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Ken Borland



Springboks overcome tough times to get back on right track 0

Posted on June 10, 2017 by Ken

 

France gave them a tough time, but in the end the Springboks started their 2017 campaign with a highly satisfactory 37-14 win at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday night.

There were enough positive signs to suggest coach Allister Coetzee and his team have the Springboks back on the right track after hitting rock bottom in 2016.

The Springboks were put on the front foot by a superb effort from their pack, which was clearly dominant. Enjoying the lion’s share of possession, the home team were not always direct enough on attack, sometimes becoming too lateral, so the scoreboard did not always reflect how in charge they seemed to be.

The French were able to create space out wide too easily at times and some moments of defensive frailty from the Springboks meant the visitors were very much in the game until the final quarter.

With the clock on the hour mark, the match was on an even keel with the Springboks leading 16-14 when the turning point came.

The quick-thinking of scrumhalf Ross Cronje and the clever boot of flyhalf Elton Jantjies saw the ball bouncing over the French line with Courtnall Skosan in hot pursuit down the left wing. He had the pace to get there first but, as he was reaching up for the ball, he was played by French fullback Brice Dulin and the ball went astray.

The Springboks called for the early tackle and the TMO, Englishman Rowan Kitt, and referee Glen Jackson made the ruling that the contact had been a split-second too early. It was a marginal call either way and it was desperately tough on the French to concede a penalty try and for Dulin to be yellow-carded.

The Springboks scored two more tries in the 10 minutes he was off the field and the contest was over with the lead 37-14 with 12 minutes to play.

The first try came from the training ground with a slick lineout move. Captain and eighthman Warren Whiteley shifted backwards to take a deep lineout throw and then, having barely held on to the ball, immediately passed it into the gap for Cronje to come roaring through and score a memorable try on debut.

Seven minutes later, turnover ball allowed replacement scrumhalf Francois Hougaard to go on a sniping run, before fullback Andries Coetzee hit the afterburners and stormed into the open spaces before sending centre Jan Serfontein on a diagonal road to the tryline.

The road to victory was bumpy at first for the Springboks as the French driving maul earned them an early penalty, but flyhalf Jules Plisson missed.

With half-an-hour gone, South Africa only had two Jantjies penalties to their name. The first came after a lovely interchange of passes between hooker Malcolm Marx and wing Raymond Rhule led to the French being offsides. The visitors were up quickly in defence and combative in the tackle, but it was an area referee Jackson did police well.

The other Jantjies penalty came from a rolling maul, an area of the game in which the Springboks also showed pleasing work.

Marx produced a phenomenal first-half display, charging around the field like some intergalactic giant beast, and he provided the scoring pass for outside centre Jesse Kriel to go racing over for the first try in the 31st minute, after Coetzee, the other star up till then, had fought hard in the tackle and then burst clear.

The Springboks were 13-0 up with Jantjies’ conversion, but then the French began pulling back on the scoreboard.

The ease with which they were able to create space out wide is one of the aspects of play the Springboks will have to improve and, in the 36th minute, right wing Yoann Huget had acres of space and then chipped ahead, Coetzee totally missing the bouncing ball on the goal-line, allowing centre Henry Chavancy to dot down.

Jantjies, who did everything that could have been asked of him at flyhalf in a busy, courageous performance, scored the final points of the first half with a penalty to make it 16-7. The kicking of the Lions pivot was an obvious high point of his game as he succeeded with all six of his shots at goal.

The French scored the first points of the second half to keep the minds of the Springboks focused as Chavancy ran straight over Kriel in midfield, the Bulls player having to leave the field with concussion, and, from the next ruck, replacement scrumhalf Baptiste Serin dummied and went over the line.

Plisson’s second conversion narrowed the lead of the South Africans to just two points (16-14), but the final quarter belonged to the home side.

The physical effort of the Springboks never flagged, thanks to the impact off the bench of players like Jean-Luc du Preez, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Coenie Oosthuizen and Bongi Mbonambi, and the outstanding scrum was the other highlight of the performance.

It was just the sort of encouraging performance the Springboks needed to start their year.

Points scorers

South AfricaTry – Jesse Kriel, penalty try (7pts), Ross Cronje, Jan Serfontein. Conversion – Elton Jantjies (3). Penalties – Jantjies (3).

FranceTries – Henry Chavancy, Baptiste Serin. Conversions – Jules Plisson (2).

In praise of the Lions: The John McFarland Column 0

Posted on May 17, 2017 by Ken

 

What a fantastic achievement by the Lions to win all three of their SuperRugby games overseas, for any rugby team to do that is an unbelievable effort and they continue to do really well in terms of the competition standings.

I think this is the first time a South African team have been unbeaten on their overseas tour and the bonus points they gained, to score the tries they did and to defend so securely was superb, and credit must go to the coaching staff as a whole.

Not that long ago, it was virtually impossible for a South African team to win against the Brumbies in Canberra and that could be the result that gives the Lions a great shout of hosting a home final. They can now top the log and go all the way, playing New Zealand sides at 3pm on the Highveld in the knockouts.

It was certainly a memorable moment when they managed to steal the ball for a turnover and what pace Kwagga Smith showed to finish!

For those criticising the way the Lions have been playing, you never play your best away from home, you just have to make sure you win. And you can’t be at your best every week in SuperRugby, it’s impossible, and it’s important to win when you’re playing badly.

This weekend the Lions will look forward to hosting a Bulls team low on confidence and belief at Ellis Park.

The Bulls were certainly better last weekend against the Highlanders. Although the conditions were a great leveller, they showed fight and character and it was a good turnaround which showed what they can achieve when they put their minds to it. There was also a huge improvement in their defence.

The Bulls have so many good players and they will see a chance to play against the Lions as a great opportunity; there is always a bit more passion and intensity in the local derbies. It is a very young Bulls side though, and they will need to match the Lions in the set-pieces. Obviously the scrums are crucial because the Lions will certainly attack them there, and the Bulls will also need to stop the lineout drive. Then they need to deal with the Lions’ game-breaking backs, although the Bulls also have a dangerous backline.

I fully expect the Stormers to beat the Blues back in Cape Town after their rest. The start will be key for the Stormers because they don’t have so much confidence now, but if they can get back to how they were playing before going overseas, then there’s no reason why they can’t beat the Blues. Their biggest challenge is going to be that they have to defend a lot better.

You’ve also got to take your hats off to the Southern Kings, who have no budget but are certainly playing with high confidence at the moment, and it was a really good performance to beat the Sharks with four tries to two. It was encouraging to see they’ve got the reward of four guys being named in the last Springbok training squad.

But the only South African team that has really performed to their potential has been the Lions, so you would think they will form the bulk of the final Springbok squad to be announced next week. The Sharks have recently lost to the Kings and drawn with the Rebels, the Stormers have lost four successive matches and the Bulls and Cheetahs are also on big losing streaks, so there is not a lot of confidence amongst the other players in South Africa.

But we’ve been like this before – in 2015 we struggled in SuperRugby but ended up losing by just two points to the All Blacks in the World Cup semi-final. The players get excited about being in a different environment and representing their country.

The Stormers locks are world-class and proven Test players need to play, plus there are special considerations around making the squad representative, so there are a lot of variables, one can’t just choose all the Lions players.

The positive, though, is that two of the Tests against France will be played on the Highveld, so it’s an opportunity to pick more Gauteng players who are used to the conditions and the quick tempo of play.

France will bring a gigantic pack and big midfield backs, they certainly like to play ball-in-hand and they have an offload game centred around Louis Picamoles. So Allister Coetzee needs to pick the right combinations to stop that, which is always the challenge in selection – it’s like putting together a fine potjie, making sure the blend is right is most important and you’re always going to use some tried and tested frontline Test players.

It will be interesting to see who Coetzee picks from overseas, some of them have had a very long, hard, arduous season in the French playoffs or the English Premiership. You need continuity and if guys are based overseas it makes it difficult because you have so little time together as a team anyway. For me, I would only use guys who qualify to play after the 30-caps criterion comes into force after July 1.

As far as Jan Serfontein goes, if there’s an emergency then obviously Allister will use him, and the Springboks definitely need size and experience in midfield.

With all the injuries, it looks like Elton Jantjies will get an extended run at flyhalf, and it will be a make-or-break series for him.

 

 

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.

Bulls have the spirit but little power 0

Posted on April 22, 2017 by Ken

 

It was far from the displays of arrogant power the Bulls have historically produced at Loftus Versfeld, but at least they managed to get the win as they scraped through 20-14 against the Cheetahs in their SuperRugby match in Pretoria on Saturday night.

The Bulls were once again their own worst enemies with numerous unforced basic errors, and they left it late to keep their unbeaten record at home intact for this season as Jesse Kriel’s 74th-minute try gave them the lead for the first time and ended up being the last score of the game.

The Cheetahs had led 11-3 at halftime and were able to use their scrum as a tremendous platform, while also disrupting the Bulls’ lineout maul and causing problems with their own driving maul. The visitors were also more slick on attack and credit must go to the Bulls defence for restricting them to just one try, and that from a rolling maul.

The Cheetahs scrum made themselves known in the first set-piece of the match, shoving the Bulls towards the touchline and allowing space for a backline move which saw right wing William Small-Smith looping around and then stabbing a clever grubber through which forced the Bulls to concede a five-metre lineout.

The Bulls were penalised for sacking the driving maul and the Cheetahs kicked to touch again, fiery loose forward Paul Schoeman rumbling over for the opening try from the second drive.

The Bulls also did themselves no favours through a lack of presence at the breakdowns, and a nice little dart by outside centre Francois Venter earned the Cheetahs a ruck penalty, which flyhalf Niel Marais slotted to put them 8-0 ahead in the 10th minute.

The Bulls are capable of playing some impressive rugby when they can hang on to the ball without someone dropping a straightforward pass, and 19 phases of sustained pressure eventually led to a penalty, allowing flyhalf Tian Schoeman to put them on the board in the 26th minute.

But the scrums are always an area of concern for the Bulls and they soon went down in a heap once again, allowing Marais to extend the Cheetahs’ lead back to 11-3 with another penalty.

That was the halftime score and it had been a disappointing first 40 minutes, with the sheer number of errors backing up those who feel South African rugby players are well behind when it comes to skills.

At least the Free Staters can still scrum, with loosehead prop Charles Marais thoroughly dictating affairs against Bulls tighthead Jacobie Adriaanse, the steady stream of penalties from that set-piece messing up the flow of the game for the home side.

But Adriaanse, together with openside flank Nick de Jager, who had struggled to make any impact at the breakdowns, then sponsored replacement flank Jacques Potgieter for the second try with fine runs and nifty offloads.

Although the Bulls undoubtedly lifted their game in the second half, they still made a lot of unforced errors and they wasted a fine counter-ruck by replacement prop Lizo Gqoboka when scrumhalf Piet van Zyl fumbled the ball, was tackled and then conceded a penalty at the ruck, Niel Marais stretching the Cheetahs’ lead to 14-10 after the home side had closed to 10-11.

Bulls flyhalf Tian Schoeman brought the gap back to just one point, however, with an excellent long-range penalty punishing the Cheetahs for a high tackle after the home side had run from their own half.

The Bulls certainly showed more attacking spark in the final quarter and the match-winning try also came from a long way out.

Right wing Travis Ismaiel effected a vital turnover inside his own half and left wing Jamba Ulengo then went through the gap, centre Burger Odendaal then feeding outside centre Jesse Kriel out wide, the Springbok cutting back inside to evade two cover-tacklers and score the second, crucial try.

Tian Schoeman converted for a 20-14 lead, but the Bulls defence still had to hold out at the end, Ismaiel and fullback Warrick Gelant combining to tackle left wing Raymond Rhule out on the corner flag in the last play of the game.

It was typical of the spirited defence the Bulls showed all night and the determination of the team not to lose, despite how badly they were playing, must please coach Nollis Marais.

But the Bulls must still do more when they have the ball and their skills have to be better if they are to be a force in SuperRugby. They have the pace and power out wide, but too often they are running from deep, which stifles their attacking efforts.

The Bulls will be enjoying a bye next week, but then they host the Crusaders and Highlanders on successive weekends and they will be far more ruthless in punishing the many errors they are still making.

Points scorers

Bulls: Tries – Jacques Potgieter, Jesse Kriel. Conversions – Tian Schoeman (2). Penalties – Schoeman (2).

Cheetahs: Try – Paul Schoeman. Penalties – Niel Marais (3).

 

John McFarland Column – What made the difference for the Lions? 0

Posted on April 21, 2017 by Ken

 

The Lions’ win over the Stormers in the weekend’s big game in Cape Town was a fantastic effort.

I predicted last week that whichever side defended better would win the game and that was the case. The key difference was the Lions defence dominated the collisions and were also able to force vital turnovers against the home side.

The Stormers’ defensive policy meant they stayed out of the rucks because the Lions have such width to their game; but that resulted in uncontested, free ball for the Lions and allowed them to build control of the game, and in defence Jaco Kriel and Malcolm Marx were vociferous over the loose ball.

If a team keeps more numbers on their feet in defence then they can build greater width in their defensive line and it is a tactic used by a lot of teams, mainly at wide rucks. With this you should be able to get greater line speed and come harder off the line because of the players on their feet. The Stormers have used this tactic since the Jacques Nienaber era, with the defence outnumbering the attack, and it requires great discipline for players to stay out of the ruck, and so your penalty count will be lower.

If you do defend that way, then you need line-speed and the Stormers didn’t really have that. You need to put pressure on the halfbacks because they are the decision-makers, cut down their space and options, and that was lacking. Elton Jantjies had his best game of the season.

This is completely different to the approach of a team like the Hurricanes, who put pressure on the ball and push the attack backwards, forcing turnovers, which is the hardest ball to defend against.

First prize in defence is to get good tackle contact, maybe a double-hit, and then get over and steal the ball, like Kriel does. The Stormers are lacking a specialist openside flank which means this form of defence suits them, but obviously they need to revisit their recruitment policy and develop or find an openside.

The Stormers were keen on making offloads, getting their hands above the tackle, which means you have to stay up in contact, leaving you vulnerable to the choke-tackle. The Lions were very effective at keeping square and hitting the carrier so that the offload opportunity was nullified or could only be made under extreme pressure. This also resulted in turnovers through the choke-tackle, just like Ireland used in the 2011 World Cup win over Australia.

The Stormers will be disappointed with the blindside try they allowed Sylvian Mahuza to score because the wing should always be up on the short side, Cheslin Kolbe was hanging back which gave space and Harold Vorster ran a wonderful line, through pillar three and four, who were watching the ruck and not him, allowing him to slice through.

It takes a special talent to see the hole in the defence and then to hit it, and Vorster shows how blessed South African rugby is in terms of backline depth. The two leading centres favoured by Allister Coetzee – Damian de Allende and Juan de Jongh – are both injured, so the performances of Vorster have been very encouraging.

The Cheetahs were really on fire for the first 30 minutes of their game against the Chiefs and some of the rugby they played, and the courage they showed to run from deep, was a joy to watch. It just shows that the decision to go with only four South African franchises is going to have the terrible consequence of a lot of people, fine rugby players, losing their livelihoods and jobs, or taking the road overseas.

Francois Venter was very influential with his reverse runs and clever lines, and the Cheetahs still use the strength of their maul well and that caused the Chiefs many problems. They run their exits off the restarts, they take you on first and then look for a short kick. They got good reward from chips during that opening period.

There probably should have been more yellow cards in the first half-hour because the Chiefs were really under the pump and they started to concede penalties rather than tries. They knew that even two penalties against one try was a good deal.

The deliberate conceding of penalties really stops the attacking momentum and after a penalty the offending side then gets territory because they kick deep from the restart! It certainly calls for captains to speak to the referees, the captain needs to put the right sort of pressure on the referee.

Some captains are better at this than others – eg one Richie McCaw! – but it’s a vital thing to get that influence. There are never a lot of yellow cards given because referees don’t want to have an overbearing influence on the game, but there’s normally at least one and it’s important teams find the right time to go to the referee by the captain.

For example, Jan Serfontein’s yellow card last weekend for the Bulls against the Sunwolves was for something not much different to what the Chiefs were doing. But the scoreline influences the decision. In that first half-hour in Bloemfontein, the high tackle when it was a one-on-one by Damian McKenzie was a prime example. He was at the last line of defence and such fouls raise the question of a penalty try.

The Chiefs knew they would score tries at the back end of the match and the Cheetahs’ conditioning was off so the game followed the traditional pattern of South African teams versus New Zealand sides and they ran out of steam in the last 20 minutes.

I was pleased to see the Bulls get back on track and to see CEO Barend van Graan so publicly back the coaching staff. The reward was a quite convincing win and the best result against the Jaguares by a South African team this season.

Congratulations too to all the schools who took part in Easter festivals in South Africa. These are a wonderful showpiece for the game and a very special part of our rugby itinerary. Long may these traditions continue, it’s just wonderful to see the number of games of such quality over the course of a day and that so many come out to support these festivals.

With SA Rugby’s plan for four Super Rugby sides and eight professional Currie Cup sides, you wonder where these highly promising young players are going to get opportunities to play. Obviously the Varsity Cup will be an entry point, hopefully these players will show patience and remain in South Africa.

 

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.

 

 



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