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Ken Borland



Woods chasing records while Grace & Coetzee make debuts 0

Posted on August 15, 2017 by Ken

 

While the revitalised Tiger Woods is favoured to close to within three of Jack Nicklaus’s record 18 major titles when the Masters gets underway this evening, Branden Grace and George Coetzee will make their debuts at Augusta, lifting South Africa’s representation in one of golf’s most hallowed events to an all-time high of eight.

The pair will join compatriots Tim Clark, Louis Oosthuizen, Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel, Richard Sterne and Trevor Immelman in an event that has seen five South African triumphs – Gary Player in 1961, 74 and 78; Immelman in 2008 and Schwartzel in 2011.

The last player to win on his Masters debut was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and, although Oosthuizen was edged into second by Bubba Watson in a playoff last year and Els is the reigning British Open champion, the spotlight has been elsewhere.

Woods, who has risen like the phoenix back to number one in the world, is the clear favourite, bringing both great form – three wins in his last five starts – and tremendous pedigree, having four previous Masters titles, to the tournament.

Even Nicklaus backs Woods to kick-start his quest for 19 major titles again.

“If Tiger doesn’t figure it out here, after the spring he’s had, then I don’t know. I’ve said, and I continue to say it, that I still expect him to break my record. I think he’s just too talented, too driven and too focused on that. From this point, he’s got to win five majors, which is a pretty good career for most people to start at age 37. But I still think he’s going to do it, he’s in contention every year,” Nicklaus said.

The other contenders are Rory McIlroy, who returned to form with a second-place finish in last weekend’s Texas Open, three-time champion Phil Mickelson and, if you believe the British press, perennial favourite Ian Poulter, even though the Ryder Cup star is battling allergies as practically everything is blooming at Augusta at the moment.

This year’s Masters will also see the emergence of a stunning new talent who could not only be the successor to Woods but also the precursor to the Chinese dominance of the game many have predicted.

The 14-year-old Guan Tianlang will smash Matteo Mannesero’s record of being the youngest golfer to play in the Masters by two years and the youngster has impressed all and sundry in the build-up to the Major.

The son of a keen seven-handicap golfer, who knew his boy was something special when he beat him aged seven, Guan qualified for the Masters by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championships in November.

Woods and two-time champion Tom Watson were among the legends he played practice rounds with, and both came away with the impression they were in the presence of future greatness.

“I enjoyed playing with Guan, he has good tempo, his rhythm is very good. Once he grows a little bit, he will be able to get the club faster. He will use a different swing plane when he gets taller and stronger,” Watson said.

“He’s so consistent,” said Woods. “He was hitting a lot of hybrids into the holes yesterday, hitting them spot-on, right on the numbers. He knew what he was doing, he knew the spots he had to land the ball and to be able to pull it off. Good scouting, good prep, but also even better execution.”

The importance of course knowledge is magnified at Augusta, where the slopes on the fairways and greens are far steeper than the television coverage portrays. It really is the thinking man’s golf course.

“There isn’t a single hole out there that can’t be birdied if you just think, but there isn’t one that can’t be double-bogeyed if you ever stop thinking,” was the famous quote of Bobby Jones, the Masters co-founder and winner of seven Majors as an amateur.

The veteran Els gave the rookie Grace some words of advice before the tournament and he used the Jones quote.

“Overall I’d say it’s a tough golf course to learn in a hurry. I’m sure this will be the first of many visits to Augusta in your [Grace’s] career, so try to enjoy it and soak it all up. There are certain ‘crunch shots’ at Augusta where the tariff is very high and from one to 18 there is no other course where the margins between a birdie and a bogey are so small. You have to commit to your shots and be aggressive to your spots, even if that’s 25-feet right of the pin.

“You’ll know already that the slopes are more severe than they appear on television, so you hit a lot of iron shots from sloping lies and you’ve got the big elevation changes coming into some of those greens. The wind can switch around, especially in Amen Corner.

“The short game is the biggest thing at Augusta, though. The grass around the greens is mowed very tight and against the direction of play, so you have to be very precise with your strike. Obviously the speed and the slope of the greens get your attention, as well. Other than that, it’s really pretty straightforward!”

In Grace’s case, his short game, especially his lob-wedge, is impressive, but what is also relevant is that he is comfortable playing a high draw, which Augusta favours.

Apart from the advice from Els, Grace has also played a practice round with no less of an authority on Augusta than Player.

“I’m hitting the ball like I did in January again and I’m ready. Excitement will take care of the rest. It’s an experience I’ve never had before, Augusta and the Green Jacket is the most special of them all because of the history and South Africans having done well in the Masters in the past.

“I’ve been given some great insights in the practice rounds and everyone has just tried to help George and I as much as possible. Obviously I was disappointed to miss the cut in my last Major, but there was a little bit of extra pressure then because I had come in from nowhere really.

“Now I’m not worried that I have to go out and play well, I’m not worried about what people think because I’m number 32 in the world and I can just go out and enjoy myself. I’m in a good place,” Grace said.

Whatever the result, many would say he is in the best place of all for a golfer: beautiful Augusta in the springtime.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-04-11-masters-preview-tiger-tiger-burning-bright/#.WZLvBlUjHIU

Australia’s unexpected collapse a warning to SA cricket 0

Posted on November 21, 2016 by Ken

 

Australia’s rapid implosion as a Test team, going from the number one ranked side in August to their current shambles, was unexpected but there have been warning signs in their cricket for a while and they are similar to the problems South African rugby is experiencing at the moment.

A focus on chasing money and the commercial aspects of the game has been allowed to mar the systems and structures that were in place to ensure that Australia’s Test team – as well as, at times, the Springboks – were always at the pinnacle of the game.

The Big Bash T20 league is obviously a wonderful, exciting occasion in the Australian sporting calendar, but it seems it has become the most important part of the cricket season, Cricket Australia’s priority and something that is pushing everything else on to the periphery.

There was a time that the four-day Sheffield Shield competition was Australia’s premier domestic tournament and the envy of the world; nowadays it seems almost an afterthought and pace bowlers are pulled out of games midway through by national team management using medical protocols that have little basis in actual cricketing wisdom.

The most amazing example of T20 taking over to the detriment of everything else Down Under will come in February. Six days before Australia play the first Test against India in Pune, starting what is an incredibly daunting tour for a struggling team, a three-match T20 series against Sri Lanka starts in Melbourne.

International cricket was always about the best from each country playing against each other, but either Australia send a second-string team to India or their reserves will be playing in the T20 series. The last T20 will be played the night before the first Test starts!

Some of the Australian media were understandably outraged by the scheduling and, in the wake of the series loss to the magnificent Proteas, they have given their team and administrators both barrels and deservedly so.

Other Australian media have, however, resorted to blame-shifting and a video focusing on South African captain Faf du Plessis doing two perfectly legal things – eating a sweet on the field and using his saliva to shine the ball – albeit at the same time, was always going to go viral and attract the interest of the International Cricket Council.

But if they do punish Du Plessis, what are they going to do about players using sunscreen and then wiping their sweat on the ball? How about the ubiquitous Australian practice of chewing gum on the field, that is also like steroids for saliva.

South African cricket is currently basking in a glorious, phenomenal third successive series win in Australia that is going to be remembered for a long time because of the resilience and team unity they have shown, especially in the absence of big guns AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn.

But we also need to be wary that our administrators aren’t going to go down the same route as their Australian counterparts; there have been enough instances of South African sporting administrators chasing the bucks instead of what is going to be best for the game for us to be cautious.

Which is why, when I see the Proteas and Sri Lanka will be playing the third Test in Johannesburg from January 12-15, and the two Gauteng teams, the Titans and the Lions, will be playing a potentially crucial Sunfoil Series game at exactly the same time, I wonder if our four-day cricket is also going to be neglected, leading to the demise of our wonderful Test side?

Surely it can’t be too hard for the schedulers to say: “There’s going to be a Test in Johannesburg that week, let’s make sure that both Gauteng teams are playing away from home?”

Let the Australian malaise be a warning to us, no matter how smug and happy we are currently feeling.

Bulls not relying on home ground advantage but knockout experience 0

Posted on July 08, 2016 by Ken

 

While the army of supporters at Loftus Versfeld might not actually sell out the stadium, the Bulls will appreciate their help but not be relying on it for victory in their Vodacom SuperRugby semi-final against the Brumbies on Saturday.

Instead of home ground advantage and a phenomenal record at Loftus Versfeld, the Bulls will put their faith in being a well-drilled team that makes the right decisions at the right time, and the fact that they have way more experience of knockout SuperRugby than the rebuilding Brumbies do.

The Bulls have won two semi-finals and two finals and lost in just one qualifier since 2009, while the Brumbies last appeared in the playoffs back in 2004, when they won the title, which explains the presence of veterans George Smith and Clyde Rathbone in their starting line-up.

Brumbies coach Jake White knows how important it is for his team to make a good start in order to silence the passionate Loftus Versfeld crowd, which may or may not be a full-house, with only 30,000 tickets sold by Thursday morning.

The last time the Brumbies came to Pretoria and won was back in 2006 and White doesn’t want his team to “freeze” in the opening exchanges, like the Cheetahs did against them last weekend in Canberra.

The Brumbies have carried the ball more than the Bulls this season, have gained more metres and beaten more defenders so they might just decide to keep ball in hand a bit more than they did against the Cheetahs, especially in the opening stages. They did this to great effect against the Sharks in Durban in March, scoring four first-half tries to settle the outcome early on.

The Bulls will certainly be mindful of stopping the Brumbies’ attacking threats out wide, with wing Henry Speight being the second leading try-scorer in SuperRugby this season and long-striding fullback Jesse Mogg always a threat when he joins the line or counter-attacks.

The Bulls have one of the best kicking games in the competition and the best lineout (hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle has been the best thrower overall), so they will undoubtedly look to force the Brumbies back into their own territory and then pressurise them at the set-piece.

Where the Brumbies will target the Bulls will be in the scrums and at the breakdowns. The Australians earned six scrum penalties off them in Canberra when they beat the Bulls 23-20 at the end of March, while Smith has served them well at the rucks, where the Brumbies have won the third-most turnovers in the competition.

The Brumbies will follow the Sharks’ and Stormers’ approach of disrupting the Bulls at the breakdown, and injured captain Pierre Spies spoke of the importance of ensuring the referee (Craig Joubert) favoured them in that crucial area on Saturday.

“You have to make the breakdown work for you and a lot depends on how the referee interprets that area. George Smith is a brilliant player and we’ll obviously have to nullify him, but the breakdown is something you have to look at during the game and sort out. Even if it’s a tough day at the breakdown, as long as you get the result, that’s the important thing,” Spies said.

Interestingly, not losing possession at the rucks is an area the Bulls have generally been able to tick in this year’s competition, as they have conceded the fourth-least turnovers, just marginally more than the Brumbies. Other areas the Bulls can tick are discipline – they’ve conceded the fourth-least penalties while the Brumbies have infringed the most – the ability of their backline to make clean breaks (7th, Brumbies 11th) and their goalkicking, which has been the best in the competition thanks to Morne Steyn’s 86% success rate.

White, who had a reliable goalkicker as his first choice for the Springboks, will be nervously contemplating the 70% success rate of the Brumbies when kicking at goal this season.

As devout as most of the Bulls are, the Brumbies know there will be no Christian charity awaiting them at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday. Jake White’s men have lengthy odds to overcome but if they hold their nerve and do the basics better than the Bulls, then they can certainly come away victorious.

“It’s finals rugby, so it’s about pressure, both applying and absorbing it. We have to use our opportunities and I hope for a clinical performance,” Spies added.

While the Bulls are favoured to win at home, maintaining their unbeaten record at Loftus Versfeld this year, it seems only a minority of people are backing the Chiefs to win at home against the Crusaders in their semi-final in Hamilton.

Finals rugby is when the Crusaders, appearing in an extraordinary 12th successive semi-final, are generally at their best and the Crusaders machine is growing more powerful every week. They sent out a chilling warning last weekend that they are peaking when they demolished the Reds 38-9 in their qualifier and the scarring is still fresh for the Chiefs after the seven-time champions hammered them 43-15 three weeks ago.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie is saying it suits his team to be underdogs, but his anxious state of mind is perhaps revealed by the seven changes he has made to his team.

The Crusaders are settled and have the sort of players you would go to war with in Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett, Luke Romano and Andy Ellis.

The biggest battle for the Chiefs will be up front, where the Crusaders pack are playing with the sort of cohesion and ferocity that has been the trademark of the All Blacks. The front-foot ball is bound to be used well by the masterful Carter, who has the luxury of potent attacking forces outside him in Israel Dagg, Tom Marshall and Ryan Crotty.

The Chiefs will be dangerous in broken play, but the Crusaders’ lineout and territorial game is also amongst the best, and the patience and composure of the Cantabrians means the mistakes are few and far between.

Ironically, the most high-stakes game of the weekend will involve the SuperRugby team that finished last as the Southern Kings host the Lions in Port Elizabeth in the first of two promotion/relegation matches tonight.

They are playing ostensibly for the right to be the country’s fifth SuperRugby franchise, but in fact they are basically playing for the survival of their professional status.

Without the security of a long-term, guaranteed presence in SuperRugby, neither the Kings nor the Lions have been able to attract decent sponsorship or sign marquee players and the harsh economic times means both franchises are battling to stay afloat.

The Kings, who are without the injured Luke Watson and Andries Strauss, have the conditioning of being exposed to the pace and intensity of SuperRugby for the last five months and the backing of one of the best crowds in the competition.

The Lions have been bolstered by the return of lock Franco van der Merwe, flyhalf Elton Jantjies and hooker Martin Bezuidenhout from loan deals to the Sharks and Stormers, and will be fresher and desperately hungry after looking in from the outside all year.

With Springbok tourist JC Janse van Rensburg anchoring the front row, they should be able to match the Kings in the set-pieces and much will depend on how Jantjies responds to being back with his former colleagues.

The Kings have a tenacious defence which Jantjies will need to unlock, and in the boot of Demetri Catrakilis and the rolling maul, they have two of the most efficient points-gathering mechanisms in the competition.

There is a fine line between desperation and anxiety, and the team making the least mistakes is bound to win in Port Elizabeth.

*Statistics courtesy of Opta and allblacks.com – http://files.allblacks.com/kickoff/opta/ISR-Season-Review-Opta.pdf

Teams

Bulls: Zane Kirchner, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Morné Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Dewald Potgieter, Jacques Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Grant Hattingh, Flip van der Merwe, Werner Kruger, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Dean Greyling. Replacements – Callie Visagie, Frik Kirsten, Morné Mellett, Paul Willemse, Jono Ross, Jano Vermaak, Jürgen Visser.

Brumbies: Jesse Mogg, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, Clyde Rathbone, Matt Toomua, Nic White, Ben Mowen, George Smith, Peter Kimlin, Scott Fardy, Sam Carter, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Scott Sio. Replacements – Siliva Siliva, Ruan Smith, Fotu Auelua, Colby Faingaa, Ian Prior, Andrew Smith, Joseph Tomane.

Southern Kings: SP Marais, Hadleigh Parkes, Ronnie Cooke, Shane Gates, Marcello Sampson, Demetri Catrakilis, Shaun Venter, Jacques Engelbrecht, Wimpie van der Walt, Cornell du Preez, Darron Nell, David Bulbring, Kevin Buys, Bandise Maku, Schalk Ferreira. Replacements – Charl du Plessis, Hannes Franklin, Steven Sykes, Devin Oosthuizen, Nicolas Vergallo, George Whitehead, Waylon Murray.

Lions: Ruan Combrink, Antony Volmink, Stokkies Hanekom, Dylan des Fountain, Deon van Rensburg, Elton Jantjies, Michael Bondesio, Warren Whiteley, Derick Minnie, Jaco Kriel, Franco van der Merwe, Hendrik Roodt, Julian Redelinghuys, Martin Bezuidenhout, JC Janse van Rensburg. Replacements – Robbie Coetzee, Martin Dreyer, Willie Britz, Warwick Tecklenburg, Ross Cronjé, Marnitz Boshoff, Chrysander Botha.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-07-26-superrugby-expect-no-mercy-this-weekend/#.V3-alfl97IU

Cobras looking to avoid last place after disrupted season 0

Posted on May 19, 2016 by Ken

 

While the bizhub Highveld Lions have secured their position at the top of the Sunfoil Series standings, there will be a fiercely-fought contest at the other end of the log as the defending champion Nashua Cape Cobras look to avoid the wooden spoon in the final round of matches starting on Thursday.

The Cobras, with so many representatives of both the national and SA A sides coming in and out of the team, have endured a disrupted season, but they would dearly like to beat the Sunfoil Dolphins, who are looking to hang on to second place behind the Lions, to ensure they don’t finish last.

Although their hopes of winning the four-day title for the fifth time in six seasons are long gone, the progress of players like Dane Paterson and Omphile Ramela has been a major positive.

“Obviously we’ve spoken about not finishing last, but we’ve gained some things this season in the form of people like Dane and Omphi, and they would like to finish near the top of the leading wicket-takers and run-scorers lists,” Cobras coach Paul Adams told The Citizen on Wednesday.

The depth of the Cobras has always been one of the major reasons for their dominance of franchise cricket in recent years, and Adams will use the match against the Dolphins at the Oval in Pietermaritzburg to give exposure to other players coming through like Matthew Kleinveldt, left-arm swing bowler Mpilo Njoloza and wrist-spinner George Linde.

Stiaan van Zyl is out of action with a thigh strain, but the inclusion of Dane Piedt means the Cobras have one new international returning for another.

“It’s another chance to look at a couple of players, someone like Matthew has done nicely in the three-day competition, with guys like Rory Kleinveldt, Robin Peterson and Mthokozisi Shezi having a break after the long season.

“Players like Paterson and Ramela understand their games better now and hopefully we’ll be back in the running in four-day cricket next season. Despite the results, we’ve had some consistent players who are moving on in the game,” Adams said.

For the Dolphins, the disappointment of losing to the Lions last weekend and therefore ending the title chase leaves them vulnerable against a quality, hungry outfit like the Cobras and coach Lance Klusener has intimated that he might well freshen up the squad by making a few changes.

The Chevrolet Warriors are the other team in danger of ‘winning’ the wooden spoon and they take on the champion Lions at the Wanderers with a slender lead of just 1.22 points over the Cobras.

The Eastern Cape side are also looking to the 2015/16 season according to coach Malibongwe Maketa and the same squad that were beaten in East London by the Chevrolet Knights last weekend will do duty in Johannesburg.

The pressure will be on the Warriors batsmen to score runs in the first innings against the best attack in the competition and Maketa said the inconsistent batting has been the biggest issue for his side this season.

“We haven’t been consistent enough, we haven’t batted well in the first innings and, although we’ve managed to save some games in the second innings, last weekend’s defeat was always coming. But we’re working hard on our young batsmen, we want to test them against the Lions, where they’ll have to score runs under pressure.

“But this is our best side and we have them for the next two or three seasons, so we want to keep playing them and building. We’re not going to be giving away free Warriors caps,” Maketa said.

The Lions will want to complete their superb campaign by beating the Warriors and are likely to name their strongest XI even though nobody can catch them at the top of the standings.

Dominic Hendricks will replace wicketkeeper/batsman Thami Tsolekile, who is being troubled by a finger injury, while the batting will be further strengthened by the return of Alviro Petersen.

The battle for second place also involves the Unlimited Titans, who are 12.16 points behind the Dolphins, and they host the Knights at SuperSport Park in Centurion.

The Titans will be without opening batsman Dean Elgar, who was the star of their draw against the Cobras last weekend with an unbeaten double-century, before being struck on the head by Paterson and suffering a mild concussion.

But Qaasim Adams, who has scored a century for the Titans in both the Sunfoil Series and the Momentum One-Day Cup and was named as the franchise’s Most Improved Player at their awards function this week, returns from injury, and with Albie Morkel and Shaun von Berg both in the squad, the home side could bat down to number nine.

Knights coach Sarel Cilliers is expecting a pitch that will become up-and-down as the Titans need to win the game to overtake the Dolphins and finish second. But victory for the visitors could see them swop positions with the Titans and finish third.

“I definitely think their plan is to use inconsistent bounce and the pitch looks as if it will go up-and-down quite early. So far in this competition we’ve had three losses, three draws and three wins, so I’d really like to tilt the balance in favour of wins by the end of the season,” Cilliers said.

Quinton Friend, who many judges of fast bowling rate as a quality paceman, is back for the Knights and so is Malusi Siboto, an accurate back-up seamer.

Unfortunately Corne Dry and Duanne Olivier are both out injured and Cilliers said they are the sort of bang-it-in bowlers who could have thrived on the SuperSport Park pitch.

“They’ve really struck their straps in the last couple of weeks and their injuries are unfortunate because those youngsters do hit the deck hard. We’ve been capable of containing sides, but wickets have been a bit short and we had three games where we bowled for 140 overs, not being able to bowl sides out in the first innings, and that’s a long time in the field.

“But it was a good turnaround in East London, where we managed to bowl the Warriors out in both the first and second innings, and that was a good performance, especially by the bowlers,” Cilliers said.

 



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