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Ken Borland

So near and yet so far for Boks 0

Posted on December 01, 2022 by Ken

So near and yet so far is probably an apt summation of the Springboks’ Rugby Championship campaign, and there is a lingering feeling that Jacques Nienaber’s team are still not playing to their true potential and are still not ruthless enough when it comes to translating dominance to points on the scoreboard.

And their next opponents, on November 5 and 12 respectively, are Ireland in Dublin and France in Marseille. Those are the top two sides in the world rankings and then we will have a better idea of whether South Africa are genuine World Cup contenders or just also-rans in a southern hemisphere competition that is no longer the gold standard of international rugby.

Having hammered the All Blacks in Nelspruit on the opening weekend, the Springboks really only have themselves to blame for not winning the Rugby Championship for just the fifth time.

Their first misjudgement lies squarely on Nienaber (and maybe director of rugby Rassie Erasmus) for not choosing the best XV to play New Zealand the following weekend at Ellis Park. The All Blacks were in disarray and ripe for the taking after their 26-10 defeat at Mbombela Stadium. When your greatest rivals are on their knees, you don’t experiment and give them a helping hand, you ruthlessly turn the knife and ensure they sack their coach mid-competition.

Instead, Ian Foster’s men bounced back with an impressive win, the ship was steadied and, despite an historic first loss at home to Argentina, they were worthy winners of the Rugby Championship.

Having lost to the Pumas 25-18 in Christchurch, New Zealand then thrashed them 53-3 the following weekend in Hamilton, the result that ultimately won them the title, because it left the Springboks needing a bonus point and turning around a big points differential in the final round to claim the silverware.

It is that kind of ruthlessness, the ability to really put opposition away, that the Springboks lack. The last time they scored 40 points in the Rugby Championship, never mind winning by a margin of 39, was back in August 2019 against Argentina.

I get that Test matches cannot always be like a commercial for open, running rugby, but the great sides are able to leverage dominance and make it reflect on the scoreboard. And there have been periods when the Springboks have enjoyed an absolute monopoly on momentum, but just did not have the execution or intent to make it count.

In the last match against Argentina, I would have liked to have seen the Springboks try and play some expansive rugby. They had nothing to lose – even if they lost, they still would have finished second.

But with crash-ball centres at numbers 10 and 12 and the creativity of Lukhanyo Am missed at outside centre, the Springboks still just relied on their usual formula of scoring from set-pieces and rolling mauls.

They were not helped by a referee, Damon Murphy, who was determined to be in the middle of the limelight. If you are going to steal the show, at least make sure you are competent, but Murphy and his officiating team made a series of terrible decisions that robbed South Africa of momentum.

From winning the World Cup in 2019, the Springboks no longer seem to be the leaders of the pack. I don’t see much growth, especially in terms of their attacking play, since those heady days in Japan. The opposition will have had four years to work out how to blunt South Africa’s forward-based, strangling game of stout defence and contestable kicking, and the Boks better have more strings to their bow if they hope to defend their title.

Perhaps Nienaber, an inexperienced head coach maybe in Erasmus’s shadow, has tried too hard to prove he is the man and is too prescriptive in terms of the style of play. While throttling the opposition has worked, one wonders if the Springboks are not strangling their own potential in the process?

Let’s hope they express themselves more in Europe.

Process far from perfect, but Smith’s Boucher appointment not racist 0

Posted on May 23, 2022 by Ken

An independent arbitration panel, while criticising the process as being far from perfect, has found Cricket South Africa’s now former director of cricket Graeme Smith was not guilty of any unfair racial discrimination in his appointment of Mark Boucher as Proteas coach ahead of Enoch Nkwe.

CSA, acting on the “tentative” findings of their Social Justice and Nation-Building Report, alleged that Smith had shown racial bias against Nkwe, who was the interim coach of the Proteas when the former national captain took over as director of cricket in December 2019.

But the arbitrators, advocates Ngwako Maenetje SC and Michael Bishop, cleared Smith of any racism and instructed CSA to pay his costs for the entire arbitration.

Smith explained his rationale for choosing Boucher in the hearing, starting with his impression of the Proteas team under Nkwe and captain Faf du Plessis on their disastrous tour of India in 2019, for which he was one of the TV commentators.

Smith described the Proteas as being “rudderless”, their performance was “way off par” and there was “quite a lot of onfield infighting between the players”. He told the arbitrators that his view on the coaching situation might have been different if the Proteas were a more experienced team with a captain that was going to be around for the next 10 years.

“I felt that I needed a character that could handle … an extremely high pressurised position, you are at the cold [sic] face of the world media, the … crowds. … I felt the team at the time needed someone that had extensive … experience in dealing with conditions, with the pressures that come with the international game. I knew that this team was going to lose extensively up front, it was going to take time to build it,” Smith told the hearing.

The arbitrators found that Smith made it clear to CSA that Boucher would be his appointment as the new coach, there was no objection from CSA and no suggestion from them that this was unfair to Nkwe. The then chairman of the board, Chris Nenzani, told Smith that he had the authority to appoint coaches and CSA never insisted on proper processes.

There was also a time factor because Smith could only make the appointments on December 11, 2019 after he was appointed director of cricket, and the Test series against England began on December 26, with the Proteas needing to assemble 8-10 days before that.

The arbitrators found that the CSA directive was for long-term appointments, not interim ones, and that it was their “inaction and delays that put Smith under pressure”.

CSA’s assertion that Boucher should never have been appointed national coach because he does not have a Level 4 coaching certificate, while Nkwe does, was left standing nude in front of the arbitrators when it was pointed out that CSA were happy to appoint both Gary Kirsten and Ottis Gibson as Proteas head coach when neither of them had a Level 4 qualification.

Boks impressive, but Davids says far from a 10/10 performance 0

Posted on September 01, 2021 by Ken

Impressive as the Springboks’ 32-12 win over Argentina was, forwards coach Deon Davids said on Monday that it was far from a 10/10 performance and they will be striving for more consistent excellence this weekend against the same opposition and in the same Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

Although there are unlikely to be wholesale changes to the team, tinkering in the interests of keeping some players fresh and others involved could see as many as 10 players wearing a different number on their backs on Saturday.

And one of the significant changes could come in the No.10 jersey. Elton Jantjies’ tendency to mix some skilful moments with basic errors could see him come off the bench on Saturday, with Morne Steyn starting at flyhalf. Damian Willemse also had a mixed day at fullback and there will certainly be plenty of people excited about the prospect of Aphelele Fassi returning to his regular position.

Captain Siya Kolisi played against Argentina despite having gastric flu and, given his all-out effort during the British and Irish Lions series, there is certainly an argument to be made for him to be rested ahead of the huge challenges in Australasia.

Davids said on Monday though that Duane Vermeulen is still two-to-three weeks away from playing, so who would take over the captaincy is an issue. Eben Etzebeth has captained the Springboks before, although ideally he would be resting as well were it not for the injuries to Rynhardt Elstadt, Jean-Luc du Preez, RG Snyman and Pieter-Steph du Toit.

Kwagga Smith can easily play openside flank and Dan du Preez could come in on the blindside, but an injury to Marco van Staden could force the Springboks back into a 5-3 bench.

Davids also confirmed that scrumhalves Herschel Jantjies and Faf de Klerk are also still unavailable for this weekend.

“We want a more consistent performance. The players generally made the right decisions, but the execution was not always where we want it to be. But they found solutions as the game went on, especially in the scrums and lineout. We want to ensure we grow and get better in our execution, make sure that flows into Saturday’s game.

“We are very happy with the guys that stepped in against a quality side. It was obviously a big step up the youngsters had to make and we were glad with the way they reacted. In selection, we will look at performance, but also the freshness of the players and we want to build depth and experience into the group. Those considerations all have to be balanced,” Davids said.

Judging by last weekend’s performance, the depth in Springbok rugby is okay.

“There were some big moments that the players handled well. That was testament to the base of talent that we have, how the guys assist each other and the leadership of the senior players and how the youngsters react to that. It speaks to a whole team effort and it was a good learning experience against a very competitive team. We now have a base to move from,” Davids said.

Possible Springbok team: Aphelele Fassi, Sbu Nkosi, Jesse Kriel, Francois Steyn, Rosko Specman, Morne Steyn, Cobus Reinach, Jasper Wiese, Dan du Preez, Kwagga Smith, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Wilco Louw, Malcolm Marx, Ox Nche. Bench – Trevor Nyakane, Joseph Dweba, Vincent Koch, Marvin Orie, Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, Jaden Hendrikse, Elton Jantjies, Damian Willemse.

Advertisers say ‘but wait, there’s more’, but WP say there’s far less 0

Posted on June 03, 2021 by Ken

Advertisers may love to say “But wait, there’s more”, but for Western Province rugby it is a case of it being far less.

At least when it comes to the money they are spending on players, and in particular on young Springbok fullback Damian Willemse.

Recent reports have alleged Willemse is earning R5.6 million a year to play for the Stormers, linking the extraordinary salary to allegations of reckless spending at the troubled union.

But Stormers coach John Dobson on Tuesday lashed out at the unethical reporting of individual player’s salaries and stated that the figures were wrong in any case.

“We have done very well to retain most of the squad we have until 2024 and we are still 15.3% below the salary cap. So we are certainly not throwing money at players as alluded to, and that’s with several Springboks staying, even though some of them were offered more elsewhere. Some players were even approached outside the transfer window.

“A line was absolutely crossed when Damian Willemse had an incorrect salary published, the figure was considerably off, it is much less than reported. To speculate about someone’s salary and then not get it right affects both the player and the cohesion of the squad. He’s a 23-year-old who is playing superbly and is desperate for Western Province to be successful,” Dobson said.

Dobson also confirmed that negotiations with 2019 World Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit are ongoing, saying that the talismanic Springbok has a strong affinity with the Western Cape.

“We’ve been talking to Pieter-Steph the whole year and he wanted to get back on to the field first before making any decisions. He has not signed anywhere overseas yet and we have planned for both scenarios – him staying with us or leaving – in our budget. But when a global star comes on the market, no South African franchise would be able to stand against the offer.

“But Pieter-Steph has got family and business interests in the Western Cape, he’s a big part of the team and the region, and he and his agents have been very transparent. Trying to match an overseas offer – if it’s a million euro or more particularly millions of yen – would break our salary cap, that would be about one-third of the salary cap on one player. But maybe he’ll go away for a short time and then come back,” Dobson explained.

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