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Ken Borland

Meant to be close derby at Kings Park, but Sharks blow Bulls away 0

Posted on September 20, 2023 by Ken

Given that the Bulls had won their last two matches against the Sharks and were fired up after their loss to the Stormers, it was meant to be a close United Rugby Championship derby at Kings Park on Saturday night, but the KwaZulu-Natalians produced a tremendously focused and intense performance as they blew the visitors away 47-20.

The opening quarter was tightly contested with Chris Smith and Curwin Bosch trading penalties, before the Bulls grabbed the opening try in the 19th minute. Impressive hands created space out wide for wing Canan Moodie, who regained his own chip ahead, albeit with a lucky bounce.

But then the Bulls found themselves in the eye of a storm, much of it of their own making as they were terribly ill-disciplined. Following a Bosch penalty, after prop Thomas du Toit won a turnover, that closed the gap to 9-13, the Sharks took a quick tap penalty and found space out wide, but Moodie knocked the final pass out into touch, leading to a yellow card and a penalty try.

The Sharks piled on the pressure and, with two minutes to go, flank Cyle Brink was also sent to the sin-bin after repeated Bulls’ infringements. A big Sharks scrum – an area where they held a great advantage – was followed by scrumhalf Grant Williams going one way and then the other and sniping over for the try.

By the time Bosch had converted – the resurgent flyhalf succeeded with eight of his nine kicks at goal – the halftime hooter was about to go, but referee Marius van der Westhuizen warned the Bulls twice that they could not kick the restart direct into touch.

Nevertheless, that is what Smith did and the Bulls paid a heavy price. The Sharks attacked from the scrum in the centre of the field, wing Kurt-Lee Arendse conceding a penalty for a deliberate knock-on, which allowed the Sharks into the 22. From there they earned another penalty, also kicked to touch, and a patient lineout maul saw hooker Bongi Mbonambi score. Having trailed by just three points two minutes before halftime, the Bulls were suddenly 13-30 down at the break.

The Sharks, confidence rampant, were on auto-pilot in the second half and they scored a superb try in the 51st minute to open the scoring after the break. Outside centre Lukhanyo Am popped an inside ball to wing Marnus Potgieter, who broke through before inside centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg’s quick hands sent the ball wide to fullback Boeta Chamberlain, who was stopped inside the 22 but produced a super offload for Janse van Rensburg to score.

The Bulls did respond with a fine try of their own, Moodie and Johan Goosen combining very well out wide for the fullback to score.

But the result was never in doubt as a Bosch penalty stretched the Sharks lead back to 40-20.

Moodie then ended up being red-carded, for a second yellow card, when he went fractionally high on a tackle on a dipping player. It was a harsh penalty when the Bulls wing did little wrong, and the officials ought to have paid more attention to the more dangerous neck-tackle on Arendse that followed. But because it happened later on in the same passage of play as Moodie’s small mistake, it was ignored.

The shellshocked Bulls then conceded another try after the final hooter when Janse van Rensburg snatched an intercept and dotted down under the poles.

The New Year’s celebrations at Kings Park will certainly be good.


Sharks: Tries – Penalty try, Grant Williams, Bongi Mbonambi, Rohan Janse van Rensburg (2). Conversions – Curwin Bosch (4). Penalties – Bosch (4).

Bulls: Tries – Canan Moodie, Johan Goosen. Conversions – Chris Smith (2). Penalties – Smith (2).

Reborn Centurion Hotel marketing itself as sports-orientated destination 0

Posted on June 09, 2023 by Ken

The refurbished Centurion Hotel.
(Pic: Nicci Mitchell)

The popular Centurion Lake Hotel has been reborn as just The Centurion Hotel and is now marketing itself as a sports-orientated destination, which makes perfect sense given its close proximity to SuperSport Park and its historical connection with cricket in general.

SuperSport Park came into use in 1986, known then as Centurion Park, as the Northern Transvaal team moved from Pretoria to make their base there. Five years later, the Centurion Lake Hotel opened on the banks of the Hennops River, with the lake and its beautiful waterworks display being a popular gathering spot.

And, given it’s proximity to SuperSport Park (less than a kilometre away), the hotel quickly became the accommodation of choice for both teams playing against Northerns (who then became the Titans), as well as the television commentators for local and international games.

My first experience of the Centurion Lake Hotel happened way back in February 1996 when I travelled up from Pietermaritzburg to cover the final match of the Castle Cup season between Natal and Northern Transvaal for The Natal Witness newspaper.

Natal were chasing a second-successive four-day title, but their hopes were cruelly dashed as the last two days of their match against Northerns were washed out. Instead of one of my earlier away ‘tours’ as a journalist ending in a triumphant celebration of taking the crown, it turned into utter frustration as us visitors watched the rain fall for two long and gloomy days, allowing Western Province, who were eight points behind Natal, to sneak in and win the competition.

Natal did reclaim the four-day crown, renamed the SuperSport Series, in the 1996/97 season, so but for rain they could have completed the first hat-trick of titles since the Transvaal Mean Machine did it in the early 1980s. The washout also denied the great Malcolm Marshall the send-off he deserved for everything he did for Natal cricket, the West Indian legend departing to coach his national team at the end of the season. Even more sadly, the genial, inspirational Marshall succumbed to colon cancer in November 1999.

Commentator Brett Proctor, another considerable figure in Natal cricket, having played, selected and been the stadium manager at Kingsmead, was also staying at the hotel along with the rest of SuperSport’s team. Ever gracious and happy to talk cricket, I remember fondly our chats during the week. Brett is, of course, still an invaluable part of the SuperSport commentary line-up.

Many famous former cricketers stayed at the Centurion Lake Hotel and it was clearly a most convivial spot for them to unwind after the day’s play. Thanks to their presence, the hotel built up an impressive collection of memorabilia and that will be highlighted as each floor is refurbished.

However, one or two commentators down through the years would mention how their rental car left in the underground parking had floated off when the Hennops River burst its banks and the big flood of 2019, followed shortly afterwards by Covid, was why the hotel closed down for three years.

But extensive work has gone into changing the shape of the response to the inevitable floods that come every summer.

“We have built a big wall that will prevent the flooding of the hotel, along with five-ton sluice gates and a monitoring system,” general manager Kamala Douglas pointed out.

The lake itself has also been a problem, many different issues being involved including the build-up of silt, pollution and litter, theft of metal grids and foul smells emanating from the water. But the council has embarked on an ambitious rehabilitation programme to restore the natural flow of the river and, looking down on the lake from our fourth-floor room window, the signs were promising with heavy machinery hard at work. According to Douglas, the plan is to build up sandbanks which will then have grass planted on them, creating a lovely natural area ideal for picnics.

The Centurion Lake Hotel was a four-star establishment, but the new Centurion Hotel is three stars.

The lounge area next to the bar.
Pic: Ken Borland

“We are now a three-star hotel because it is more cost-effective. But the rooms are the same and the sizes and standards of everything are still the same too. It allows us to have a light, self-service breakfast,” Douglas explained.

“Each floor will be representing a certain sport, with world record-holders and legends on the walls, as we push the whole sporting connection. We have also lightened the passages, taken out the curtains and modernized a bit. There are also plans for updated showers in all the rooms,” she said.

The rooms are certainly spacious and well-appointed, with tasteful décor and comfortable beds. The twin rooms, unusually, have queen-size beds, and suites are especially spacious.

Our room (excuse the slept-in bed).
Pic: Ken Borland

The hotel has direct access to the Centurion Mall, which is hugely convenient. But if one wants to stay in and eat, then Bruno’s Restaurant and the bar are both very cosy. There is quality food to cater for all tastes, coming out of an older, bigger kitchen than is the norm in modern hotels.

Bruno’s Restaurant.
Pic: Ken Borland

That also makes the Centurion Hotel an ideal functions and conferencing venue.

There is a large ballroom that can fit 170 people and six fully-catered conference rooms can be hired for R450 per head per day, which is an attractive deal. They are very smart, boardroom-type venues with modernised tech, and there is not much else in the area when it comes to conferencing facilities.

The hotel boasts various hospitality areas and exterior adjustments are planned to create something of a summer oasis by the pool overlooking the lake. Big-screen TVs will also be installed in this area.

One of the corridors with its lovely finishes.
Pic: Ken Borland

Despite all this modernisation, the Centurion Hotel still maintains a distinct, classic charm. Perhaps it is all the lovely old wooden finishes around the place, but it almost feels as if one has retreated to a relaxed rural hotel out in nature, and yet one is in the centre of one of the busiest parts of Gauteng.

The Centurion Hotel’s star is certainly rising once again.

Bulls dominate the battle of sibling rivals … but change has to come at Loftus 0

Posted on May 15, 2023 by Ken

Eighthman Elrigh Louw was prominent as the Bulls rebounded with a convincing victory over the tough Griquas team in Kimberley.

Given that many of the Griquas players have come through the junior ranks at Loftus Versfeld, last weekend’s Currie Cup clash against the Bulls in Kimberley had all the hallmarks of a sibling rivalry – the big brother from Pretoria trying to quell the upstart youngsters.

Except that the Bulls have been a meek facsimile of their former fearsome selves this season and the quarterfinal exit, via another heavy defeat at the hands of the Stormers, caused much soul-searching at Loftus Versfeld.

The Currie Cup is now their last chance to pull together and try and get something meaningful out of their troubled season. Which makes them dangerous, desperate adversaries, and Griquas had their hands full against a near URC-strength team, going down 40-20. That Bulls side, when on-song, was good enough to finish sixth in the URC and make the last 16 of the Champions Cup.

The fact that the Bulls churn out so many talented youngsters year-after-year, and have dominated recent age-group rugby in South Africa, has caused speculation that director of rugby and head coach Jake White should ditch the players that have misfired this year and embark on a youth policy.

White himself almost bristled at the suggestion, saying the inevitable change that was needed at Loftus was a tricky balancing act between utilising exciting new talent but also ensuring that an experienced core is there to complement them.

“There needs to be change, that’s inevitable, and we also need some fresh energy,” White said. “Some guys have fallen behind and some players are finishing their contracts anyway. Some have said they might want to move elsewhere in South Africa or overseas.

“We are still negotiating with SAREO [South African Rugby Employers’ Organisation] and SA Rugby as to how many contracts we can have. This year we have used nearly sixty players, but we are limited to 55 contracts.

“So it’s a work in progress, it’s very fluid. And you can’t give guys one-year deals because they need stability. There are spaces available in our squad, but then you also need the right players to complement the guys you bring in.

“I would love to keep everyone coming through our system. In the last three years we have had the strongest junior age-groups in the country. But we need 55 players to leave to put all of them into the senior squad and that’s not possible. Not every guy in the junior ranks at Loftus is going to make it in professional rugby. There are only 23 places in the senior team.

“Which is why probably 60% of the Griquas and Pumas teams have come through the Bulls junior system. And those two teams were the Currie Cup finalists last year, which shows the talent we produce.

“We don’t need more juniors in the team and it’s impossible to win anything big when two-thirds of your team are under 24-years-old. We’ve already gone through that at the Bulls.

“Just using players from the junior system is not the solution to the problem, we need to complement them with players from outside. We need to be proactive, not reactive; we need to look for good players with speed and skill and the ability to change the game whatever their position, and more coaches to make the Bulls stronger. As Director of Rugby, I’m very lucky that the Board, the CEO and our owners say we need to compete with the top sides in Europe,” White said.

While there will clearly be changes in playing personnel for the Bulls, White was bullish in terms of his own management, although he did admit that they probably should have planned differently for the Currie Cup. The 59-year-old is confident that with a productive off-season in terms of structural work, the Bulls will return to their efficient selves and meet the ambitious goals of his bosses and the fans.

“Things have been working, I don’t know why some people think I would walk away. We have not done as well as we could, but it has not been a failure of a season and it has not been all bad. No-one from South Africa was able to get through the playoffs of the Champions Cup and we finished sixth in the URC. If that’s a bad year, then we are in a very good position at the Bulls because things will change drastically next season.

“We could have structured the Currie Cup campaign differently, but we take the Currie Cup very seriously and that’s not going to change,” White said.

Sporting success is never an exact science otherwise everyone would have the same winning formula. But something about the mix at Loftus Versfeld, which produced such potent rugby in the last couple of years, is now off. Plus good old-fashioned bad luck and things beyond their control have gone against them.

With all his experience and rugby wisdom, it would be foolish to bet against White ensuring the Bulls make full use of their resources next season to return to a position of dominance in South African rugby.

Elgar no longer willing to wait before middle-order clicks 0

Posted on October 14, 2022 by Ken

Having last week given the impression he believed it was only a matter of time before the middle-order clicks, Proteas captain Dean Elgar now seems to have lost patience and said changes were going to happen for the third and decisive Test against England starting at The Oval on September 8.

South Africa will be forced to make at least one change to the batting line-up, with Rassie van der Dussen returning home with a fractured left index finger.

Van der Dussen’s place has been under pressure as he has now gone 13 innings without a Test half-century, although his 41 in the second innings at Old Trafford, spending nearly three hours at the crease when his finger was obviously causing him pain, was a substantial effort. It probably would have saved him, but ironically he now cannot play.

Aiden Markram is still very much in the firing line, having gone 15 innings without reaching fifty. His only chance of survival would seem to be if the Proteas management decide it would be too risky bringing two inexperienced players into the middle-order for the series-decider.

Van der Dussen is likely to be replaced by Ryan Rickelton, who has played two Tests against Bangladesh at home, or Khaya Zondo, whose only Test cap came as a concussion substitute on the final morning of the Gqeberha Test against Bangladesh, and he did not bat.

“There are a few tough decisions coming our way,” Elgar said after the Proteas’ innings defeat in Manchester. “Obviously we have to replace Rassie, so that’s a definite change.

“But whether that’s the only change, we’ll have to see, we’ve got a few days to get ourselves a better combination. The bottom line is that we need runs from the middle-order and they have let us down quite a bit. The guys know it already.”

Markram’s cause is not helped by both his dismissals at Old Trafford making him look like a clot: In the first innings he fell crucially just before lunch, skying a pull at a Ben Stokes long-hop outside off-stump; in the second innings he got a nick to an ambitious drive on the up, outside off-stump, against Stuart Broad.

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