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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column – Defence and touring are the talking points 0

Posted on March 30, 2017 by Ken

 

Two of the main talking points among South African SuperRugby followers at the moment are the apparent slackening in the defence of the local franchises and the resting of players for the away matches against the Jaguares and Sunwolves.

Questions have been raised about the defence of the South African franchises, especially after the Bulls leaked six tries against the Blues in Auckland last weekend. But it’s not just the Bulls – there are a lot more tries being scored this year in general.

The reason is that over the last year the attack has gone a lot wider and there are more players behind the ball. Sure, the rules have changed a bit, like the tackle law favouring more offloads, but the game has changed over the last year with people more willing now to leave forwards in the wide channels.

Most teams now play 2-4-2 or 1-3-3-1 with their forwards spread out across the field, and we are seeing more loose forwards standing in the backline.

In terms of the tries the Blues scored against the Bulls, we often saw two forwards in the outer extremities running against backs. When you have a big man on a smaller man, you’re more likely to be able to get an offload away. The Blues were able to score either because the Bulls simply ran out of numbers or they were able to effect excellent offloads by having support players behind the ball.

Three or four years ago, teams would have their forwards in two pods of four, but now they leave them in channels across the field and you will often see a hooker or back-row forward in the 15-metres-from-touch zone. The All Blacks have been doing this for the last five years and England did it between 2000 and 2003.

The reason it’s being done is because it’s now been proved, thanks to every player being fitted with a GPS that measures how many metres they have run and at what speed, that a lot less energy is used if the forwards are spread across the field than if they follow the ball. That’s how this new trend has evolved.

I actually thought the quality of the Bulls defence was very good in the first half, but they were found out in the second half when they just ran out of steam, too much juice had been taken out of their legs. That meant the Bulls’ backs and wings were always in a numbers situation, they could not get their width back and get back into line, so they were always under pressure.

To be fair though, the try from the restart was because at the kickoff you usually leave players back – the three outside backs and the scrumhalf on the chip-kick – and with four players out of the defensive line you will be vulnerable. But it was a good try and the Blues’ first try also featured fantastic offloads.

It’s difficult to stop offloads in the wide channels because you’re also dealing with footwork because of all the space available out there.

We always faced these same difficulties against New Zealand sides and some days we were more successful dealing with them than on others. The keys are a high level of conditioning, especially amongst the forwards, and to work hard at the breakdown. If you can’t get tacklers over the ball to slow it down, then the opposition just gets quick ball and quicker ball, and momentum, and then it’s difficult to set a defensive line. That’s what happened to the Bulls and it put Jamba Ulengo under real pressure on the wing.

But Pine Pienaar is an experienced defensive coach, now in his fourth year in the job, and he will be very aware of all this and will know how to fix it. After all, the Blue Bulls made the Currie Cup final last year and you don’t get there without having a good defence.

Handre Pollard had a better game and I’m looking forward to him coming through, he’s going a level up every week.

But it’s an horrendous draw for the Bulls to have all those away games up front, it’s the hardest draw in Super Rugby because you can never get on the front foot. Even a brilliant coach like John Plumtree was let go by the Sharks in 2013 after that sort of draw, and Allister Coetzee also had a season starting with numerous away games with the Stormers.

So it can happen that you get on a downward spiral. Super Rugby is such a tough competition that you always go through crises, but it’s how you deal with them that counts.

There have been suggestions that South African teams are concentrating more on attack to the detriment of their defence, but they will always get enough time during the week to work on their defence, that will never change. Generally teams train for 50 minutes on the Monday, then Tuesday is virtually a full session, the major day for defence, with contact. Then on Thursday attack will be the focus, but it’s not true that teams are concentrating too much on attack!

Each coach will have equal time to work within that on their area, teams split their time evenly between attack and defence.

In terms of weakened teams going to play the Jaguares in Argentina, that would have been pre-planned. Teams have to rest their frontline players in accordance with the Saru guidelines and it’s a helluva trip. You leave on the Sunday morning, flying 10-11 hours to Sao Paulo, where you have a three-hour wait before flying for four hours to Buenos Aires, only arriving on Monday afternoon, so you can’t train then. Teams will have a light practice on the Tuesday, with just one major session on the Thursday.

And coming back from Argentina is even worse!

What coaches like Johan Ackermann and Franco Smith have done is look at their next games and those have been vital, the problem with travelling to Argentina is always the game after that one, but that’s just the nature of the competition.

Singapore is also 10 hours away and it’s very humid and hot there. The Stormers took it as a chance to get some fringe guys some rugby.

Teams are merely following medical advice on how to keep their players fresh and get their best rugby out of them, plus players are more susceptible to ailments on these long trips.

The Lions proved last year that you need home advantage to win SuperRugby, but they needed to be at their best in the knockout games, hence their decision to rest players for their last round-robin game in Argentina.

 

 

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 importance of getting those yorkers in in the death overs 0

Posted on February 28, 2017 by Ken

 

South Africa’s loss in the second ODI in New Zealand this week once again brought home the importance of death bowling in tight finishes. The Black Caps were able to get their yorkers in to great effect in the last few overs and won by six runs, a margin of defeat that flattered the Proteas because they hit the last two balls for fours when they were already out of contention needing 15 off two to win.

For my money, there has been too much emphasis in recent years in South African bowling strategy on bowling the ball into the pitch, varying pace, using the short ball etc. Tim Southee and Trent Boult simply got the ball in the blockhole when it really mattered and the batsmen found it impossible to do anything more than jab the deliveries away.

Sure, if there’s a set batsman in at the time then they can make the margin for error infinitesimally small by moving deeper into their crease or stepping out, but it’s been a long-standing weakness of South African bowlers that they cannot consistently get the yorker in. Perhaps because back at home in domestic cricket on pitches of bounce and seam movement there is less necessity, but in international cricket they get exposed.

This week I sought the wise counsel of Gordon Parsons, the bowling coach of the Highveld Lions team that won the 50-over competition last season, so they must be doing something right.

“The more things change in the game, the more they seem to stay the same. And I’m very much of the belief that nothing’s changed when it comes to a good yorker still being the best ball at the death. If a bowler can master three different variations then he’ll be a quality performer. Trying six, seven, eight different deliveries just complicates the mind and sometimes I feel using variations is an excuse for a lack of execution of the regular skills,” Parsons, the taker of 356 limited-overs wickets at an average of 30.75 and an economy rate of just 4.07, said.

“Sometimes bowlers hide behind the slower ball, but how many deliveries hit the same spot? The best bowlers do the simple things really well – look at Imran Tahir, who is the world’s number one limited-overs bowler and basically bowls wicket-to-wicket. He’s become better the simpler he’s made it. Bowlers have got to keep it simple,” Parsons, who took 809 first-class wickets in a 19-year career for two English counties and three South African teams, said.

The last time the Proteas were in New Zealand was for the 2015 World Cup and for the seventh time they fell short at the ICC’s premier tournament, conceding 9.8 runs per over in the last five overs of their fateful semifinal against the Black Caps.

With Tahir at number one and Kagiso Rabada ranked seventh, South Africa have the makings of a decent attack, but neither of them are known for their death bowling, both instead proving brilliant at breaking partnerships in the middle overs.

Rabada does have a lethal yorker, which I’d like to see him use more, and Chris Morris and Wayne Parnell could both be pretty effective if they can get swing and find the blockhole more consistently. Andile Phehlukwayo has the variations, but the same applies to him.

I saw an interesting statement this week from a radio sports broadcaster that the current attack is South Africa’s best ever in ODI cricket, but for me, the 1996 World Cup line-up of Allan Donald, Fanie de Villiers, Shaun Pollock, Craig Matthews, Pat Symcox and Brian McMillan, with Hansie Cronje and Jacques Kallis as the sixth and seventh bowlers, is hard to beat.

 

 

Sanzar’s SuperRugby Christmas present is likely to be meh 0

Posted on February 20, 2017 by Ken

 

Rugby fans who have had enough of the current fatigue-inducing set-up will be eagerly anticipating Christmas and the expected announcement by Sanzar of a new SuperRugby format from 2016. But what they find in their stocking might still leave them unimpressed because Sanzar are unlikely to go the most obvious route of two pools of nine, eight matches home and away and semi-finals and a final.

Because the Southern Kings had such a dramatic impact on rugby in the Eastern Cape, certainly in terms of crowd figures, the South African Rugby Union (Saru) seem to have accepted that they can no longer leave such a massive region out in the cold even though they lost the promotion/relegation series to the Lions. And Argentina, full Sanzar partners now, look set to be rewarded with a place in SuperRugby as well, expanding the competition to 17 teams. Judging by the noises coming out of New Zealand and Australia, some sort of Japanese involvement is also being strongly considered to make it an even 18.

But the same Australian demands that impacted so heavily on the previous broadcasting agreement, which brings in all the money and therefore decides the format, seem set to ensure common sense does not apply. In order to sustain the ailing code of rugby union in Australia, they want their own conference, even if they have to share it with some New Zealand teams.

So the three proposals that Sanzar are considering are to keep the status quo (yes, many stakeholders, most of them living on a big island, actually think the current format is great), to split into South African and Australasian conferences, or to expand the competition even more and include other Asian teams, and the USA and Canada as well.

It would appear the two-conference system has been most positively received by Saru, and hopefully their negotiators will show much more skill when Sanzar meet in Sydney next week than the muppets who negotiated the previous deal. That could mean six South African franchises, which play each other home and away, making 10 fixtures. If the Australasian conference is split into two pools, with Japan in one and Argentina in the other, then they, too, could play 10 round-robin matches. The idea is then for the top six or eight teams across the conferences to play in the finals. If six teams go through and play each other, that’s five more matches. A semi-final and a final would then mean a maximum of 17 games per team – much cleaner, much simpler and less of a slog than SuperRugby is at the moment for all concerned.

What is vital is that Sanzar consult the players, on whom they rely to sell their product. There is a strong suggestion that the current exodus of players from the southern hemisphere to Europe is not just because of the power of the euro, but also because they are on their last legs due to the unceasing intensity and quantity of rugby Sanzar has foisted on them.

Bulls captain Pierre Spies, one of many on the injured list after the prolonged SuperRugby campaign, is pegging his hopes on change. “I’d really like to see the competition end before the international season. That three-week break for the internationals in June is a waste. I’d like to see all the focus on SuperRugby, get that done with and then give all the teams three or four weeks to prepare for the Tests. We could then finish the Rugby Championship at the end of October and either go back to our franchises or prepare for the end-of-year tour. I’d prefer there to be one global schedule and to finish SuperRugby in one go. That would also give all the teams one extra bye,” Spies told Daily Maverick on Thursday.

There does seem to be growing agreement on the sense of having one global rugby season. The International Rugby Players’ Association has come out in favour of it and even Sanzar CEO Greg Peters has said it makes sense. “The idea of moving June to July, in a Sanzar context, certainly holds a lot of appeal, for a lot of reasons,” Peters told The Herald Sun. “We could complete the SuperRugby season without a break, which is something in an ideal world we would want to do. Then you would move straight into the international program, have a short break, the Rugby Championship, short break, and then the Spring Tours. We would certainly be interested in sitting down with the northern unions and getting their views about whether it would work. And obviously we are interested in the views of the players’ associations as well.”

The Currie Cup Premier Division also looks set to change, with a new eight team format apparently agreed to in principle by the Saru executive committee, just two years after they went to great lengths to justify a cut to six teams. The phrase “political expediency” immediately springs to mind, but the thought of the Kings and the Pumas, who have dominated the First Division in recent times and are based in the rapidly-growing centre of Nelspruit, competing at the top table does have appeal.

The administrators sit in the boardrooms and make the decisions over lavish lunches, changing tune according to their own vested interests, but it is the players who have to go out, put their bodies on the line, and make these formats work.

“I’ve only been playing SuperRugby for six years and I’m struggling to get on the field now,” says Springbok star Francois Steyn, who has been out of action since May after two operations for compartment syndrome in the leg – an over-use injury.

“In South African rugby, we all worry about saying something wrong and stepping on someone’s toes, so I should probably keep my mouth shut. But it’s all about bringing the fans out and less rugby is probably better. Then the top players can play for longer. At this rate, if you play for 10 years, you’re a lucky guy.”

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-08-30-quo-vadis-superrugby/#.WKrl_2997IU

SA rugby needs decency more than anything else 0

Posted on January 12, 2017 by Ken

 

In terms of rugby, the New Year is all about finding answers to the question “What is wrong with South African rugby?”, but two incidents in the last month show that, perhaps more than anything else, some of our players and administrators have to ditch their self-serving attitudes and get back to the old values of the game that were rooted in common decency and humility.

The recent actions of the Western Province Rugby Football Union and current Springbok player Johan Goosen suggest the problems are more about individuals being rotten to the core rather than structural issues.

Let’s start with Goosen and I’m not going to say anything more about his on-field performance than my feeling he has flattered to deceive, although the fact that he never had a start at flyhalf is a mitigating factor.

But his tawdry actions in trying to get out of a lucrative contract with Racing Metro, that he only signed a few months ago and that netted him €500 000 a year until 2020, indicate this is a man of scant integrity and someone who clearly does not put team ahead of self.

A couple of weeks ago Goosen announced his retirement from rugby at the age of just 24, following one of his more injury-free years and his return to international rugby, saying he was going to become commercial director of a Free State based agricultural company.

Of course no one is really going to believe that and his name has since appeared on a Cheetahs training squad list and it has since been said that Goosen is ultimately going to Gloucester, once Montpellier owner Mohed Altrad becomes the English club’s majority shareholder.

With flagrant disregard for any ethical considerations, Goosen has taken advantage of a loophole in French labour law which makes all fixed-term rugby contracts temporary. Hence a player can be released from his contract without penalty if he finds fulltime employment – ostensibly Goosen’s dubious “commercial director” job.

The actions of Western Province rugby are just as cynical and what little faith their loyal supporters had in their administrators must now have almost totally dissipated.

They had applied for liquidation of the business arm of WP Rugby and then, just a day after that was granted by the Cape High Court, the Western Province Rugby Football Union announced that the insolvent company had been bought by one of their other companies.

Having put Western Province rugby into financial strife, the likes of president Thelo Wakefield and CEO Paul Zacks are glibly trying to slip through a loophole in thoroughly dishonourable fashion to evade their creditors, most notably with sponsorship company Aerios.

And these are the calibre of administrators that have been put in charge of one of the most legendary brands in rugby?!

Goosen has surely played his last game in the Green and Gold because people of such deviousness really should not be representing our country. He should also not be allowed to play Super Rugby and the Springbok coach must ensure his players will make the nation proud, not embarrass us on an international stage; the good of the game must come before the avaricious accumulation of individual wealth.

Wakefield must also surely fall on his sword. This is not some village rugby team he is mishandling, but one of the proudest rugby legacies in the world, whose fans should be feeling deeply humiliated.

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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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