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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: SA’s SuperRugby downgrade hard to understand 0

Posted on April 12, 2017 by Ken

 

Sanzaar obviously had to make changes to SuperRugby because the crowds were not reflecting the status of the competition, but I struggle to understand why South Africa have to give up two teams.

Our previous wins at the Sanzaar negotiating table have been because we could always use the threat of going to Europe and our TV figures to get our own way.

So why do New Zealand keep five franchises and South Africa have just four, but we’re a much bigger nation! I know the argument based on the performance of the teams, but in 2013 we had four teams in the top eight and in 2012 three sides in the top six. So we have had the strength, and the Bulls were a dominant force in SuperRugby from 2005-2010, which is not so long ago!

So I struggle to comprehend how a team like the Cheetahs, who are such a strong rugby region, can be facing the axe. Everyone understands that the Kings will have to go due to their financial woes and because they are propped up by Saru, but it will be very disappointing to lose the Cheetahs after they have been in SuperRugby for so long. And the Free State and Griqualand West region has provided a heck of a lot of players who have gone on to greater things.

What really concerns me is that the Springboks will miss out on an extra 30 players to choose from, while New Zealand will have a pool of 150 SuperRugby players, a 20% bigger selection pool.

And it’s easy to say we will retain more players because we will now have more money, but as Faf de Klerk’s offer from Sale shows, guys can still earn more than triple what they’ll get in South Africa by going overseas. I believe we’ll actually retain fewer players because there will be less opportunity with only four franchises. Our coaching ranks will also be diminished with less opportunity for them too.

The funny thing is, a year ago Sanzaar said everything was fine and a big fuss was made about how the new format would mean much less travel for South African sides – a maximum of two flights overseas.

The tournament did need expansion and Argentina have now been able to keep their best players, they haven’t gone to Europe, because there’s a clear pathway for them to develop and express themselves at the highest level. We’ve seen that with the Sunwolves too.

People say it’s not our job to develop rugby in South America and Asia, but that’s shortsighted. Rugby has to be a global game, if it just stayed within the Commonwealth and Argentina, it would die.

Exposing a team from Japan to higher levels of rugby has certainly brought an improvement to their play. There were 22 000 people at the Bulls game in Tokyo and the excitement was incredible, especially considering that the last game in Tokyo saw the Sunwolves lose 83-17 to the Hurricanes!

But there was a great atmosphere and huge interest in the Bulls game, but more on that shock result later on.

In my view, the SuperRugby format should be a 16-team competition – so five New Zealand and South African franchises, four from Australia and the Sunwolves and Jaguares – with everyone playing everyone else once. You would have two three-week tours as part of that.

Six teams would then progress to the playoffs, with the top two sides initially having a bye straight into their home semis against the winners of the quarterfinals, which would be third versus sixth and fourth against fifth.

This weekend I am really looking forward to the match between the Lions and the Stormers, which should be a high-tempo, all out attacking game, but the side that defends best will win it. For the main Easter weekend game to be between the two conference leaders is going to provide a great spectacle.

The quality and skill level of the Stormers last weekend against the Chiefs shows that they have reached a new dimension and you have to credit Robbie Fleck and his staff, and the players, for their willingness to play like that. It’s really high-risk, high-reward rugby and, believe me, it has to be coached!

What was especially pleasing was the way they really matched a New Zealand team at the back end of the game, when it’s normally been a huge struggle for South African teams.

The Sharks also had a good win, even though they are not scoring a lot of tries. They are playing off the other side’s mistakes, like their spectacular intercept try against the Jaguares.

They hung on in there against the Argentinians and it was an important win for their conference, although they will be a bit disappointed they gave the Jaguares a point. But it’s good that they were able to grind it out, hopefully they can get on a roll and get their confidence going.

The humidity in Durban made the ball very slippery and there were similar conditions for the Bulls in Tokyo, a match I was fortunate enough to attend. It was very wet and the Sunwolves managed the conditions better. The Bulls are not far off but they were simply not good enough last weekend.

They took time to get into their stride, they struggled to get control of the game. But then they had control when they were nine points ahead, they were in the pound seats, but the yellow card obviously had a huge influence.

After that the Sunwolves took a scrum with 10 minutes to go and scored the matchwinning try. The lesson for the Bulls is that when a backline player like Jan Serfontein gets a yellow card, then you must replace him. It’s better to have a full backline because you need that speed on defence. It was standard procedure when I was with the Springboks that if a backline player got a yellow card late in the game then we would take a forward off and replace him. Otherwise you’re defending with six versus seven, which is why the Sunwolves were able to break out so easily.

The Sunwolves were also able to keep the ball in play and did a good job of nullifying the Bulls’ lineout maul threat by standing off. That meant the Bulls had to mostly play from static ball. The home side were also very good with their kicks and chips, while the Bulls could have done much better with their chips, especially the one from their own 22 that led to a try.

The Bulls will be really hurting, but they now have a lot of games at home. No other team in the competition has had such a tough start away from home, and the Bulls will now hope they can get some form and a winning run at Loftus Versfeld.

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.

Bok backline dazzles but credit to pack for quick ball 0

Posted on March 17, 2016 by Ken

 

The Springbok backline dazzled with their clinical finishing as Samoa were thumped 56-23 in an eight-try romp at Loftus Versfeld, but quick ball was why they were able to shine and for that credit must go to the forwards for a superb display.

The pack stepped up magnificently and physically dominated the bulky Samoans so the Springboks had front-foot ball and could show their ability to get the ball quickly wide and convert possession into tries.

There have been many critics of the Springboks saying they are one-dimensional and boring on attack, but they looked a polished, exciting offensive force on Saturday night, especially when fullback Willie le Roux joined the line. JJ Engelbrecht also scored a brilliant individual try and is rapidly growing into a fine attacking outside centre.

Like any team, if their forwards get on top, then the backs can play.

“We really are building on something special, this is a well-balanced side. We mauled well, the defence was excellent and there were some brilliant small touches,” said coach Heyneke Meyer after the game.

“It is one of the things we’ve been working on, getting turnover ball quickly wide, and we scored some awesome tries. But we did the basics well, Francois Louw and Willem Alberts brought a lot of physicality. But one guy can’t make all the difference because he can’t be at every ruck. The guys were all very focused and it was one of the best forward efforts I’ve seen.”

Bryan Habana, as ever, led the way when it came to clinical finishing, his two tries taking him to 50 in 86 Tests, with only five other players in world rugby having achieved that milestone.

“We showed that when we get quick ball and we get over the gain-line, our backs can be dangerous,” Habana said. “Most tries come from turnovers or broken field play and you’ve got to see those opportunities and execute. This weekend we were really clinical and it was pretty important that we made decisions quickly. But the guys who do all the hard work don’t always get the credit and our forwards were fantastic, as were the guys on the inside.”

Many rugby followers think an openside flank should be measured by the number of balls he steals in the ruck. This is a very simplistic view though, as former Springbok forwards coach Gary Gold so aptly explains here.

By that measure, Francois Louw was ineffective at Loftus Versfeld because he did not effect a single turnover against Samoa. But the freshly married Bath star was magnificent and was all over the field, carrying the ball strongly, slowing down ball at the rucks and defending stoutly.

Although he is not one of the bigger Springbok forwards, many of Louw’s ball-carries bashed through the Samoan defence, as epitomised by his 76th-minute charge through three tacklers and over the tryline, as well as by the fact he gained 32 metres with ball in hand during the match, with only Le Roux (82) and Habana (36) being more successful in that department.

“The guys were looking for me at the breakdown and it was a tough day at the office there, but that’s the kind of rugby I like,” Louw said. “It separates the men from the boys. But we want to play running rugby and there’s nothing better than having ball in hand, nothing beats that. We want to play positive, good strong, hard rugby.”

There aren’t many stronger or harder rugby players than Willem Alberts and the returning Sharks player was also immense on the gain-line. Not only did he carry the ball like a bullocking rhinoceros, he was an adamantium wall in defence, making 16 tackles.

The uninitiated might not fully comprehend the effort that it takes against a team like Samoa, but if you consider that 16 of their 23-man squad weighed over 100kg and that they generally like running into people, then one can begin to understand the enormity of the task. Alberts and Louw led the way, but the likes of Eben Etzebeth, Flip van der Merwe, Siya Kolisi and Jean de Villiers in the backline were also outstanding defensively.

“I asked for a big performance and that was a big step up physically. I believe it was a forward performance, but it was typical Springbok rugby,” Meyer cooed.

The Springboks were also excellent in the set pieces, dominating a powerful Samoan scrum and winning all 18 of their lineouts, from which they often mauled to great effect.

They varied their game intelligently, however, Louw scoring his first try from the rolling maul, but scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar then cleverly breaking blind from one in the second half to set up Habana’s second, historic try.

The Samoans are famous for their physicality, but they are also notorious for crossing the line in terms of foul play.

It was a great disappointment that, once it was clear they were losing the collisions, they resorted to dirty play.

James So’oialo’s testicle-grabbing was the talk of Pretoria afterwards, while Alesana Tuilagi was red-carded for an awful stiff-arm high tackle on De Villiers. But there was also scrumhalf Jeremy Su’a’s stamp on Louw’s head at a ruck, causing him to leave the field for stitches, and Census Johnston kicking out at Coenie Oosthuizen after the burly prop had put him on his backside with a totally legitimate tackle.

Samoa are consistently trying to portray themselves as the victims of discriminatory refereeing. “There have historically been harsh calls against us and some of the calls tonight were a wee-bit hard. The things they were referring upstairs, they looked quite soft,” captain Paul Williams said.

But coach Stephen Betham was closer to the truth when he said: “The ill discipline came down to frustration, but there’s no excuse. We’ve worked hard to get it out of our game but we were intimidated and we faltered.”

But it is also clear that the International Rugby Board are more concerned with tip tackles than thuggish acts of violence on the field. To his dishonour, Judge Jeff Blackett cleared So’oialo of any deliberate malfeasance for his indecent assault on livewire hooker Adriaan Strauss, while Su’a and Johnston weren’t even cited by commissioner Peter Larter, despite the ugly stamp being clearly visible on a television replay.

Tuilagi received a two-week ban, but it’s meaningless because the Japan-based player is on holiday now anyway.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-06-24-springboks-smash-samoans-a-promise-of-things-to-come/#.VuqZUuJ97IU

My question for Heyneke Meyer 0

Posted on November 06, 2015 by Ken

 

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer returns to South Africa this morning and will face the press after a disappointing end to their World Cup campaign; my question to him would be “Why do you think you deserve to continue in your post, what progress has been made over the last four years?”

In my opinion, there has been no real progress. There is no meaningful silverware to show, the good results have been cancelled out by some truly awful results, a world ranking of three is nothing to shout about, and, as clearly shown in the dour win over Argentina in the third-place playoff, Meyer cannot even say the game plan has evolved under his watch. And he continues to cause outrage when it comes to transformation – his treatment of Rudi Paige, Lwazi Mvovo and Siya Kolisi showing that he just doesn’t get it when it comes to that vital issue.

Meyer is an honourable man, as passionate as anyone when it comes to Springbok rugby, and he says he wants to be part of the solution that will fix the problems. But in my eyes he is part of the problem; his emotional excesses and fear of losing rub off on the team. The Springboks have not shown the ability to adapt to what is happening on the field, they are too stuck in a rigid game plan.

Watching New Zealand deservedly win the World Cup final clearly showed the direction the Springboks should be going. The All Blacks are peerless when it comes to vision and adaptability on the rugby field and it was surely destiny that Dan Carter would be man of the match in winning the World Cup final.

Meyer seemed to be heading in the right direction in 2013 and 2014 when he tried a more up-tempo, ball-in-hand approach; two epic Tests against the All Blacks resulted and Ellis Park was sold out as she hosted two of the best games of rugby I have witnessed.

But the coach failed to build on those performances, losing his nerve in this World Cup year and retreating back into a conservative, unambitious game plan that was easy to counter. Losing to Japan was bad enough, but the Springboks had the added ignominy of being called “anti-rugby” and being as boring as Argentina were when they first joined the Rugby Championship in 2012.

The fact that his team struggled to beat an Argentina side missing nine first-choice players last weekend rams home that Meyer has not added anything to the Springboks. Replacing him at the helm of a team that clearly needs renewing, especially in terms of strategy, is the only sensible option because Meyer has shown that he cannot take the team forward.

On a positive note, a big high-five to the England Rugby Union for hosting a top-class World Cup. A pleasing feature of the tournament was the improvement shown by the minnows: apart from Japan’s incredible heroics, there were also no massive hidings as rugby showed it is a truly global game.

Even the referees, who are under the harshest lens, stepped up and, barring one or two mishaps, the officiating was of a high standard, helped by a greater reliance on the TMO.

 



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