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Ken Borland



Lions players with heavy hearts after semi-final loss 0

Posted on July 07, 2017 by Ken

 

There were plenty of Lions players with a heavy weight on their shoulders after Saturday night’s heartbreaking Currie Cup semi-final loss to Western Province.

The Lions, defending the title they had won in fairytale fashion last year, had dominated most of the match and seemed to have finally secured victory – when everything changed.

The Lions’ apparent lead all turned belly-up after flyhalf Elton Jantjies had kicked an angled penalty to switch the score to 16-14 with less than two minutes remaining.

Then the ball was carried back from the kickoff and Jaco Taute put too much on his clearing kick, the ball sailing directly into touch to give Western Province a vital lineout inside the Lions’ 22. The visitors’ rolling maul once again carried too much momentum to be stopped, and the Capetonians had the match-winning try with a dozen seconds left in the game.

While the loss will weigh most heavily on Taute and Jantjies, who missed three first-half kicks that denied the Lions vital reward for their dominance, it was also a sad end to an era. This Lions team that showed the courage to win the Currie Cup last year after they had been humiliated in SuperRugby, who stood up as a unit to get rid of their bullying coach, John Mitchell, and who shrugged off the awful news that they would not be playing in the Sanzar tournament in 2013, will now break up.

Already, Jantjies, Taute, lock Michael Rhodes and prop Pat Cilliers have been confirmed as heading to the Stormers, while two unsung heroes of the tight five, Franco van der Merwe (Sharks) and Jacobie Adriaanse (Scarlets), are also departing.

The loss of these players, and probably more in the near future, means the Lions will have to rebuild yet again.

“We’ve lost guys who we’ve worked on for two or three years to get to this level, and now we’ll have to get new guys to that level as quickly as possible,” coach Johan Ackermann admitted.

“This group has become so close, they really play for each other. For the first time in years, we have a number of players in every position and we would have gone into SuperRugby with some depth and with players going into their second or third year in that competition.

“But now this whole group breaks up and we have to start building up a new team again … I know those are words Lions supporters don’t want to hear, but we have to do it.”

The mere fact that the Lions finished the year as strong Currie Cup contenders, hosting a semi-final, and not as the clowns some haters like to portray them as, is amazing considering all the obstacles they faced.

“We could of fallen apart and finished sixth and gone into a promotion/relegation playoff, but instead our goal was to win the Currie Cup. I’m still very positive, even though we’re just disappointed now because that was a game we should have won. But I’d rather be losing in a semi-final than playing promotion/relegation,” Ackermann said. 

The Sharks, having seen off the Bulls 20-3 in difficult conditions in Durban, will now go into the Currie Cup final as firm favourites.

Thus far in the competition, they have undoubtedly been the most cohesive unit, they have the best all-round players and they will have home ground advantage.

Ackermann predictably backed his former Sharks side to beat the Streeptruie next weekend, saying “they can’t get that lucky twice, Christmas only comes once a year”, but even Western Province coach Allister Coetzee was saying the Natalians would be favourites.

“We’ll be up against the best side in South Africa; the Sharks are unbelievably strong, to hold the Bulls to just three points is very telling. They are a real quality side, they are good on attack and defence and they have good kickers. Maybe we’ll need all 22 players on the field to beat them … ” Coetzee said.

If you believe their detractors, Western Province tend to “choke” in the big games, but their victory over the Lions showed there is immense character and patience in their side. Nothing seemed to be going for them for three-quarters of the match, but then, as the game entered the crucial final stages, they were able to up the tempo and be clinical on attack.

“It’s one of the best wins I’ve experienced with Western Province, the character of the team really stood out and they never gave up. In the latter stages of the second half, we found space and width and the bench gave us great impetus on attack.

“The team showed a great will to win and the side that capitalises on their opportunities normally wins playoffs. People like to throw out that ‘chokers’ term at us, but the connection in this team is incredible, both to each other and to the game plan,” Coetzee said.

To upstage the Sharks, however, Western Province are going to have to improve markedly up front. The Lions bossed them at scrum time and the Sharks front row, spearheaded by Springboks Jannie du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira, will be looking to do the same.

The Sharks forwards were magnificent in stopping the big Bulls’ ball-carriers’ efforts to get over the gain line and they certainly have the backline to make better use of possession than the Lions did.

A sopping wet day in Durban was an equaliser, helping the Bulls’ strengths, but to win so convincingly just shows that the Sharks have the quality to rise to any occasion or conditions.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2012-10-21-currie-cup-lions-fans-welcome-to-heartbreak-hotel/#.WV99GISGPIU

Bulls prove their composure to pip WP 0

Posted on October 17, 2016 by Ken

 

Vodacom Blue Bulls coach Nollis Marais promised that his team were a different side from the one that lost at the same stage, against the same opponents, in last year’s Currie Cup, and they eventually proved that as they pipped DHL Western Province 36-30 in their thrilling semi-final at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.

The Bulls were probably worthy winners as they played most of the rugby, but whenever they looked like putting the squeeze on Western Province, they would make mistakes and the visitors were brilliant at scavenging opportunities and using them to the full.

It looked like the Bulls would falter at the same hurdle when Western Province went ahead 27-22 in the 58th minute and then again, 30-29, with just seven minutes remaining.

But the 2016 Blue Bulls showed their development in terms of composure and mental strength as they played pragmatic rugby in the closing stages to eventually edge home thanks to replacement scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl’s try with just 90 seconds remaining.

A try by wing Travis Ismaiel, after 10 minutes, with centre Burger Odendaal making a great run off the ball and then the final pass, made sure that the Bulls made a good start to settle the nerves.

But Western Province scored nine minutes later to make it 7-7 with a try that showed their pack was not about to be bossed around at Loftus Versfeld, the forwards marching a lineout drive for 20 metres and eighthman Nizaam Carr dotting down.

That seemed to fire up the Bulls though and they began to squeeze Western Province in the second quarter. Schoeman kicked another penalty (10-7) and then a huge scrum in front of their own bench that had their subs on their feet earned another penalty (13-7).

Western Province were clearly feeling the pressure as Juan de Jongh tried to carry the ball out of his 22 but was met by a firm head-on tackle by Schoeman and flank Roelof Smit, who enjoyed an outstanding first half, pounced on the turnover, winning another penalty as the Bulls stretched their lead to 16-7.

But the lapses that kept the visitors in the game, the little momentum-killers, then reared their ugly heads.

Smit fell foul of referee Marius van der Westhuizen at the first ruck from the kickoff, allowing Western Province flyhalf Robert du Preez to cut the deficit to 16-10 as the hooter went for the break.

The lead was then cut to just three points from the kickoff for the second half as flank Jannes Kirsten carried strongly as ever, but outside centre Dries Swanepoel went straight off his feet and sealed off the ball at the ruck, allowing Du Preez an easy kick to make 13-16.

The mercurial Schoeman pushed the lead back up to 19-13 after his lovely break had forced Western Province to go offsides to prevent a try, but the 25-year-old’s ability to deliver the sublime and the ridiculous within moments of each other was then shown as he provided the intercept that was snaffled up by lock Chris van Zyl, leading to wing Werner Kok roaring away for the try.

From that point onwards, control was slipping away from the Bulls. Schoeman, to his credit, would keep knocking over the vital kicks at goal, succeeding with all eight of his shots, but he also dropped the kickoff after his own 55th-minute long-range penalty to give Western Province prime position.

The Bulls conceded a penalty, which the visitors ran and lock Jan de Klerk stepped inside before barrelling over for the try.

Du Preez’s conversion put Western Province 27-22 up and the Bulls seemed to be on their way to another semi-final heartache when they lost their own lineout throw just outside the opposition 22. But they would get another chance as the clearing kick was taken by wing Jamba Ulengo, who raced off on a great run, Odendaal carrying the move on down the right as the Bulls roared back into the red zone. Several pick-and-goes later and replacement lock Jason Jenkins was over for the try, converted by Schoeman as the Bulls regained a 29-27 lead.

A crowd of nearly 18 000 roared the home team on – and was thanked profusely by the team management and CEO Barend van Graan after the game – and the Bulls produced an inspired period of defence on their own line.

But after their scramble defence won them the put-in at a scrum, they went down at the most inopportune moment, giving Du Preez a terrifying penalty which he nailed, giving him a 100% goalkicking record of 6/6.

Western Province were 30-29 ahead going into the last two minutes, but to the enormous credit of this young Bulls side, they kept their heads.

Van Zyl has just turned 21 and it was his smart break which put the Bulls on attack, only for some willing defence from Western Province to keep them out. The visitors did give them a lineout inside their own 22 though, and the Bulls were willing to show patience as they built the phases until the opposition just weren’t able to get enough defenders across to the next ruck, allowing Van Zyl to dart over for the matchwinning try.

It means the Blue Bulls are going to play in the Currie Cup final for the first time since 2009, and will travel down to Bloemfontein to take on the rampant Free State Cheetahs.

They are going to need all their new-found composure then as well.

Scorers

Vodacom Blue BullsTries: Travis Ismaiel, Jason Jenkins, Ivan van Zyl. Conversions: Tian Schoeman (3). Penalties: Schoeman (5).

DHL Western ProvinceTries: Nizaam Carr, Werner Kok, Jan de Klerk. Conversions: Robert du Preez (3). Penalties: Du Preez (3).

http://citizen.co.za/1315860/bulls-prove-composure-pip-wp/

Bulls are more mature & more confident – flyhalf Schoeman 0

Posted on October 14, 2016 by Ken

 

Blue Bulls flyhalf Tian Schoeman says he is going into Saturday’s Currie Cup semi-final against Western Province way more confident than last year, especially since he has a more mature pack in front of him now.

Last year the young Bulls side were beaten 23-18 by underdogs Western Province, who used a more experienced pack to exert pressure in the set-pieces and forward exchanges and won the territory battle, but this weekend the home side are a more accomplished side with a big pack that has excelled in the scrums and lineouts in recent matches.

“I’ve got two Currie Cups behind me now and a bit of Super Rugby, so I’m more confident. I was quite stressed out this time last year and we didn’t know what to expect, especially in a semi-final. So I’m definitely a bit calmer now although there are of course still some nerves,” Schoeman told The Citizen on Wednesday.

“I’m also a lot more relaxed because it’s lekker to play with a dominant pack in front of you. Our forwards have really stepped up and in the last few games the set-pieces have been very good. We’ve been getting a lot of results from the scrums with pushover tries and the lineouts have been very good as well. That’s going to be very important for the semi-final because you need the set-piece to attack from.”

The Bulls scored four more tries than Western Province during the league phase of the competition and have focused on a more ball-in-hand, high-intensity approach than in previous years. Nobody is more important than the flyhalf in driving the game plan and Schoeman said they will stick to what has served them well in the competition thus far.

“We’ve decided not to change anything, we’re going to stick to what we’ve been trying to do. It’s a bit more running rugby and maybe a bit more risky, but we don’t want to give Western Province the opportunity to play. So we’re only going to kick when in trouble, but those exits need to be accurate because you don’t want to give the other team opportunities,” Schoeman said.

 

Snyman & Bulls eager to avoid repeat of last year 0

Posted on October 12, 2016 by Ken

 

Listening to Western Province coach John Dobson talking about the Blue Bulls having all the pressure as favourites in this weekend’s Currie Cup semi-final, it reminds one of the same stage of the competition last year when the Capetonians came to Pretoria and upset the home side.

Bulls lock RG Snyman is well aware of the history and is eager to avoid the same painful result this time around.

“We were in the same situation last year playing against Western Province at Loftus Versfeld and we’d like to change what happened in that game. The way we do that is by not changing what we’ve been doing this season, we have to stick to what we’ve been doing. But the good thing is that this semi-final feels like nothing new, it’s quite a difference playing it now when we’ve all been through another whole Currie Cup season and a season of Super Rugby,” Snyman told The Citizen on Tuesday.

The Bulls have focused on an exciting brand of rugby, but they went down 23-18 to Western Province in last year’s semi-final thanks to the visitors not allowing them any platform or space to play the type of rugby they wanted to produce.

This year they come to Pretoria with a much-less hardened pack and the Bulls youngsters are all a year older and coming into their prime, most notably Snyman, who turned 21 only this year.

“Western Province have a good pack and it will definitely be a physical battle, especially in the set-pieces. But if we can dominate at forward then we should do really well. With the break we’ve had a bit more time to prepare and the team has clicked a bit better through the competition. Hopefully we’ll see that greater experience and better cohesion come through now at the end of the tournament,” Snyman said.

Springbok reserve hooker Bongi Mbonambi will be coming to Loftus, as should prop Oli Kebble and lock JD Schickerling, and the Bulls are going to have to show some real grunt up front to ensure they make the final.



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