for quality writing

Ken Borland

The John McFarland Column – Bok defence gives them hope v All Blacks 0

Posted on September 14, 2017 by Ken


All in all, even though people were disappointed with the result, there was a lot to be pleased about in the Springboks’ draw with the Wallabies in Perth last weekend.

To put it into perspective, historically South Africa’s record in Australia is not that good with just 12 wins in 37 matches and only five out of 26 games since 1992, so to get two away points is a good result.

The Springboks will be disappointed, however, that they did not win because they were so dominant in the second half and they had some really clearcut opportunities that they needed to finish.

This Saturday against New Zealand at the North Harbour Stadium will be a real test, but then it always is against the All Blacks. What will really encourage the Springboks leading into that match is their defensive system that meant Australia could only score one try against them in open play, having scored five and then four tries in their two matches against New Zealand.

The Wallabies’ other try in Perth came from a driving maul and the main reason for that was that the Springboks competed at the front of the lineout. It was a high risk/high reward tactic, but with Eben Etzebeth in the air it meant they lost three players to defend on the drive, which is a particularly high-risk strategy five metres from your tryline.

The Springboks were really good in the tackle in Perth and made lots of double hits. They mixed up their defence well: at times they came very hard off the line, for example in the two turnovers Siya Kolisi forced through sheer linespeed; sometimes they were softer in their defensive line, especially on the blindside, where the attack is usually very flat and basically off the scrumhalf, so you just try to shepherd them out towards the touchline.

Once Kolisi managed to jolt the ball loose and that gave Jan Serfontein a clear run for the line but he was held up two metres short, and the other major turnover by the blindside flank came when he forced the error that led to the end of the game.

The Springboks were very good at the breakdown in Perth, and Jaco Kriel and Pieter-Steph du Toit made some really important steals as well.

The Springboks really struggled though with Australia’s obstruction, especially on the kick-chase. When you kick long it is vitally important that your line gets ahead, and stays ahead, of the retreating defenders. The Springboks do generally chase well, but if the opposition can get players in-between the chasers then it allows their back-three player a clear gap and a hole to hit in the line. It’s like obstruction and completely illegal, but someone like Richie McCaw made it an art-form for the All Blacks.

Every bit of momentum the Wallabies had in Perth really came through this. You cannot rush in defence if the attack has momentum, you have to go softer to recover; you try to get them on to the edge of the field and then you can push hard again.

It’s interesting that under Chean Roux last year, South Africa tried to implement the rush-defence, but we all know the problems they had with that system. But I feel their defensive system is very secure this year, you can see the players really back it and believe in it.

The South Africans could have been better organised on the restarts though. They tended to have their wings forward and their pods deeper, but against someone as lethal as Israel Folau, you need the pods to come further forward. But when Folau won the one aerial ball against Courtnall Skosan that led to a try, there was a huge obstruction. If you watch it from behind, Sekope Kepu actually points to Kurtley Beale and tells him where to go, he clearly blocked Etzebeth from making the hit.

Eben obviously has the respect of his team-mates and is leading well, but he is still an inexperienced captain, especially at Test level. That try needed to be reviewed and I’m sure the TMO would have made the right decision; the captain just needed to whisper in the referee’s ear …

I thought the Springbok kicking game was quite good and Elton Jantjies managed to convert a few zones and pin Australia in their 22. The Springboks were quite clever at times by moving the ball wide to Andries Coetzee, which brought Folau up and then they were able to put the ball in behind, which gave the blind wing quite a few problems.

I was really impressed again with Coenie Oosthuizen. Besides anchoring a dominant scrum, he also hasn’t missed a tackle all Championship and he also made three tackles with a broken arm when he came back on to the field!

It just shows the commitment and attitude in the team at the moment, they are really working hard for each other.

I was curious to know how the Springboks would respond to being 10 points down in a Test and the fact that they were able to get back into the game and so nearly won it at the end is a real positive going forward. As is the fact that for long periods their forwards were very dominant at the set-pieces.

We must remember that this is not a team full of 50-Test Springboks – in fact only three players in the starting XV in Perth had more than 30 caps, with two more on the bench – it is a growing team. In the decision-making positions, there is tremendous inexperience and in the spine of the team – hooker, eighthman, scrumhalf, flyhalf and fullback – there was a total of just 34 caps.

So critics of the Perth performance need to take a rain-check and be positive; they must realise that this is a Springbok team that is growing in stature and is unbeaten this year so far.

The All Blacks are probably favourites on Saturday, but in 2012 and 2014 both Tests over there were very close and 2013 was the famous Romain Poite Test with Bismarck, so you can’t really count that. Apart from last year, all our games with New Zealand have been relatively close.

This is a Springbok team in such a good mental space and the All Blacks have alluded to how they can see a brilliant culture in the team and the difference in their defence, as well as the clever bits of play they are producing. They have the deepest respect for this South African team.

The absence of Jaco Kriel will, however, be a big loss for the Springboks, especially against the All Blacks. His pace, dynamism and the way he puts his body on the line without any fear is a huge positive for the team. But it’s a chance for Jean-Luc du Preez to step up and for Siya Kolisi to play at six and for someone new to come on to the bench. Siya is already really forcing a lot of turnovers on the ground.

You have to give credit to the South African coaches, staff and players for how well the Springboks have performed and hopefully they can get a good result on Saturday.

The winner will win the Rugby Championship – it probably is that simple really.



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.

John McFarland Column: Why I think the Boks will win in Perth 0

Posted on September 07, 2017 by Ken


The Springboks have so many guys playing well at the moment that I see us getting the result against Australia in Perth on Saturday, even though the Wallabies have been very competitive against the All Blacks for the last 120 minutes – it’s just the first 40 minutes of the first Test in which they were hammered.

Australian rugby is not at its strongest state at the moment and there has been a losing culture around the players from SuperRugby and a two-game loss to New Zealand, which has been their traditional start to the Rugby Championship.

They did come very close to winning in Dunedin and they probably should have won that match, but they haven’t been convincing, whereas the Springboks are full of confidence, belief in their systems and they have momentum. You can just see the positivity in the camp.

On the back of two losses, the Wallabies will be in a motivated and desperate state, but the confidence is not quite there.

Australia don’t have the same weapons as the Springboks do and they don’t have much of a kicking game. In fact they don’t want to kick, everything is about ball-in-hand for them, so obviously if the Springbok defence stands up well, opportunities could be created by the Wallabies trying to play under pressure.

There has been an exceptional improvement in the Springbok defence and the players are working so hard for each other, they’re getting off the line and smashing the opposition. It just shows that defence can be a weapon as well.

Australia will want to carry the ball a lot, they want to outscore teams, but the Springbok defence has proven quite lethal in stopping attacks and forcing turnovers, and then finishing those off.

Australia have a few good ball-carriers at centre, but the Springbok defence has been very good from first phase and they coped well against France, who had big wings and midfielders.

The Wallabies will try to beat you through phase play, which means they can become very vulnerable themselves later on in the movement, around phases five to 10, when the attack is not as structured and there’s a chance for turnovers.

Australia also don’t have the best scrum and Stephen Moore being out will affect that even more. Their back row is also a lot younger than it was previously.

Centre Tevita Kuridrani is the big threat in their team with the way he runs inwards at the lineout vacuum – that area between the last player in the lineout and the first backline defender. He can be a handful running hard and headlong into that hole.

Flyhalf Bernard Foley is definitely a threat as well, especially around middle rucks, because he has good feet and gets quite flat so he is able to go at the inside pillars.

We just don’t know from week-to-week though what team Wallabies coach Michael Cheika will pick, which is the difference between the teams because we virtually know the Springbok team from one to 23. It’s settled, which is a big advantage, and they’ve had combinations now for five Tests and they’ve performed really well. The biggest positive for the Springboks is that consistency of selection, which means the players are confident in the people around them.

The Perth crowd can also be 50/50 when it comes to who they support between South Africa and the Wallabies, but the pitch is very removed from the stands, so the crowd is quite a long way back. It also makes it a bit difficult for the kickers because the stadium is just different to most others.

The other unknown is that the Boks have not been in a losing position in any Test so far this year, they’ve been in control after the first 20-30 minutes of every game. So that is the only box unticked – if they are 10-15 points down after the first half-hour or 40 minutes, can they come back? That is the only question mark against them, but I’m sure they can do that if necessary as well.

There’s real hope that we can win in Perth for the first time since 2009. Elton Jantjies is in such a rich vein of form, the defence is so strong and the attack has been lethal – scoring at least four tries in every Test this year has been phenomenal.


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.

Cricket steps towards proper integration, but what of rugby? 0

Posted on October 02, 2014 by Ken

Cricket took another major step towards properly integrating the game this weekend when the domestic season began with the new quota/target/requirement of at least two Black Africans per franchise … and the world did not end.

In fact, Temba Bavuma showed that he is one of the most promising batsmen in the country with a delightful innings at the Wanderers, handling the pace of Marchant de Lange with aplomb, Kagiso Rabada showed that he has a tremendous cricketing brain inside that athletic 19-year-old body, while Ethy Mbhalati and Tumi Masakela both bowled tidily, the latter for the Knights against the Warriors in Bloemfontein.

There was a predictable outcry when Cricket South Africa first announced this new “target” in mid-year, but 20 years of democracy has proven that some sectors of society are still recalcitrant when it comes to righting the wrongs of the past and trying to level the playing fields when it comes to opportunity, which is surely one of the basic premises of all sport.

Some people require a push in the right direction. But if the moral imperatives of fair play and equal opportunity aren’t incentive enough, then economic and sporting reality should be. Sports like cricket and rugby are still only tapping into a tiny proportion of the population, and therefore the talent in this country; by opening the doors of opportunity to more people, it stands to reason that our teams will become stronger.

While I am pleased that Black African cricketers will now have more opportunity at first-class level, therefore deepening the talent pool available to the Proteas, I was even more delighted with the news that Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has handed Teboho “Oupa” Mohoje a start in today’s Test against the Wallabies.

At least now maybe the storms of accusation that have been circulating on electronic and social media will end.

It is perfectly understandable that some people, after all the years of suffering under Apartheid, still have a chip on their shoulders, but as a nation we should be trying to discuss these issues with less emotion.

There are so many armchair, semi-knowledgeable coaches out there and yet they feel they know better than a highly-qualified and decorated coach like Meyer when it comes to rugby reasons for selection? Worst of all, Meyer was accused of racism.

This is patently ridiculous when you consider that it was Meyer who recognised the raw material in Mohoje and brought him into the Springbok squad after he had started just five SuperRugby matches, all of them at home.

That’s the sort of affirmative action I fully support, but the peanut gallery who then wanted Mohoje to be hurried into the Rugby Championship starting XV are likely to harm his future prospects rather than help them.

Sure, Juan Smith leapfrogged Mohoje and had a bad game against Argentina but who can blame a coach, with his job on the line, for backing the pedigree of an experienced player who had performed brilliantly in the Heineken Cup? And places on the bench generally don’t necessarily go to the next best player, but to the player who can bring the most value to the side in terms of impact and utility value.

And those people saying Mohoje has been treated differently to someone like Arno Botha should note that the Bulls loose forward played 22 SuperRugby matches before making his debut against Italy and Scotland, the same team the Cheetahs flank began his international career against.

Perhaps the days are not far off when South African rugby franchises, like their cricketing counterparts, will have to play a couple of Black Africans. Only then will Meyer not have to manipulate the system and try and fast-track players. Selection is a gamble at the best of times and political sensitivities make it an absolute minefield.



Meyer gives vote of confidence … and a warning 0

Posted on October 16, 2012 by Ken


Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer on Wednesday gave the team that beat the Wallabies a vote of confidence by keeping them intact for Saturday’s Rugby Championship match against New Zealand at Soccer City in Soweto, but he is under no illusions regarding the kind of performance needed to beat the world champions.

“The All Blacks are a quality side, they’re on a winning streak, they’ve been together for a long time and they know how to win, even when they’re not playing well. They know how to play away from home and they’ve got the mind-set that they can win away because they’ve done it so many times before. And they’ve got that World Cup monkey off their backs now as well,” Meyer said.

“I know we’re not going to outscore them with tries, and if we’re going to beat them, we have to kick at an 80%-plus success rate, we have to convert our pressure into points, defend unbelievably and take every chance. The players have to pitch up, be mentally strong and physically tough.

“Especially with Dan Carter back for them. I think he’s a superb player, he brings more composure to the team and he’s a huge threat if they get quick ball,” Meyer said.

While Meyer firmly believes that his young team is going places, the All Blacks have probably already arrived.

New flyhalf Johan Goosen is still being touted as the Springboks’ salvation but, as Meyer pointed out, Saturday’s Test is going to be a major challenge and step up for the 20-year-old, who started in the South Africa number 10 jersey for the first time against Australia.

“The New Zealand back three are superb, especially the way they read the game, and they’re very good under the high ball. So it’s not going to be easy for Johan to kick tactically against them; it’s going to be a tough learning curve for him.

“He will improve, though, as he gains experience, as he plays more, and he’ll get better at seeing space,” Meyer said.

But New Zealand, with the arch-poacher always lurking in Richie McCaw, with Israel Dagg, Cory Jane and Julian Savea at the back and one of the world’s great centre pairings in Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu, will ruthlessly exploit any wrong move by the Springboks.

They will be out to produce a far more convincing display than they did in Dunedin in the previous meeting between the two old rivals. The All Blacks might have won that game 21-11, but their own media reckoned the Springboks were the better team on the day, losing only because they missed 20 points worth of kicks at goal.

“I am sure the All Blacks will come out blazing because maybe they underestimated us a bit in Dunedin after we had struggled in the first half of the year. They won’t do that again,” Meyer warned.

The injury curse that has been hammering the Springboks finally seems to have relented enough for Meyer to name the same starting XV for two matches in a row for the first time this year.

It’s on the bench where the only change in personnel has been made, with versatile prop Coenie Oosthuizen returning for Pat Cilliers.

The Free State Cheetahs powerhouse received the all-clear the previous day from a neurosurgeon in Durban, the Springbok medical team wanting a second opinion on the neck injury that seemed to still be troubling him so as not to put the 23-year-old’s future career at risk.

Meyer knows how important the forward battle will be on Saturday, saying the pack “have to pitch up, be mentally strong and physically tough”.

Having edged the All Blacks forwards in Dunedin, the Springbok pack certainly won’t be chicken when it comes to taking on the opposition front-on in Soweto.

“This is going to be one of the best packs around – it’s a good combination of youth and experience. But we need to pitch up with physicality against the All Blacks; we need to bring something extra. We’re telling the youngsters to just go out and hurt people,” lock Andries Bekker said of his fellow forwards.

Bekker also had no sympathy for himself when he described his disastrous game in the shock draw in Argentina.

“There’s no problem with my back anymore but mentally, after Mendoza, I needed a lift. There were some harsh words directed at me, but I knew I had not been up to scratch. I knew I had to step up because for me, personally, my performance was shocking,” Bekker confessed.

There will be no room for anything less than 100% from the Springboks on Saturday, with the All Blacks desperate to ensure there are no interruptions to their 15-match winning streak that sees them just three off the world record held by Lithuania since April 2010.

The team 

15-Zane Kirchner, 14-Bryan Habana, 13-Jaco Taute, 12-Jean de Villiers, 11-Francois Hougaard, 10-Johan Goosen, 9-Ruan Pienaar, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Willem Alberts, 6-Francois Louw, 5-Andries Bekker, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Adriaan Strauss, 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: 16-Tiaan Liebenberg, 17-Coenie Oosthuizen, 18-Flip van der Merwe, 19-Marcell Coetzee, 20-Elton Jantjies, 21-Juan de Jongh, 22-Pat Lambie.

  • Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • Thought of the Day

    James 1:5 - "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."

    The lessons Christ taught were intensely spiritual, but also extremely practical. For him, everything - every thought and deed - was an expression of his relationship with his heavenly Father. All of our life must be an expression of the spiritual.

    "I wait upon God to renew my mind, to make me creative, instead of becoming the clanging cymbal that Paul spoke of." - Paul Tournier

    "The spiritual life touches the realities of every day and enables you to look, to a certain extent, at people's problems as God does." - Solly Ozrovech

↑ Top