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Ken Borland

The John McFarland Column: Bulls were special, but where were the Sharks? 0

Posted on April 18, 2018 by Ken


The Bulls did well to win so convincingly in Durban last weekend, their display was really something special, especially after the Sharks had put in good performances in New Zealand.

I really thought that the Sharks would put up more of a fight though, but it seemed like they just weren’t there. The Bulls exposed a few things in their side tactically, which wasn’t great. Warrick Gelant scored his three tries from kicks through so you have to ask ‘where was the sweeper?’, ‘where were the wings?’ and ‘where was Curwin Bosch?’

For Gelant’s first try, Bosch sprinted all the way from the left-hand side of the field to the right, but he never looked at the ball! He never clocked on to what Handre Pollard was doing. It was a middle ruck and Gelant was on the inside of the flyhalf, but the Sharks still had plenty of time to get to the kick. The Sharks were just not good enough in terms of covering kicks.

The Bulls also scored two tries from mauls, and that’s against a very strong, experienced pack of forwards including Springbok back-rowers. You would have expected them to stop the drive much better than they did and there are obviously issues with the Sharks pack. You know that if you are five metres from your line, the Bulls will maul, that is very predictable.

Gelant really took his opportunity on the day and he is an exciting talent. He’s been in the Bulls system since 2014, after being spotted by Heyneke Meyer at Outeniqua High School in George.

He has really great feet and it is very rare for a fullback to be able to kick with both feet as easily as he can. He has certainly nudged the Springbok selectors in the right direction and his tactical kicking was also good.

But it was Pollard who really directed the game and you have to credit him for seeing the space and executing so well. He has been a Springbok for four years, so even though he is just 24 he is experienced and one can see that he is definitely better in terms of his tactical appreciation of where the space is and how to find it. He was able to put the ball behind the Sharks back three quite easily.

Since Adriaan Strauss has moved back to starting hooker, the Bulls have changed their lineout defence and their maul and their forwards just look much better. They even earned some scrum penalties against the Sharks, so it was a special performance by the pack.

There is now a mountain of pressure on Sharks coach Robert du Preez and their match against the Stormers this weekend in Durban is make-or-break for both teams, who have similar records. The Sharks have 14 points but have only won two of their eight games, with one draw, while the Stormers have won three out of eight matches but have 13 points.

They can still get up to the Lions on 25 points, but they need a good run of wins at home now. The Bulls will probably target away wins against the Sunwolves and Jaguares, which will be so important for them.

The key is how the Lions do on tour – and the three other South African challengers have all toured – and if their four away games don’t go well then it will really bring them back to the pack and make the conference exciting.

I foresee the Bulls getting a good win over the Rebels at Loftus Versfeld.

The Rebels have fallen away a bit with their loss to the Jaguares last weekend and a big defeat at the hands of the Hurricanes before that, so they are not quite where they were a few weeks ago.

They do have one real quality player though in Amanaki Mafi, who is also the Japan eighthman. He is the leading ball-carrier in both Japan and SuperRugby and is one heck of a player, named the Rebels Player of the Year last season. He’s exciting, very explosive and just loves playing rugby. He doesn’t seem to suffer from fatigue and plays 15 Top League games in Japan and then the whole of SuperRugby. I think Loftus will really enjoy him.

It’s been strange to hear the Stormers camp talk about last weekend’s result making the Sharks angry because they will be up against the same team. You would expect them to come out firing at home after a loss like that, but they could also be a little bit devoid of confidence.

The Stormers, meanwhile, have to improve their away record and to do that they have to improve their defence, which has been conceding too many tries – 37, second worst behind the Sunwolves’ 40, including eight against the Lions and five against the Bulls in their last two games.

It’s been interesting to see the differentiation of roles in the Stormers set-up with two defence coaches: Paul Treu doing first-phase attack and defence and Paul Feeney doing everything after that, in other words broken play. It’s definitely a first for me and the proof of how effective it is will be how they finish the season. I do wonder who’s where during training sessions though because normally the defence coach is always behind the defensive line. I’d love to see a video of the Stormers’ training because I reckon the two Pauls are racking up plenty of miles on their GPSs running backwards and forwards!

It’s been really good to see a South African coach do well overseas and Johann van Graan’s achievement in steering Munster into the European Champions Cup semi-final against Racing 92 in Bordeaux on Sunday is fantastic. Since taking over from Rassie Erasmus in November he has had a chance to put his own stamp on the team and it is exciting to see a young (38!) South African coach doing so well overseas, it is a real feather in Johann’s cap.

Munster have certainly put on more attacking displays recently and they have scored quite a lot of tries in the Pro14, with JP Ferreira also doing well as defence coach – another young South African coach doing well.



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.

Meyer in the mood for a big victory 0

Posted on December 15, 2015 by Ken


Although the Springboks trounced Italy convincingly, Scotland has traditionally not been an easy opponent to destroy. Heyneke Meyer’s reluctance to add to the 852 players in the index of South Africa’s capped internationals for Saturday’s Test against a depleted Scottish side has many people baffled, but the Springbok coach perhaps let slip his motivation with a throwaway line during the team announcement.

“Our past results against Scotland are nothing to be proud of,” he said in midweek.

He obviously meant results in the recent past because Meyer would have grown up hearing stories of how the Springboks set the world record score against Scotland in Edinburgh in 1951 when they walloped them 44-0. Tries were only worth three points back then, so South Africa’s tally of nine, plus seven conversions from Okey Geffin and a drop goal from Hannes Brewis would have been equivalent to a 62-0 drubbing in today’s terms.

But since 2002, the Springboks have struggled to really put the Scots away. They lost 21-6 that year in Edinburgh and again 21-17 in 2010, but even their victories, with a couple of exceptions, have not been by much – 29-25 (Durban, 2003); 28-19 (Johannesburg, 2003); 45-10 (Edinburgh 2004); 36-16 (Durban, 2006); 29-15 (Port Elizabeth, 2006); 27-3 (Edinburgh, 2007); 14-10 (Edinburgh, 2008) and 21-10 (Edinburgh 2012).

So Meyer is clearly hoping for something more along the lines of 62-0 as he calls into service the bulk of the team that put Italy away in impressive fashion last weekend.

With South Africa set to play Scotland in a potential pool decider in their own conditions in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Meyer will also be keen on scoring some psychological points through a big victory.

With another week of training together hopefully providing even more continuity, and those first Test nerves a thing of the past for a handful of players, Meyer is confident that the Springboks will build on their King’s Park performance when they play the first Test to be hosted by the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit.

And the home side certainly has numerous weapons with which to really hurt the Scots.

Bryan Habana won the Man of the Match award for his dazzling display of pacy counter-attacking and new Scotland flyhalf Ruaridh Jackson and debutant fullback Peter Murchie are warned that aimless kicking will be punished.

Saturday also provides another opportunity for Willie le Roux and JJ Engelbrecht to shine, while if left wing Bjorn Basson continues to look for work, he could well add to his maiden Test try last weekend.

Scotland suffered a terrible injury toll after their loss to the physical Samoans. Coach Scott Johnson said he was “hard-pressed to remember so many injuries from the one Test match” – and unfortunately for them they can expect more of the same from the Springboks.

The loose trio of Pierre Spies, Arno Botha and Marcell Coetzee are renowned for their physicality, as is lock Eben Etzebeth, while Meyer can turn to the likes of Coenie Oosthuizen, Flip van der Merwe and, of course, Bismarck du Plessis, for even more punching power off the bench.

The ferocious Du Plessis is likely to only be on the field for a short period, but Scotland could well learn the meaning of vasbyt in that time.

“I’ve never been out this long before, I’ve missed six Sharks games in eight years before the knee operation, so frustration doesn’t even come close to describing the feeling. Even if you miss one game, you can never get it back again and even if I just get one minute on Saturday, I’m going to try and fit 80 minutes of rugby into it,” Du Plessis vowed this week.

Siya Kolisi, who at 1.86m is shorter than the loose forwards Meyer usually favours, is another who should get a stint off the bench and the debutant will want to make his presence count at the breakdowns.

Meyer has identified the breakdowns as one of the key areas he is looking to improve in the second year of his term and, with Francois Louw the first-choice open-side flank, Kolisi will want to make the most of his chance while the Bath man is away getting married this weekend.

The scrums are another area where the Springboks can improve, but in the unlikely event of Jannie du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira struggling, Meyer does have the insurance of in-form Cheetahs props Oosthuizen and Trevor Nyakane on the bench.

Scotland will have an experienced tighthead in British Lions tourist Euan Murray to test the Springbok scrum, but the visitors will be hard-pressed to match the lineout skills of the hosts.

The fact that an already depleted Scotland team have now been battered and bruised to such an extent that coach Johnson had to make seven more changes, does not inspire much confidence that they can upset a Springbok team that has their coach calling for blood.

“We still have to put in the hard work against Scotland. It’s like SuperRugby, any team can beat you on their day. We played some great rugby last weekend, but we’re still far from our best. We still need to improve and for us it’s about putting in 100%, 100% of the time,” Meyer said.

For the Springboks to slacken now would totally expose their coach’s about-turn on using this quadrangular series to try a bunch of players.

With a Nelspruit crowd eager to see the Springboks in action for the first time in their city, we can surely expect the Springboks to improve further on their start to the season in Durban by putting Scotland to the sword.


South Africa – Willie le Roux; Bryan Habana, JJ Engelbrecht, Jean de Villiers, Bjorn Basson; Morne Steyn, Ruan Pienaar; Pierre Spies, Arno Botha, Marcell Coetzee; Juandre Kruger, Eben Etzebeth; Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Bismarck du Plessis, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Flip van der Merwe, Siya Kolisi, Piet van Zyl, Pat Lambie, Jan Serfontein.

Scotland – Peter Murchie; Tommy Seymour, Alex Dunbar, Matt Scott, Sean Lamont; Ruaridh Jackson, Greig Laidlaw; Johnnie Beattie, Ryan Wilson, Alasdair Strokosch; Jim Hamilton, Tim Swinson; Euan Murray, Scott Lawson, Alasdair Dickinson. Replacements: Steven Lawrie, Jon Welsh, Moray Low, Alastair Kellock, David Denton, Henry Pyrgos, Peter Horne, Duncan Taylor.

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