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Ken Borland

Elgar says he’s okay with a lot on eve of first Test 0

Posted on May 24, 2023 by Ken

Proteas captain Dean Elgar said he was okay with a lot on the eve of the first Test against Australia, including the home team’s incredible record in Brisbane and what looks likely to be a paceman-friendly pitch for his struggling batsmen to contend with against a powerful attack.

Australia have lost just one Test – versus India in January 2021 – at the Gabba in 33 matches dating back to December 1989. Surprisingly, South Africa have only played one Test in Queensland in that time, the draw in 2012 when Michael Clarke scored 259 not out after centuries by Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis.

“History is not in our favour in Brisbane, but that’s okay,” Elgar said on Friday. “This group of players doesn’t have any dirty laundry at the Gabba, we haven’t played here as a group so there have been no failures.

“We are looking forward to the opportunity, in fact for the last two weeks here we have been salivating for this moment. Australia is a really tough place to play, but so rewarding if you get it right.

“The pitch looks the same colour as the grass I’m standing on in the outfield, but green doesn’t scare us, we’re used to pretty green and juicy pitches in South Africa.

“The ball nips around a bit here, but that’s okay. The pitches are fair and the batsmen know that if they get in then they can really capitalise. And it looks like it will suit our bowling unit,” Elgar said.

Elgar acknowledged the whispers around the South African batting line-up and the opening batsman was quick to say he needs to lead from the front with big runs.

“All our batsmen must stand up, our batting unit has been a talking point of late. We’re not shying away from that and it’s time for us to rise up and shine.

“It’s time for me personally to put in a massive performance. As the senior batsman, you always carry the weight of responsibility and as captain I’m very aware of my burden.

“I’ve got to lead from the front, but that’s something I thrive on, I believe it brings out the best in me.

“The rest of our batsmen are just a bit inexperienced in Test cricket, but that also means they don’t have any baggage,” Elgar said.

Australia’s strong attack will no doubt be looking to hit hard and early in order to undermine that confidence.

Bulls hoping they don’t need a dromedary race to attract a crowd to Loftus 0

Posted on May 24, 2022 by Ken

The Saracens rugby club – the one in London with such strong South African connections – once famously organised a camel race as part of the entertainment before a match they were holding at Wembley Stadium, but venue officials refused to allow it for any number of bureaucratic reasons. Perhaps if they had staged a dromedary race it would have been okay.

The Bulls are hoping such drastic measures to attract a crowd to Loftus Versfeld are not necessary for their last home game of the United Rugby Championship regular season, against Glasgow Warriors on Friday night. Amidst the drama of trying to nail down both a URC playoff spot and a place in the lucrative European Champions Cup next season, Bulls captain Marcell Coetzee spoke on Tuesday of the lift spectators have given the team over the last few weeks. He even dared to suggest the Bulls are going to embrace the pressure of two must-win games to end the round-robin phase.

“The last few weeks have really been must-win games and we’ve had phenomenal support at Loftus. The team has fed off that,” Coetzee said.

“We put ourselves into this position where we now have to fight for a playoff place, but we embrace it. At one stage we were bottom of the log, and the fightback just shows the quality and culture in our squad.

“Anything can still happen and Glasgow are a dangerous team. We’re not reading too much into their scoreline last weekend, but the Stormers showed how to break them down by being patient.

“The Stormers knew that sticking to their system would pay off, they created opportunities and then took them. We’ve created a few opportunities ourselves, but we have to make sure we take them,” Coetzee said.

Glasgow Warriors are the leading Scottish side in the competition, but they were hammered 32-7 last weekend by the Stormers in Cape Town.

Coetzee is only 30 years old so the star loose forward is still far too young to be pensioned off when it comes to international aspirations, but he says his focus at the moment is forming a tight-knit unit with Elrigh Louw and Cyle Brink.

“At the moment I just want to plough back into the Bulls team, helping guys like Elrigh, and enjoy my rugby,” Coetzee said. “We have a very good loose trio group, it’s lovely to be here and have all those guys behind you.

“Cyle has come into the system very well too, although he struggles a bit with the Afrikaans! He has added a lot of value and is growing every game, he also helps a lot at the breakdown. We are all busy making each other better,” Coetzee said.

Pollard okay to play & put quarantine time to good use 0

Posted on August 17, 2021 by Ken

The good news for the Springboks is that flyhalf Handre Pollard is okay to play in the first Test against the British and Irish Lions and even though he was in quarantine, he was still putting the time to good use by doing plenty of analysis on their opposition in Cape Town on Saturday.

Pollard, one of the main architects of the 2019 World Cup triumph, was one of the Springboks who tested positive for Covid, but his brush with the virus has not been serious.

“I feel good, luckily I didn’t have any symptoms and I was able to get through the 10 days of quarantine quite easily. I’m ready to go and, as a team, there’s no way we’re not going to be ready. We’re the world champions playing against the British and Irish Lions, so we will be emotionally and physically ready. We’ve had hard weeks of training, we are so ready.

“The Lions have quality players everywhere and we were analysing them as hard as we could when we were stuck in isolation. So we have a good idea of what’s coming, it helps to pick up small cues and what their individual tendencies are. I’m sure they’re doing the same on us too. So after some good time spent on mental preparation and analysis, this week it’s back to physical training,” Pollard said on Monday.

Pollard did a fine job of being South Africa’s general in the 2019 World Cup, where their successful strategy was built around forward power and suffocating defence to boss the gain-line, deft kicking to exploit space and then ruthless finishing to capitalise on the forced mistakes. Over the weekend, certain critics described it as being ‘boring’, to which Pollard had an excellent response on Monday.

“That’s the most beautiful thing in the world to see, apart from my wife. Throwing the ball around is nice for the people watching on TV, but ourselves and the Lions probably play pretty similar games – it’s going to come down to physicality and the set-pieces, as it usually does in these big Tests. The flyhalf always plays a big role too in providing direction, steering the ship.

“It’s going to be a big series, but nothing changes – I still have to do my job first before worrying about the other guys. I have to make sure we’re playing in the right areas,” Pollard said.

Backline coach Mzwandile Stick acknowledged that having the 27-year-old Pollard available is excellent news for the Springboks.

“We know Morne Steyn is very high quality, he manages the game so well, and Elton Jantjies had a great match against the Bulls with his kicking game and his physicality was right up there. But Handre has got massive experience, he was there when we won the World Cup final and you can’t replace that experience. As coaches, we always appreciate experience.

“They are the players who know when to switch on and you can see the guys are now in the zone in the team room,” Stick said.

Rassie believes SA public will be okay with so many ‘foreigners’ 0

Posted on June 14, 2021 by Ken

Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus said on Saturday night that he is comfortable with nearly 50% of the Springbok squad for the British and Irish Lions series being based overseas and he believes the South African public will be okay with so many ‘prodigal sons’ as well when they see how well they play.

The 46-man squad announced on Saturday night includes 22 overseas-based players – seven from England, eight from France, five from Japan and two from Ireland. While many of them are seasoned Springboks and World Cup winners, eyebrows will be raised at the inclusion of debutants like Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg and Jasper Wiese, and an out-of-sight, out-of-mind player like Coenie Oosthuizen.

Especially when it seems they are taking the place of locally-based stars like JD Schickerling, Marcell Coetzee or Lizo Gqoboka, who have been shining in South Africa.

“I think we ended with a pretty even split between overseas and local and I think the public should still associate with the overseas players. They will definitely appreciate them when they see how well they play. It’s been wonderful to see youngsters step up in South African rugby, like locks and scrumhalves, but we cannot afford not to have these guys from overseas.

“The only guy the public might not know is Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg of Montpellier. He’s in the squad for a specific reason and that’s because Franco Mostert is our lineout caller but if we have one injury we’re in trouble because Eben Etzebeth is not a No.5 lock. Some people might not know Rynhardt Elstadt, but he’s won the European Cup. Jasper we couldn’t ignore because he has been outstanding in the Premiership, he knocked the door down,” Erasmus said.

The Springboks will spend their first three weeks together in the sun but freezing cold of Bloemfontein. Coach Jacques Nienaber said the coming week will see the players filter into camp as their club commitments are completed, with only a half-a-dozen expected on Monday and a dozen by the end of the week.

But by their second week in Bloemfontein, almost everyone should be there. Erasmus confirmed that all the locally-based players will appear for their franchises in the final round of Rainbow Cup games that will decide whether the Bulls or the Sharks make it to the final against the winners of the European competition. But they will not be available for that final on June 19.

While Siya Kolisi has been confirmed as captain, his next-in-command Duane Vermeulen will be travelling to Cape Town to have scans on the ankle he twisted playing for the Bulls against the Stormers.

“Duane has to be doubtful with his ankle. He’s on his way to Cape Town for scans. I spoke to Jake White [Bulls coach] and it looked bad. For Duane to limp off so early in a match is very unusual, so we are fearing the worst,” Erasmus admitted.

Overseas based players in the Springbok squad – Lood de Jager (Sale, England); Dan du Preez (Sale, England); Coenie Oosthuizen (Sale, England); Jean-Luc du Preez (Sale, England); Kwagga Smith (Jubilo, Japan); RG Snyman (Munster, Ireland); Joseph Dweba (Bordeaux, France); Rynhardt Elstadt (Toulouse, France); Eben Etzebeth (Toulon, France); Jasper Wiese (Leicester, England); Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg (Montpellier, France); Vincent Koch (Saracens, England); Malcolm Marx (Kubota, Japan); Franco Mostert (Honda, Japan); Damian de Allende (Munster, Ireland); Faf de Klerk (Sale, England); Elton Jantjies (Pau, France); Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse, France); Willie le Roux (Verblitz, Japan); Handre Pollard (Montpellier, France); Cobus Reinach (Montpellier, France).

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