-dragging that often characterise a game that has been presided over at some stages by dinosaurs or the old farts of the straw-chair brigade.

One of the changes I saw coming before my departure. I always love unintended consequences and it was former Springboks and Bulls defence coach John McFarland who pointed out to me that the rulemakers’ new emphasis on keeping tackles lower, away from the head and shoulders, was at least partly responsible for the sudden rash of offloads we have seen from the South African teams, who have traditionally preferred taking contact and winning some hard-earned, psychologically-meaningful centimetres.

So it’s not just a mindset change amongst our franchise coaches and players, but also that tacklers are now being forced down below the arms, allowing the hands to be free to keep the ball alive.

Time will tell whether that more skilful approach is carried through to the Springboks, but the national team has already had better preparation than last year with a camp and they look better resourced too in terms of coaching staff.

One of those additional resources is Cheetahs coach Franco Smith and it may be just as well that he has earned a promotion because he might be out of a decent Super Rugby job next year. If we believe what the New Zealand media tell us, then the Cheetahs as well as the Southern Kings will be axed from Super Rugby under the new, hopefully improved format for 2018 that is yet to be unveiled.

Harold Verster, the CEO of the Cheetahs, cheerfully told the world though that he keeps his “ear to the ground” and that the rumbling noise he hears is not a rampaging stampede of buffalo at all, but the sound of the Grey College-Free State-somewhere else in the country pipeline running smoothly. He says the Cheetahs are safe.

You cannot be nearly as optimistic about the Kings, however. They would seem to be sitting ducks as not only are they struggling on the field but they are a financial drain on the South African Rugby Union and money always shouts loudest when it comes to administrators, like politicians.

Speaking of politicians, you cannot escape the irony that Cheeky Watson, the self-proclaimed messiah of transformation, has now left Eastern Cape rugby and has done more damage to the nursery of Black rugby in our country than anything since a Nationalist government functionary.

If you called him a blood-sucking tick you would probably be understating his effect. The man has been a full-blown parasite on the game in that vulnerable region, more like the deadly malaria protozoans that kill half-a-million people a year in sub-Saharan Africa.

Later this year, the British and Irish Lions tour New Zealand in what should be the rugby highlight of 2017, but this type of proper tour probably won’t become more common given the news this week that a new global rugby calendar is being introduced. Coming into effect in 2020, it has reducing player workload as one of its main tenets.

Tours by northern hemisphere teams to the southern hemisphere will be pushed back to July, but this will allow Super Rugby to be completed in one fell swoop from February to June. This is a good thing and will come into effect in 2019, because that is a World Cup year.

The 2023 World Cup is another story of course, with South Africa seemingly ranged against France and Ireland for the right to host the tournament. If you can believe what came out of sports minister Fikile Mbalula’s mouth this week, then government is now backing the bid.

Then again, Mbalula might just have been trying to distract from the fiasco that was Durban’s Commonwealth Games bid. The chairman of that bid was Mark Alexander, the president of the South African Rugby Union, but that’s a story for another day.

Top-class Sharks halfbacks hoping for a change in injury fortunes 0

Posted on February 21, 2017 by Ken

 

Pat Lambie and Cobus Reinach have endured a wretched time when it comes to injury in recent SuperRugby seasons, but Sharks backline coach Sean Everitt said on Tuesday that the team are excited about being able to field a top-class halfback pair in this year’s campaign.

“That’s where we’ve fallen short in the last couple of years, losing Pat early and then Cobus being unlucky in the last few years, means they have missed a lot of SuperRugby which is never easy for a team to lose their first-choice halfbacks. And SuperRugby is not really the sort of tournament you want to breed youngsters in, that’s more for the Currie Cup, and we’ve also had no Frans Steyn.

“But the youngsters are important and they’ve been working hard, because Pat has to rest at some stage. Innocent Radebe and Benhard Janse van Rensburg have done well and Curwin Bosch can play flyhalf as well.

“Cobus will certainly provide some x-factor, he’s an opportunist, but he does the basics well and has a good boot too. He’s been here a long time, he knows the systems well and he delivers on the field,” Everitt said.

While experience at nine and 10 will obviously be cherished by the Sharks, they do have a herd of youngsters challenging for backline places and that has pleased Everitt as well.

“The youngsters have a lot of enthusiasm and since losing JP Pietersen, Willie le Roux and Odwa Ndungane last year, the Currie Cup bunch have grown considerably. They’ve certainly played themselves into contention and that’s exciting.

“We have Kobus van Wyk on the wing, although we will look at him at centre if we have problems there. But Lukhanyo Am has done well in the Currie Cup and has had good preparation, so we’ll be looking to build up his combination with Andre Esterhuizen.

“Jeremy Ward is obviously a good signing because he was one of the top age-group players in his position [centre] last year and we mustn’t forget Johan Deysel from the Leopards, who played in the 2015 World Cup for Namibia. It’s time to move on and these guys have what it takes,” Everitt said.

But there is also the presence of veteran French fullback Clement Poitrenaud and Everitt said he would play a leadership role in guiding the young backline.

“Clement is definitely in contention for selection in the match-day 23, he has a lot of experience having played 47 Tests. We have a young backline, so he will be good for us, leading and helping those guys. He’s very popular amongst his team-mates, his English is quite good and he has a good sense of humour. Most importantly, the guys admire his skill-set,” Everitt said.

http://citizen.co.za/sport/sport-rugby/1428003/sharks-holding-thumbs-their-dynamic-duo-keep-fit/

John McFarland Column – What the Boks need is money & leadership 0

Posted on December 12, 2016 by Ken

 

It’s been a really poor year for the Springboks under any circumstances and nobody can hide from that, but now is the time for true leadership.

It is in times of adversity that true leadership is shown and it is time for the South African Rugby Union to bring the Springboks we all love and cherish back to their rightful place in world rugby.

They need to decide either to change direction, replace Allister Coetzee and start afresh; or back him and give him his own coaching staff going forward, allowing him to put his own stamp on the team. If they back him then they have to give him what he wants going forward.

If they decide to change direction, then they must have someone new appointed by February. The national coach needs a little time to get his systems in place and the skills program has to be continued through the year and monitored.

As for 2016, there were many changes in game plan, that was quite obvious, so I feel for the players. They also had so many different defence coaches, who would all have different ideas.

There was never any clarity on the way forward in 2016, there was very little continuity, especially in defence, which makes up 50% of the game. The biggest mistake was changing defence coaches all the time.

And then you look at the rumoured national U20 coaches, none of them have coached at the really sharp end of rugby before, even at Currie Cup U19 or U21 level. Why not appoint someone with SuperRugby experience? You need to make strong appointments in these areas, because that is the start of the Springbok pipeline, you need quality coaches at all levels. Why not appoint someone with real experience and clout and give him a four-year contract?

SA Rugby needs to put their hands up, who will take responsibility for these decisions? Where has been the leadership off the field in this time of great uncertainty in Springbok rugby? New president Mark Alexander has spoken a lot, so credit to him, but also shouldn’t the leader of Saru, who is involved in all these decisions, back his decisions?

Compare that to the situation with English Rugby Football Union CEO Ian Ritchie and Stuart Lancaster, who is an excellent coach, but Ian had the unpleasant task of firing him. He said they have to get their ship going in the right direction and they have to do what they have to do, so they appointed Eddie Jones and allowed him to choose his own assistants and management team.

I see now that Saru’s exco will have responsibility for all decisions related to rugby. It will really come down to them making the right decisions going forward.

Someone like Richie Gray, who is at the forefront of his craft, was let go and he’s now the fulltime breakdown coach for Scotland. It’s a big loss for the Springboks and you can see how well Scotland did in the November series of Tests, you can see the impact he made.

The breakdown is not just about stopping tries but also creating them because 50% of all tries are scored from turnover ball and unstructured play. So it’s about how you win the ball at the breakdown and use it.

For South African rugby, the principle thing to get right is where the money should go. You can have all the marketing you want and great structures within your company, but if your major rugby team is not successful then it all falls down. You can’t attract sponsors just to start with. The Springboks should be their major spend, they need to get that right.

In any core rugby business, the spend of budget on the team and management is normally 60%. The question must be asked: Has 60% of the budget been spent on getting the Springboks right this year and moving forward?

They’ve got the money, more than enough, their turnover is R1 billion which is a very large amount of money in any corporate business, but they haven’t shown the vision and necessary expertise in spending that money widely on the rugby front. Questions need to be asked.

There are also more than enough quality players and experienced coaches in South Africa, but most of the things that were said in the recent indaba, the previous Springbok management have said for four years – things like kicking execution, high-ball and breakdown work.

So Saru need to spend money and employ coaches to fix it and they need to work around the franchises. The franchises are very open to information-sharing and always backed the national process and way. The thing is that national coaches have to be seen around the franchises, making themselves freely available to help when and where needed.

South African rugby needs a director of rugby who is high-quality and there are enough candidates in South Africa, who have a proven record when it comes to building pipelines and structures and winning trophies.

That’s what is fantastic overseas, the interaction between the national management and the franchises, like in New Zealand and other places. England have a full-time coaching co-ordinator who coaches the coaches of the elite teams. He helps them with their professional development, it makes all their coaches better. There’s nothing like that in South Africa; here, you can win one Currie Cup and you’re the next big thing. Coaching takes time and learning, and the first port-of-call for Saru should be a support system for their top coaches.

I’ve been interested to see Dave Rennie’s name mentioned. The Kobelco Steelers, where Allister Coetzee was coach before getting the Springbok job, have a relationship with the Chiefs and Dave would spend time at Kobe as a spot-coach, where he would have developed a relationship with Allister.

As ever, contracts are a problem and Rennie has signed for two years with Glasgow, so it will cost a fair bit of money to buy him out of that and then Saru need to make it lucrative enough for him to want to come to South Africa.

Any coach worth their salt wants to coach an international team, so hopefully Saru would give the job description the weight it needs. He could be used in a whole host of possible roles, the key is getting the job specifications and expectations right.

If Allister stays on, at the end of the day he is on very shaky ground next year and there will be huge pressure on him going into the Rugby Championship. Fortunately he starts with a series against France and in June they are never at their best because their championship finishes so late and is so long. Their players are tired by June and have eased back on training.

This week will be a very important week for South African rugby, with critical decisions needing to be made and backed. The process needs to be driven by those with the real power at Saru.

Sitting in 6 degrees in Japan, a long way from the South African summer, I wish everyone a very happy and prosperous Christmas. We will resume the column in January.

 

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.

Sharks have tough time against 14-man Rebels 0

Posted on November 18, 2016 by Ken

 

The Cell C Sharks had a tough time beating a 14-man Melbourne Rebels team in their Vodacom SuperRugby match at Kings Park in Durban on Friday night, eventually scrambling to a 25-21 victory.

The crowd had little to get excited about in the first half until the 29th minute when a fight broke out between Sharks tighthead Jannie du Plessis and the Rebels number three, Laurie Weeks.

Replays showed that Du Plessis had slapped Weeks on the back of the head, prompting a barrage of punches from the Rebels frontrower. With the input of the TMO Marius Jonker, referee Jaco van Heerden yellow-carded Du Plessis and gave Weeks a red card.

It meant that the Rebels played with one man short for the whole second half, but it didn’t seem to faze them as they held their own in the scrums and had a real chance of winning after scoring two tries in the final quarter.

The Sharks had little impact on attack because they lacked straight runners and their handling – as well as the Rebels’ – was dreadful.

They were given a 10-0 lead five minutes after the Du Plessis/Weeks fracas thanks to a storming run by wing S’bura Sithole, who stood out for the Sharks with his work-rate and powerful running, but the Rebels were able to cut the deficit to 7-10 on the halftime whistle, thanks to a try by eighthman and captain Scott Higginbotham, who was rightly given the man of the match award despite finishing on the losing side.

The Sharks defence had held off the Rebels for numerous phases, but the explosive Higginbotham was then given the chance to score by a weak tackle by flyhalf Lionel Cronje.

The Sharks were under pressure early in the second half, but fullback Lwazi Mvovo saved them by intercepting on his own 22 and then racing away for an 80-metre try.

The home side were plagued by scrappy ball-retention and hesitancy on attack, but replacement centre Heimar Williams lifted them to a 22-7 lead after 52 minutes with a brilliant solo try.

The 23-year-old produced the direct running that had been so lacking, cutting back inside and then racing past the cover defence for the first try of his SuperRugby career and a memorable one at that.

The Rebels fought back doggedly, however, inspired by the brilliance of Higginbotham.

On the hour mark, he stormed through a big hole in the Sharks’ midfield for his second try and, with five minutes left in the match, he set up the Rebels’ third try, by replacement wing Bryce Hegarty.

The Sharks had been on attack after Mvovo broke from deep for the second time, but once again the poor ball-retention let them down, the Reds winning a turnover and Higginbotham surging forward from the 22-metre line.

The defeat means it is the end of the road for the Rebels’ hopes of reaching the playoffs, while the Sharks are still trying to rid their game of the basic errors that hold them back.

The defence was good at times, but the attack is amongst the most insipid in the competition.

Scorers

Sharks – Tries: S’Bura Sithole, Lwazi Mvovo, Heimar Williams. Conversions: Lionel Cronje (2). Penalties: Cronje (2).

Rebels – Tries: Scott Higginbotham (2), Bryce Hegarty. Conversions: Jack Debreczeni (3).

 

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    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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