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Ken Borland



I know a week is a long time in sport, but … 0

Posted on March 20, 2017 by Ken

 

I’ve always known that a week can be a long time in the world of sport, but I go away for eight nights to the bush of northern Limpopo and return to find rugby’s entire landscape changing with indecent haste compared to the months of feet-dragging that often characterise a game that has been presided over at some stages by dinosaurs or the old farts of the straw-chair brigade.

One of the changes I saw coming before my departure. I always love unintended consequences and it was former Springboks and Bulls defence coach John McFarland who pointed out to me that the rulemakers’ new emphasis on keeping tackles lower, away from the head and shoulders, was at least partly responsible for the sudden rash of offloads we have seen from the South African teams, who have traditionally preferred taking contact and winning some hard-earned, psychologically-meaningful centimetres.

So it’s not just a mindset change amongst our franchise coaches and players, but also that tacklers are now being forced down below the arms, allowing the hands to be free to keep the ball alive.

Time will tell whether that more skilful approach is carried through to the Springboks, but the national team has already had better preparation than last year with a camp and they look better resourced too in terms of coaching staff.

One of those additional resources is Cheetahs coach Franco Smith and it may be just as well that he has earned a promotion because he might be out of a decent Super Rugby job next year. If we believe what the New Zealand media tell us, then the Cheetahs as well as the Southern Kings will be axed from Super Rugby under the new, hopefully improved format for 2018 that is yet to be unveiled.

Harold Verster, the CEO of the Cheetahs, cheerfully told the world though that he keeps his “ear to the ground” and that the rumbling noise he hears is not a rampaging stampede of buffalo at all, but the sound of the Grey College-Free State-somewhere else in the country pipeline running smoothly. He says the Cheetahs are safe.

You cannot be nearly as optimistic about the Kings, however. They would seem to be sitting ducks as not only are they struggling on the field but they are a financial drain on the South African Rugby Union and money always shouts loudest when it comes to administrators, like politicians.

Speaking of politicians, you cannot escape the irony that Cheeky Watson, the self-proclaimed messiah of transformation, has now left Eastern Cape rugby and has done more damage to the nursery of Black rugby in our country than anything since a Nationalist government functionary.

If you called him a blood-sucking tick you would probably be understating his effect. The man has been a full-blown parasite on the game in that vulnerable region, more like the deadly malaria protozoans that kill half-a-million people a year in sub-Saharan Africa.

Later this year, the British and Irish Lions tour New Zealand in what should be the rugby highlight of 2017, but this type of proper tour probably won’t become more common given the news this week that a new global rugby calendar is being introduced. Coming into effect in 2020, it has reducing player workload as one of its main tenets.

Tours by northern hemisphere teams to the southern hemisphere will be pushed back to July, but this will allow Super Rugby to be completed in one fell swoop from February to June. This is a good thing and will come into effect in 2019, because that is a World Cup year.

The 2023 World Cup is another story of course, with South Africa seemingly ranged against France and Ireland for the right to host the tournament. If you can believe what came out of sports minister Fikile Mbalula’s mouth this week, then government is now backing the bid.

Then again, Mbalula might just have been trying to distract from the fiasco that was Durban’s Commonwealth Games bid. The chairman of that bid was Mark Alexander, the president of the South African Rugby Union, but that’s a story for another day.

All eyes on FNB Stadium as football, rugby & music share the stage 0

Posted on December 19, 2016 by Ken

 

Notwithstanding the awful events in Cairo, the eyes of much of the sporting world will be on South Africa on Saturday as a football international and a rugby Test are played at the same stadium on the same day.

Bafana Bafana will take on Burkina Faso in a friendly at FNB Stadium from 1.30pm, to be followed by the Springboks’ Rugby Championship opener against Argentina from 5pm, and it’s all to celebrate the birthday of Nelson Mandela, the Messiah from the Transkei, as the Parlotones call Madiba.

With a music concert to come after the rugby match, there is plenty of scope for things to get messy as a soccer field has to be turned into an international rugby pitch.

For the sake of the ailing former president’s good name, let’s hope everything works smoothly.

But the Springboks have a different kind of mess to try and avoid on Saturday.

Their last meeting with Argentina ended in a 16-16 draw in Mendoza last August as the Pumas turned the breakdowns, now the most important facet of rugby, into a messy scramble for possession. The naïve Springboks failed to protect their ball in the rucks, the cleaners weren’t there to hold off a horde of spoilers, and South Africa could never get their game plan going and were fortunate to escape with a draw thanks to a charge-down try by Frans Steyn.

This year, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has tried to ensure the breakdowns are an area of strength for his team. Not only has he hired a Scot – Richie Gray – as a specialist consultant for that key area, but he has also chosen a back row that features two players renown for their ability in the rucks in eighthman Duane Vermeulen and openside flank Francois Louw.

With Siya Kolisi, another loose forward who plays to the ball, on the bench it is clear Meyer has placed new emphasis on the breakdowns.

Of course, quick ball still has to be used wisely and much will depend on how sharp scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar and subsititute Fourie du Preez, a hero of yesterday making an international comeback a la George Smith, are when it comes to controlling the game and distributing to the backline.

It’s easy to picture Saturday’s groundbreaking Test becoming a dour battle for territory.

Springbok flyhalf Morne Steyn spoke this week about righting the wrongs of that Mendoza shocker and using a kicking game to pin Argentina in their own half, while not spending too much time in their own territory.

Meyer sometimes errs on the side of caution in selection and strategy, but it is encouraging that he has chosen the likes of Willie le Roux, JJ Engelbrecht and Bjorn Basson in the backline.

All of them have formidable attacking strengths but they have also all made defensive blunders this year that would have been enough to send them to church on Sunday for forgiveness. But there’s no doubt fullback Le Roux has added vision and spark to the backline, Engelbrecht has the pace and strength to cut defences to shreds and Basson has brilliant ability in the air and tremendous pace on the counter-attack.

Forward play has traditionally been the strength of the Pumas and Meyer has identified that it is amongst the backs, where veterans Bryan Habana and Jean de Villiers are playing as well as they ever have, where the Springboks could have a clear edge.

The Argentina team has been rocked by the absence of star loose forward Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and highly-rated prop Marcos Ayerza, but it is still crucial that the Springboks have done their homework on the new scrum laws, that seem tailor-made to the famous bajada scrum employed by the Pumas.

A weak scrum has done irreparable damage to several team’s chances already this year, but Meyer is a great believer in laying a platform up front in the set-pieces.

A great deal of work has also been done on the Springbok lineout, where the rapidly-maturing Juandre Kruger has returned in the number five jersey.

Providing everyone does their job clinically, the Springboks should have too much firepower for Argentina, who lost 27-6 to the Springboks in Cape Town in their Rugby Championship debut last year.

Speaking of debuts, Ewen McKenzie will make his first appearance as the new Australian coach when they take on the All Blacks in Sydney on Saturday.

McKenzie, the Queensland Reds coach until last month, has put his trust mostly in a bunch of players who led the Brumbies into the SuperRugby final.

Chief among those is Matt Toomua, the debutant who has been put in the crucial flyhalf position, ahead of Reds pivot Quade Cooper, who is back in the Wallabies squad after falling out with previous coach Robbie Deans.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-08-16-preview-boks-and-bafana-have-their-work-cut-out-at-fnb-stadium/#.WFkjr1N97IU

Chilling with the golfers & the wildlife at Leopard Creek’s 13th 0

Posted on December 12, 2016 by Ken

 

With the Crocodile River and the Kruger National Park forming its one boundary and its excellent design, the 13th hole at Leopard Creek, outside Malelane, is surely one of the best holes in world golf.

A 505-metre par-five, an elevated tee shot has to cross a stream that splits the fairway, while avoiding a well-placed bunker on the right of the landing zone. With the fairway sloping right-to-left, and with the stream curving around to run the rest of the length of the hole down the left, any drive that goes left will land up in the water hazard.

If the first shot is successful, a big choice then awaits as to whether to take on the green, which hangs 32 metres above the Crocodile River and is protected by three bunkers and a pond, as well as thick grass behind the green.

Once on the putting surface, there is a wonderful view over the Crocodile River and into Kruger National Park, with Hippopotamus, Elephant, various antelope, Warthog and numerous different bird species almost always spotted.

Brandon Stone, who won last weekend’s Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek with a superb 22-under-par total of 266, the second-best winning score at the event, certainly rates the 13th hole very highly.

“That’s my favourite hole in the world, without even exaggerating one little bit, it really is special. The fact is it’s not just a location; the actual hole’s design itself, I think it’s a really tricky tee-shot. You’ve got to really hit a good tee-shot to hit that fairway.

“And then if you hit the fairway it’s still not an easy par-five green to get into. I mean nine times out of 10, I’ll actually lay up; I’ve even written on my book, if it’s anything more than a six-iron, it’s not even worth going at because that green is just so tricky to hit; you just can’t even see the left side.

“So I think if I can play that hole under-par for the week, I’ll be happy, because I think a lot of other guys are going to get a little bit too greedy and it’s going to come and bite them a little bit. And then if they go over the back, something else could bite them,” Stone said before going eagle-bogey-birdie-birdie on the hole.

On the final day, I watched two three-balls play the hole and the scores amongst those six golfers ranged from Keith Horne’s eagle to a couple of sevens by Bryce Easton and Pablo Larrazabal.

It’s a classic risk-and-reward hole designed by Gary Player and although 13 golfers over the four days made double-bogey or worse, at least they didn’t fall foul of the two-metre long crocodile that was lurking inside the pool next to the green!

It was also the hole when Stone finally closed the door on Charl Schwartzel in the final round, making birdie while the defending champion wasted a superb drive by finding a greenside bunker, taking two shots to get out and finishing with a bogey that left him five behind.

As captivating as the golf is, the view from the green into Kruger National Park tears you away and even the competitors linger a bit, the joy of spotting something special undoubtedly lifting spirits in a place that is often brutally hot and was 40 degrees in the final round.

The next day, while driving through Kruger, exactly opposite the 13th, perhaps 200 metres from the river, I came across a family of Wild Dog, just showing what special potential sightings are there.

 

SA Open champ Sullivan comes to Joburg eyeing the top-50 & the majors 0

Posted on August 26, 2015 by Ken

 

South African Open champion Andy Sullivan returns to Johannesburg and the Joburg Open starting today doorstepping the top-50 in the world and a ticket to the major championships, which means he is confident he can contend at the co-sanctioned Sunshine Tour/European Tour event at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.

“Finishing fifth here last year and then winning the SA Open at Glendower down the road in December makes it nice to come back. I’m keen to have a crack at it and I’m full of confidence. I’m swinging it quite well after a two-week break, so I’m looking forward to this week.

“I’ve never played a major championship. To play the Open in your own country would be absolutely fantastic. I don’t want to put too much emphasis on it, because I think I’ve done that in the past and underperformed. For me, it’s about going out there and trying to enjoy myself,” Sullivan said on Wednesday.

The 73rd-ranked Sullivan is the highest-ranked golfer in the field, but the local challenge will be a strong one with the Joburg Open title being won by a South African six times, including the last five years consecutively, in the eight-year history of the event.

The defending champion, George Coetzee, will bring his intimate knowledge of the course and is eager to mount a strong defence of his maiden European Tour crown, while Richard Sterne, bidding to become the first golfer to win three Joburg Opens, and Thomas Aiken are also amongst the favourites.

“Every week I’m posting one or two good numbers, it’s just a matter of putting four together. Hopefully being comfortable with the course will put me in good stead for this week,” Coetzee said.

Aiken is out to register his fourth European Tour win, but he acknowledges that there are a host of extremely talented South African golfers looking to use the Joburg Open as a stepping stone.

“There is a big field this week and a lot of youngsters, and that’s really what this tournament was made to be. It aims to give a lot of people the chance to play a European Tour event.

“Funnily enough, the more people you have, the lower the cuts get. It’s renowned here that the cut is low, and it shows that everyone out there can play. When you have more than 200 players, there will be 100 that play well, so the margins are very small. That’s the beauty of the game, you don’t see the same guy winning every week. That’s the nature of it. It would be boring if the same guy won every week, although I’d love to be the person who does that!” Aiken said.

It’s been a very dry February in Johannesburg, so the 210 golfers teeing off today will have an office that will provide plenty of run, making an already fairly short course even shorter. But those Royal Johannesburg and Kensington greens are as small as ever.

 

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  • Thought of the Day

    1 Corinthians 3:3 - "For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?"

    One of my favourite U2 songs is a collaboration with Johnny Cash called The Wanderer, and it features the line "they say they want the kingdom, but they don't want God in it".
    Many people say they believe in God, but they don't experience his loving presence. They may be active in Christian work, but only if they have their way. If they cannot be leaders, they refuse to be involved.
    Because they refuse to allow God to fill their lives with his love, they remain weak and powerless.
    Spiritual maturity means developing a greater love for others.

    "When the love of Christ saturates you, immature attitudes such as pettiness, jealousy and strife are dissolved.
    "It is only when you have an intimate relationship with the Lord that you receive sufficient grace to rise above this immaturity and enjoy the solid food that the Holy Spirit gives you." - Solly Ozrovech, A Shelter From The Storm



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