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Ken Borland



Chapter & verse from Coetzee, and then what? 0

Posted on December 10, 2017 by Ken

 

In the next week, national coach Allister Coetzee will have to give chapter and verse on what happened to the Springboks this year to the SA Rugby executive council and if he stays true to his public pronouncements after the loss to Wales, then he will describe his charges as “a side that is on the up” and having “a really healthy team environment”.

Which is nothing but a sop for a South African public that rightly expects top-class performances from their national rugby team. Instead, the Springboks have endured a decidedly mediocre year, without a single rousing victory for Coetzee to rave about at his performance review. Victories over France, Argentina and Italy are not results we would expect the Springboks to boast about, and neither were two draws against a very average Australian side.

The results have been disappointing enough but to add insult to injury, the Springboks are playing such uninspired rugby that it feels like we are back to the most conservative days early on in Heyneke Meyer’s tenure as national coach.

Simply put, the Springboks are not making any progress under Coetzee. In fact, we have seen two more unwanted milestones set this year in record defeats to New Zealand and Ireland.

To put an end to this continued slide into mediocrity, SA Rugby simply have to hold Coetzee accountable and relieve him of his duties as Springbok coach. I had sympathy for him this time last year because he was coaching with one hand tied behind his back, perhaps even being set up to fail, but this year he has been given everything he wanted and even said at the start of the campaign that there were no excuses this year.

In the general public, Rassie Erasmus, freshly back in the post of director of rugby, is seen as the obvious candidate to replace Coetzee and try and rescue South Africa’s hopes for the 2019 World Cup.

But Erasmus has shown little desire to emerge from the shadows, from which he has been strategising, and there seems little doubt that the rumours that Deon Davids of the Southern Kings will be the new Springbok coach have emanated from his office via his usual journalistic channels.

Davids has done wonders with the Kings considering the lack of resources, both in terms of players and finance, and time he has had to deal with, and is highly-rated as a coach. But other players and coaches tell me he would be out of his depth at international level.

I do have a fundamental problem, though, if Davids is appointed to merely be the face of the Springboks with Erasmus making all the big decisions.

The Springbok coach needs to be accountable to the fans and he needs to be regularly available to the media to explain his decisions; something Coetzee and those before him have never shirked. Erasmus cannot be allowed to be pulling the strings and not seen to be answerable for the national team’s performance.

As Springbok coach, Coetzee has made some stupid selections (such as neutralising Eben Etzebeth as an enforcer by making him captain) and has rightly been called to task for them; Erasmus cannot be allowed to operate as a dictatorial figure whose instructions are not open to scrutiny.

The time has come for change, but as in Zimbabwean politics, there are concerns that the change won’t necessarily be for the better. The smooth-talking Erasmus has been able to con a lot of people in recent years, but perhaps now is the time for him to display his rugby acumen in the frontline, under the glare of the television cameras and the beady eye of the fourth estate.

 

Proteas’ future muddied by a lot of disruption 0

Posted on August 15, 2017 by Ken

 

The Proteas have just returned from a sorry tour of England and there has understandably been plenty of speculation over what the future holds for South African cricket.

Coach Russell Domingo seems to have accepted his fate, but Cricket South Africa have been absolutely stum over the whole coaching situation, having only too happily made it clear they were looking elsewhere in the middle of the home series against Sri Lanka in January.

Ottis Gibson is clearly the man CSA have earmarked to take over from Domingo, and he has considerable international experience, having been head coach of the West Indies as well as spending a lot of time with England as their bowling coach. The 48-year-old also played in South Africa for a decade, representing Border, Griqualand West and Gauteng.

The uncertainty over the coaching situation, made worse by Domingo having to return home twice due to the tragic death of his mother, clearly unsettled the Proteas, but there were a lot of other disruptions on their tour as well. Faf du Plessis missing the first Test and Vernon Philander’s health problems did them no favours either.

The most crucial thing that CSA need to do for the national team is to provide stability.

AB de Villiers is still leaving the team hanging as to when and what he wants to play and those in the know are quite clear about the fact that his presence has now become at best a distraction and, at worst, a disruption. In terms of talent and reputation, De Villiers is like a supernova, but we all know that a supernova also tends to produce explosive shockwaves that destroy everything in their path.

South Africa’s recent limited-overs form suggests the team is overshadowed when De Villiers plays, so unused to his presence they have become.

So there needs to be complete clarity over De Villiers’ availability and, if he is not available for everything, then he should also not be allowed to captain the limited-overs teams.

Test captain Du Plessis clearly believes De Villiers will retire completely from the longest format, and the question of who should fill AB’s number four berth has not been answered, with three different batsmen filling the spot in the series against England.

It is Du Plessis himself who should take responsibility and step up into the number four berth. He has the all-round game, being able to both attack and defend, that is needed in that position and as captain he also needs to set the tone.

Temba Bavuma is the incumbent number four, but he seems to be more of a gritty middle-order batsman, coming in at five or six. His displays thus far in Test cricket suggest he will inherit the Jonty Rhodes mantle of his value being far greater than just the sum of the runs he scores.

To me, it was an especially poor decision to move Quinton de Kock up to number four, it betrayed a management that was pandering to the views of those outside the camp. The man touted as the new Adam Gilchrist must have the same role as the great Australian wicketkeeper/batsman; De Kock will have much more impact coming in at six or seven where he can play his own game. He does not want to have to rebuild an innings coming in at 40 for two the whole time, he’s the type of batsman to take the game away from the bowlers.

Which brings us to the openers. It is Heino Kuhn’s misfortune that he waited so long for a chance and it came against one of the greatest new-ball pairings in conditions that were always difficult for batsmen; Dean Elgar fared best of all the openers with an average of just 36.37.

But by jettisoning Stephen Cook after four unsuccessful Test matches, the selectors have created a precedent and it would be only fair to give Aiden Markram a go against Bangladesh at the end of next month. He is unlikely to be tested by their gentle pace bowlers, but at least he is a player for the future who needs a chance sooner rather than later.

There is only one round of Sunfoil Series matches before that, so it seems Kuhn will not even have much opportunity to save himself by scoring a whole lot of runs back on home soil. Even Cook will have a better chance as he will play two four-day games for SA A.

It’s difficult to know what’s eating AB 0

Posted on June 26, 2017 by Ken

 

It’s difficult to know exactly what’s eating AB de Villiers.

It’s not so much the lack of matchwinning performances we have become accustomed to from a true genius – his form has actually been solid, averaging 56 at a strike-rate of 105 in ODIs this year – but more the manner and timing of his dismissals as well as his general demeanour.

Some of his comments dismissing other cricketers have been most unlike a player known for his sportsmanship and generosity, although AB has always had a tendency to speak confidently, as if it will make it come true if he says something enough times with enough conviction.

Since his decision to take a sabbatical from Test cricket, De Villiers has failed to score a century. But are we reading too much into that decision, which was presumably (and hopefully) extremely difficult to make? He did of course suffer a long-term elbow injury – a serious ailment for a batsman – before deciding to ease his workload.

(Interestingly, there is some scientific evidence to suggest the sort of elbow injury De Villiers suffered is seen more often in batsmen under pressure, whether that be due to poor form or the importance of their innings, basically gripping the handle too tightly).

Apart from the elbow injury, the 33-year-old De Villiers, who has always been such a great athlete, has also begun to suffer back problems and now a hamstring niggle, all of which must contribute to the pressure he must feel operating under such expectation at the highest levels of international sport.

The mental pressures are probably greater than the physical workload and De Villiers’ awful strokes to get out in his two Champions Trophy failures are indicative of mental fatigue more than anything else. For a batsman of his quality to slap a wide delivery first ball straight to backward point speaks of the mind being elsewhere.

It’s a controversial precedent that Cricket South Africa have allowed in letting De Villiers miss the crucial Test series in England, but the key question is how are the Proteas management going to get the best out of one of the biggest trumpcards in world cricket through to 2019?

The first piece of the puzzle should be to make Faf du Plessis captain in all formats. Removing the ODI captaincy from De Villiers will no doubt be a great disappointment for someone who is as passionate about representing and leading his country as anyone, but I think the pressures of captaincy are making him sick.

In the field, De Villiers just seems harassed and under pressure, constantly consulting his bowlers and causing the Proteas to have problems with the over-rate police. Counter-intuitively, this all seems to happen while De Villiers sometimes sticks slavishly to plans despite the current situation on the field. Cases in point are the first 10 overs against Sri Lanka, when he did not make a bowling change despite the flood of runs, and the decision to recall the expensive Wayne Parnell just before the rain against Pakistan.

By contrast, Du Plessis just seems a more natural captain and things just seem to be more slick with him at the helm.

By unburdening De Villiers, we will be able to see whether we are dealing with just the vagaries of form or the gradual winding down of a great career.

Let’s not forget, similar questions were being asked of Hashim Amla not that long ago, and he has obviously answered them in the best way possible.

Let’s hope that the best talents of De Villiers will be a part of the Proteas for a long time to come. If that means a lessening of his work-load, wouldn’t it be worth it?

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-kzn/20170610/282372629589258

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

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