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Ken Borland

Sheer delight for SA rugby 0

Posted on July 25, 2017 by Ken


Following the awful disappointments of 2016, what a sheer delight the last three weeks of Springbok rugby have been, culminating in the series whitewash over France in front of more than 55 000 people at Ellis Park, as well as a wonderful game the night before at Orlando Stadium between the SA A and French Barbarians sides.

Apart from the winning, up-tempo rugby played by both the Springboks and their second-stringers, the other similarity between the two teams is that both clearly enjoy a wonderful team culture.

It cannot be understated how important a role a good team environment will play in the success of a side and we saw last year how the Proteas cricket team drastically improved their results after a “culture camp”.

At the top level, teams are very similar in terms of physicality, conditioning and skill, so the crucial extra 1% that gives sides the edge is often found on the mental side of sport – happy players committed to a cause or a “brotherhood”, to use the in-vogue expression, will give more out on the field.

Sure, Brendan Venter and Franco Smith have come along and brought considerable technical expertise to the Springboks, but I have never, in 25 years of covering South African rugby, seen a squad speak more about just how happy they were to be together and how much they loved the environment than the current group under Allister Coetzee and his fellow coaches. The captaincy of Warren Whiteley must also be mentioned because there’s no doubt he has played a big role in the team culture as well.

It is a similar culture, borne from adversity, that is seen in Whiteley’s Lions team and it is also evident in the SA A side under Johan Ackermann. It was clearly displayed at the end of the game against the French Barbarians in Orlando when scrumhalf Jano Vermaak was spontaneously, just for the sheer joy of it, lifted on to the shoulders of his team-mates after kicking the last conversion, and when the whole squad sang stirring songs together, bobbing in a tight embrace, after the trophy presentation.

The fact that Ackermann has managed to create that culture in the SA A side in just a few weeks is testament to what a fine coach he is and hopefully he will be back in South Africa soon after increasing his experience and knowledge with Gloucester in the United Kingdom.

Ackermann, a former Springbok lock, first made his name as a coach through his technical and tactical acumen in the set-pieces, but he also has the ability to inspire a team, a crucial man-management skill in any coach.

Singing along with the SA A team were a bunch of supporters in the far grandstand and I believe playing top rugby in Soweto has a great future. The SA A game was played at 8pm on a Friday night the day before a Test at Ellis Park, so the crowd was always going to be small.

But I know it is in SA Rugby’s future plan to play more games in Soweto, and to stage them at 3pm in the afternoon and not during a Test week in the same city. There’s no doubt we will then see the crowds pouring in, because there is a great love for the game in Soweto, but access remains a problem.

Orlando Stadium is also a magnificent venue, modern, spacious and with one of the best views of the field, from any vantage point, you will see.  The fact that top rugby did not return earlier to Orlando after the memorable 2010 Super Rugby final that inspired such goodwill is a great pity.

No celebration, but see the bigger picture – Kirsten 0

Posted on May 08, 2013 by Ken

NARROWLY avoiding a whitewash against the eighth-ranked New Zealanders will not provide cause for celebration, but Proteas coach Gary Kirsten says the one-day international series should be seen as part of a bigger picture.

That bigger picture is the 2015 World Cup, with Kirsten hired as coach in large part because he won that title with India in 2011 and South Africa crave success in that event after a litany of heartbreak stretching back to 1992.

But while South Africa have a settled Test unit that is rightly ranked No1, there is a perception that there is no clarity when it comes to what the best one-day international team is.

Finding a top-class all-rounder to cover for the day when Jacques Kallis calls it quits looms large as a major assignment, and Kirsten will be delighted that Ryan McLaren repaid the faith invested in him with a match-winning performance under pressure in Potchefstroom.

“Jacques is a two-in-one cricketer and we’ve had the luxury of having him for 18 years,” Kirsten said.

“What can we do when he’s no longer around? Do we choose a fourth specialist pace bowler or play an all-rounder at seven?

“We’ve been mixing and matching to see what’s best and Ryan’s inclusion comes after the selectors decided that he’s the best all-rounder. He’s played 16 one-day internationals spread over four years and probably feels like he’s always playing for his place, plus it’s a grey-area position.

“So I would like to give him a run, to see what he can do and he’s learnt a lot about bowling in the middle overs,” Kirsten said.

Other new, or less regular, faces in the squad — Quinton de Kock, Farhaan Behardien, David Miller, Rory Kleinveldt and Aaron Phangiso — did not manage to have the same effect as McLaren, but Kirsten says the use of a larger pool of players is all part of the plan.

“I’m pretty clear on what the 15-man squad for the Champions Trophy will be and our focus is on the World Cup, which is two years out.

“This time of exploration allows for a great number of opinions and people get irritated. But this is a very important phase, and we need to go through this process.

“There’s obviously a risk attached in doing it at international level and we knew New Zealand would be dangerous and didn’t take them for granted. But we needed to find a series where we could explore our talent because in the long term, it has given us depth and exposure for those players,” Kirsten said.

There is a more worrying question over who is actually the best leader for the team.

It is becoming apparent that too much is being placed on AB de Villiers’s shoulders, hence the decision to call up De Kock as wicketkeeper. But then South Africa had to call on Faf du Plessis to captain the team after De Villiers was suspended for a dreadfully slow over rate.

Thrusting such a high-pressured job on somebody like De Villiers, who has no previous captaincy experience, was always going to be risky and the 28-year-old may be better advised to focus on his batting and keeping wicket in the one-day internationals.

“Faf has great leadership potential but it’s only fair that we give AB a run as captain, he’s only done it for 14 games.

“He wasn’t going to keep wicket because we wanted him to grow his captaincy, but it’s early days, we’ll have to see how things unfold,” Kirsten said.

“There’s a lot of conversation around AB as wicketkeeper and captain and yes, there is a risk attached that it might diminish his batting, but there’s also a risk that we’ll waste one of the greatest careers. He adds massive value as a wicketkeeper.

“We haven’t closed the door on him being the one-day international wicketkeeper. That was very specific to this series and we won’t make a rushed decision,” he said.

Last rites take a while, but the clean sweep is achieved 0

Posted on February 24, 2013 by Ken


The last rites took a while, but the summer of ’13 still ended on the most triumphant of notes for South Africa as they completed an innings-and-18-run victory over Pakistan at Centurion and a 3-0 sweep of the series.

It’s just the third time South Africa have claimed a whitewash in a series of at least three Tests, the other two instances being the great Springbok team of 1969/70 that hammered Australia 4-0 and the impressive 5-0 clobbering of the West Indies in 1998/99, when the tourists had such greats as Brian Lara, Curtley Ambrose and Courtney Walsh in their ranks.

The Pakistan second innings came to an end just before 5pm on Sunday on 235 all out, the last pair of Rahat Ali and Mohammad Irfan having frustrated the South Africans for 45 minutes.

Pakistan were in a good state at lunch as Azhar Ali and Imran Farhat batted with defiance and positivity to take them to 87 for two, but Dale Steyn and Rory Kleinveldt reduced them to 176 for six by tea.

Steyn finished with four for 80 and Kleinveldt and Abbott took two wickets each. Considering it was a dead rubber game and South Africa were missing two key cogs in Jacques Kallis and Morne Morkel, it was an emphatic statement of their intent to truly dominate Test cricket.

“It’s been a very special summer at home and this result is very important. We wanted to step up, we were a bit uncertain about what to do on the first day, but we took on the challenge of batting. It would have been easy to be soft in this Test and not totally commit to the cause, but if you’re 10% off your game at this level, then you’re not going to produce a performance,” captain Graeme Smith said.

“It shows we’re hungry and we have a real pride in our performance. There was maturity and professionalism. We’ve had a few injuries, but to see the new guys come in and step up shows that there’s a good environment and platform for them to perform.”

None more so than Abbott, who owned the third best match figures ever on debut for South Africa of nine for 68. South African cricket’s house is clearly in order on the field considering how well debutants have done recently.

Three of the last four pace bowlers – Vernon Philander and Marchant de Lange being the others – have taken a five-wicket haul in their debut Test, while Faf du Plessis and Dean Elgar both have centuries to their name.

Kleinveldt is the odd seamer out, but he bowled well at Centurion and eventually had some reward when he picked up the wickets of Misbah ul-Haq (5) and Asad Shafiq (6) midway through the second session.

Azhar and Farhat had added 54 for the third wicket and South Africa were in need of a breakthrough after lunch.

And it came, as ever, from Steyn, although this time it was a run out.

Farhat had turned left-arm spinner Robin Peterson to fine leg and Azhar was looking for a second run, but was turned back and couldn’t make his ground from just two metres down the pitch as Steyn fired in a superb bullet throw straight over the stumps.

Quite how the lower-order wagged so enthusiastically – Sarfraz Ahmed (40), Saeed Ajmal (31), Ehsan Adil (12) and Rahat (22) didn’t really mind how the runs came – baffled many, but victory was never in doubt.

Pakistan had begun the day on 14 for one and Azhar and Younis Khan survived for the first half-hour, before the opener and Farhat added 48 for the third wicket to take the tourists to lunch and cut the deficit to 166 runs.

The match situation was right down the obdurate Azhar’s alley and the 28-year-old batted for nearly three hours and faced 110 balls in scoring his 27.

Farhat, in contrast, once again looked keen to tee it up and struck five fours in his 43 off 91 deliveries.

Philander and Abbott were both probing, but the pick of the bowlers in the morning was Steyn, who had bowled nine overs for 22 runs and taken both wickets.

He removed Mohammad Hafeez with the first ball of the innings on the second evening and added the scalp of Younis for 11 on Sunday.

Steyn struck with a beautiful late away-swinger, Younis reaching for the ball to try and play it to mid-on, getting the outside edge and sending a comfortable catch to Smith at first slip.


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