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Ken Borland

Ewing resigns as national men’s coach, did he hide SA Hockey failings with his fine performances? 0

Posted on February 16, 2023 by Ken

Garreth Ewing has resigned with immediate effect as the national men’s hockey coach and there are fears in South African hockey circles that the fine performances he achieved with the team were merely hiding the level of maladministration in the game and tough times lie ahead for the team.

Ewing made public on social media on Tuesday the reasons for his shock decision to leave his post, just before the FIH Nations Cup tournament starts in Potchefstroom on November 28. The 48-year-old said his resignation was “a final response to an accumulation of events … These were starting to impact on me, both personally and professionally. The weight of it all was putting strain on my relationships, both inside and outside the team, and my health, both physical and mental”.

Describing his decision as “an act of self-care”, Ewing said he will “look forward to falling in love with hockey again”.

Under his watch since 2019, South Africa were winless and last in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, despite beating Germany 4-3. They were, though, invited to participate in the elite Pro League and earlier this year they reached the semi-finals of the Commonwealth Games for the first time in 20 years and have qualified for next year’s World Cup since then with their strong showings seeing Ewing nominated this year for the FIH Coach of the Year award. They have moved up to 14th in the world rankings.

But insiders speak of all these achievements being despite the administration and not because of it. One stakeholder from the sponsorship market told The Citizen “SA Hockey are the most amateur and disorganised sports body we work with”.

Amongst the frustrations cited by those around the team are the players being told three days before leaving for Malaysia and the recent Sultan Azlan Shah Cup that they had to come up with R41 000 each to play in the tournament.

For the FIH Nations Cup in Potchefstroom, which will decide the one team who joins the Pro League next year, the South African team will not be staying in the Astro Villas next to the venue, but instead the home team has had to stay in a school boarding house free of charge. This is because SA Hockey allegedly missed the deadline to apply for accommodation.

It is apparently not the first time SA Hockey have missed a deadline. Potchefstroom were going to bid to hoist the 2026 World Cup and were ready to fly to Switzerland to present their case, with SA Hockey only needing to get permission from the Department of Sport, which they failed to do.

The team are also apparently furious that the SA Hockey Association did not bother to vote for either Ewing or star SA women’s player Phumelela Mbande, who was nominated for the goalkeeper of the year award.

The lack of sponsorship for the national hockey teams is well-known and they have had to resort to crowdfunding to attend the previous Olympics.

“We want to know what work has been done to get a sponsor? Sponsors have told us that they don’t know if the money will go to the team if they do invest, and if we get a sponsor, then SA Hockey says they have to go through their marketing department. How are we meant to prepare properly when we only know a week before for sure that we’re going to a tournament?” a member of the national squad said.

While the North-West University love hosting international events in Potchefstroom, it is believed SA Hockey still owe them money for hosting fees. The Citizen were not able to confirm this with the university’s hockey administration, however.

Since the much-admired Marissa Langeni stepped down as CEO in April after more than 12 years at the helm, SA Hockey appointed an interim CEO in Shaune Baaitjies, who has a BCom Honours in Industrial and Organisational Psychology and describes herself as a leadership coach on her LinkedIn profile.

SA Hockey have also not held their election for a new executive for more than a year, reportedly because president Deon Morgan was making a run for a position on the FIH Board. He has now been elected as part of the executive team at global level and it is believed a date and nominees have been decided for an election, but no statement has been made by the federation.

Baaitjies did not respond to questions about all these issues sent to her by The Citizen.

Although it is a mass participation sport at grassroots level and both national teams are impressively transformed, how hockey is going to ensure sustainability with all these leadership issues is a massive concern.

Satisfaction writ large on Elgar’s face … but now he needs to get a handle on where Proteas can improve 0

Posted on May 12, 2022 by Ken

The satisfaction of completing a successful summer with a 2-0 series win over Bangladesh was writ large on Dean Elgar’s face on Monday, but the South African captain knows that soon he will have to get busy analysing their Test campaigns and getting a handle on where they can improve for the bigger challenges that lie ahead later this year.

It does not get more convincing than their 332-run win over Bangladesh on Monday, their biggest ever at St George’s Park, but stiffer opposition lies ahead with tours to England and Australia later this year.

“Not a lot of people would have given us a chance of winning five out of seven Tests this summer and it’s great to have those numbers on our side,” Elgar said after Keshav Maharaj’s 7/40 had bowled the Proteas to victory.

“It’s been an extremely successful summer with a lot to build on, but my job is also to dissect our performances and get the negatives out.”

Elgar’s first and foremost concern was the batting and their failure to get more hundreds.

“From a batting point of view, we need to notch up more hundreds. Us senior guys are getting into position and we need to reach those three figures because we know how much pressure that then puts on the opposition.

“We haven’t quite nailed down the batting, and that’s on my own plate as well, so that’s the one main negative. But we’re extremely aware of it, we’re working bloody hard to fix it, maybe even trying too hard,” Elgar said.

The 34-year-old Elgar has been a hit as captain, introducing a hard-nosed, unrelenting style of cricket to the Proteas Test team. It has been a modus operandi that has resonated with the players and is a good fit with traditional South African values like determination and ruthlessness.

“I’ve been trying to install a way of playing that the team can buy into and we’ve come on leaps and bounds. As a captain, I’m now more experienced and I’ve been able to put my own leadership stamp on the group.

“I’ve gained confidence as I’ve been in the job and hopefully we have a style of play nailed down now that we can all follow. I know the players buy into it.

“I think the team is in a very special place, which means I’m a lot happier with what I’m doing as captain. Getting results and playing good, strong cricket definitely eases the burden of captaincy.

“I’m very grateful for the cricket we’ve played this summer and it’s been great to be competitive at this level,” Elgar said.

Jake praises Bulls’ determination, but admits they’re in a very difficult position 0

Posted on March 24, 2022 by Ken

Bulls coach Jake White praised his team for their determination to not just lie down and die after Morne Steyn’s red card against the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld, even though he admitted their lack of finishing and ultimate defeat leaves them in a very difficult position in the United Rugby Championship.

The Bulls had to play for 70 minutes without their talismanic flyhalf after he was permanently sent off for a late, high tackle that struck the neck of Lukhanyo Am. But a tremendous effort and some superb rugby saw them come back from 26-12 down, eventually losing 22-29 with several scoring chances left on the table.

“I’m really proud of the way the team fought back,” White said, “because some teams just lay down and die after a red card. Your flyhalf runs everything, and Morne is the best kicker in the competition and we missed three conversions. Kick those and we would have won.

“It’s never nice to lose, we don’t feel good, but there’s a lot to be positive about. You lose your flyhalf for 70 minutes and still score four tries against probably the best team on paper in South Africa.

“It was not the result we wanted, but you can’t question the players’ commitment. We just needed to be more clinical in their 22, we managed to pin them there for long periods of time.

“We had enough opportunities in the 22, but things went wrong with our maul and some of our ball-carries. But I’m very confident with where we are going with this team,” White said.

The former Springbok coach expressed his surprise that the Bulls did not see more reward from referee AJ Jacobs either for their rolling maul or their concerted pressure on the Sharks’ tryline.

“We ran 40 metres with our maul and got no reward, which I can’t understand,” White said. “We also had a half-a-dozen penalties on their tryline.

“Our forward pack did not take a step backwards and we showed that we can dominate against a team that is like the Springboks side.

“I thought Robert Hunt and Jacques van Rooyen did well today against the incumbent Springbok front row and we are much better off in terms of scrummaging than we were seven weeks ago.

“But this loss puts us in a very difficult position. Our backs are against the wall for the first time for this group. But good teams find a way of making the playoffs and our challenge now is to find the low road,” White said.

Bongi’s front row club looking to add cohesion & potency to Bok pack 0

Posted on July 08, 2021 by Ken

Hooker Bongi Mbonambi is a seasoned and potent member of the front row club and he knows the importance of the Springbok pack being a cohesive unit ahead of the bruising forward battles that lie ahead against Georgia and the British and Irish Lions.

South Africa take on Georgia for the first time since their inaugural meeting and 46-19 win in Sydney in the 2003 World Cup, with back-to-back Tests on July 2 at Loftus Versfeld and July 9 at Ellis Park. The Georgian forwards are a lively bunch and they will provide decent preparation for the Lions series.

“We’re definitely focused on Georgia at the moment, they have a quality pack and they scrum very low so we have to adjust to that. As a pack we want to make sure we are all aligned and on the same page, especially in the scrum and maul. Other countries look at us and see those as a threat and it is definitely one of our weapons, but we do have other weapons too,” Mbonambi said.

The 30-year-old Stormers star, capped 36 times, also acknowledged the gulf between professional club rugby and the international game, which was so rudely exposed by the hammering of the Bulls in the Rainbow Cup final last weekend.

“There’s a massive difference between local and international rugby, the intensity is about 10 times higher. But the coaches are making sure we get back there to those levels, so I am feeling it on the body at the moment. But I’m 100% sure we’ll be ready given the way we are training now,” Mbonambi said.

Apart from the scrums and mauls, Mbonambi obviously also has a key role to play in the lineouts and, as in all facets of their game, the camp in Bloemfontein has focused on ensuring there is no broken language when it comes to communicating about this crucial set-piece, which is usually a South African strength.

“We’re focused on our system and working on the lineout detail. A hooker needs to have a feel for the other players, you need to build that confidence and connection. We always have high standards, but as a thrower I aim for 100%, I want to be perfect.

“The Lions have top-class payers in the lineout so we know we will be under pressure, but we have great coaches who have put things in place and now it’s up to the players just to execute,” Mbonambi, who is renowned for his accurate set-piece work, said.

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