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Ken Borland

SA have a few injuries, but Euro franchise stars ‘look sharp’ 0

Posted on October 26, 2023 by Ken

South Africa men’s hockey coach Cheslyn Gie (right) and captain Dayaan Cassiem at the launch of the Africa Olympic Qualifier at the University of Pretoria.
Photo: Lee Warren

The South African men’s hockey team will go into their African Hockey Olympic Qualifier in Pretoria from Sunday with a few injury withdrawals but a full complement of their available stars playing for European franchises.

The winners of the eight-team men’s competition, which concludes with the final on Sunday, November 5, will qualify directly for the Paris Olympics next July, so the stakes are high and SA coach Cheslyn Gie is delighted with the squad he has.

“Unfortunately we’ve had a few injuries, but it is still a very good squad and our training camp has gone very well,” Gie said at the University of Pretoria, where the tournament will be held, on Thursday.

“Clayton Saker, Le-Neal Jackson and Connor Beauchamp, who is one of our drag-flickers, are all out with knee injuries. Unfortunately that’s three defenders ruled out, and Chad Futcher and goalkeeper Siya Nolutshungu have both just started new jobs and cannot get leave, our team being an amateur one.

“But everyone else is good to go and our European-based players are in the midst of their season. They’ve all played four-to-six matches and they are looking really sharp, despite having to travel long distances to get here.

“This is a very important tournament for us, it always is, and I’ve never experienced any easy matches in it. It’s a bit of a worry that we haven’t played a Test since the World Cup at the beginning of the year and we will need to adjust quickly to the pace of international hockey and it’s something we’ve tried to simulate in our training camp,” Gie said.

Speaking of drag-flickers, Gie said he was concerned about Nigeria’s arsenal of these penalty corner goal-scoring specialists, but he also warned about the challenge perennial finalists Egypt, Kenya and Ghana will pose, even though South Africa have won every one of these qualifying tournaments. Fortunately those last three teams are all in the other pool, with Namibia, while the hosts will take on Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Uganda and should comfortably finish in the top two of their section, thereby qualifying for the semi-finals.

“Egypt are definitely going to be strong contenders, but Nigeria have three very good drag-flickers and Ghana are always strong. They actually led against Egypt in the semi-finals of the last qualifier, but missed some tap-in goals. Kenya are also very physical and strong, and they’ve been together for a while with their whole U21 squad coming through.

“You can’t underestimate how quickly things change in this tournament. There’s a lot of ebb and flow in the games too, and we have to make sure that when things are going well for us, we score the goals, and when things are not going well, we keep the opposition out,” Gie said.

Celia Seerane (right) and assistant coach Inky Zondi of the SA women’s hockey team.
Photo: Lee Warren

South Africa’s women’s team have also won all four of the previous qualifying tournaments, but experienced star Celia Seerane said although their preparation has been outstanding, thoughts of just pitching up and cleaning up the opposition are far-fetched.

“It’s probably the best prepared we’ve ever been for the Africa Cup, we are ready and focused and enjoying the comforts of playing at home, but we can’t take anything for granted.

“History tells us that Ghana are going to be tough opponents and I remember when we went 1-0 down to them in a final in Kenya,” Seerane said.

Assistant coach Inky Zondi had a similar warning.

“All the teams have their unique style, which makes it very exciting. Nigeria will be very physical, they play quite an exciting brand of hockey and they have the combinations to do well in small spaces. Ghana are always a force, as are Kenya,” Zondi said.

South Africa play Nigeria and Zimbabwe in their pool, while Ghana, Kenya, Namibia and Zambia are in the other group in the seven-team women’s competition.

South Africa’s men open their campaign against Zimbabwe at 6pm on Sunday, while the women play the same country, at 4pm.

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.

Coetzee will go to Japan, but will be back in the Bulls community 0

Posted on January 16, 2023 by Ken

Captain Marcell Coetzee will go to Japan after leading the Bulls against one of his former teams, the Sharks, in Pretoria on Sunday, but he assured on Wednesday that he will be back to resume his crucial role in the Loftus Versfeld community.

“This weekend is my last match for the Bulls this year, and I will be back at the back end of April or the first week of May,” Coetzee confirmed. “It’s a big opportunity for me in Japan with Kobe.

“But the positive is that I know I’m coming back, I missed my country too much during my five years with Ulster. It’s an honour playing for the Bulls and my home is in Pretoria, that’s where my heart definitely is.

“My rugby career started at the Sharks, they gave me a gap and were very good to me. But time moves on. And I’m very happy where I am with the Bulls, the staff and the team spirit we have built up.

“There’s lots of history between the Bulls and the Sharks, so it’s always a very physical battle. It’s going to be tough, even without their Springboks, a titanic struggle,” Coetzee said.

While one can never criticise a 31-year-old player for chasing a lucrative deal like this Japanese sojourn, and the Bulls are happy to treat it as a sabbatical for a player who they recently contracted until 2026, Coetzee hopes he will also come back a different player.

“In 2015 I spent three months in Japan with Honda Heat and my skill-set really improved,” the Springbok with 31 Test caps said. “So I’ll be looking to develop certain things while I’m there.

“They play very high-tempo rugby in Japan and you run a lot. The URC is getting quicker as well, especially when you play against the Irish and Scottish teams.

“The move will hopefully keep me on my toes because there are a lot of loosies coming through,” Coetzee said.

But for now, Coetzee’s focus will be on chasing the ball at the breakdown, as he did so brilliantly in the Bulls’ much-needed win over Benetton in Treviso last weekend.

“How the game has developed, teams put a lot of pressure on the breakdown, especially the UK teams, because you’re trying to eliminate the tempo of the opposition.

“We are blessed to have a few guys who make good decisions there – Marco van Staden, Bismarck du Plessis and a couple of backs.

“Against Benetton, we were firing shots and eventually the dam wall broke because we were able to implement our quick tempo game and we got a bonus point.

“We need to show the same patience against the Sharks, put pressure on them. We have to really show up because we can’t just rely on home ground advantage,” Coetzee said.

Ill-discipline in Bulls team an evil, but Jake full of praise for inspired defensive display 0

Posted on December 05, 2022 by Ken

Ill-discipline in a rugby team is a great evil for coaches and Jake White was firm on the Bulls team’s failings in that regard in their 28-14 victory over Connacht in their United Rugby Championship match in Pretoria at the weekend.

The Bulls were incredible in defence and at times inspired in attack as they surged into a 28-0 lead after 46 minutes, but they felt the wrath of referee Andrea Piardi in the second half as Connacht finished strongly with two converted tries. In the end the home side conceded 20 penalties, and Connacht 15, while the Bulls were also given three yellow cards.

“I’m not going to justify the discipline,” coach White said afterwards. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it, we shot ourselves in the foot doing some stupid things.

“Johan Goosen was a bit unlucky, but head-to-head contact is a yellow card these days. I just hope the referees make sure they blow it that way for the whole competition.

“We play against Glasgow Warriors in Scotland next weekend and you’re not going to win too many games when you’re playing 14 against 15 men for 30 minutes, especially on tour. We spoke about the discipline after the match, but it’s no use just talking about it, there needs to be action.

“That should be driven by the players, not the coaches, and they will do that, Marcell Coetzee already told the team in the changeroom now that they have to sharpen up their discipline,” White said.

White was full of praise, however, for a top-class defensive display that held at bay a Connacht side that showed a willingness to play expansive, ball-in-hand rugby. The Bulls did not concede a single point until the 68th minute, and that was after they had been sapped by three yellow cards and were playing with 13 men due to replacement hooker Jan-Hendrik Wessels being in the sin-bin, necessitating uncontested scrums and the loss of another player.

“The defence was outstanding, considering we played eight minutes with 13 men and 30 minutes with 14,” White said. “Last week it was poor, but we spoke honestly about it and had a better shape today.

“We stopped them carrying around us and then we stopped them carrying through us. It shows me that we can defend, which is a massive bonus.

“The defence also really understood the breakdown, we were a lot smarter there, we didn’t just go in.

“Defence is not always just about line-speed, sometimes we had to be patient because they had the numbers. There was a recognition of when you need to buy time,” White said.

The smart, physical and untiring defence of the Bulls made it an uphill struggle for Connacht as they were already 14-0 down after 10 minutes and captain Jarrad Butler credited the home side for the pressure they exerted.

“It was a really good job by the Bulls defence, they forced us back inside and we had to keep resetting. Credit to them for forcing the individual errors that would keep creeping in, that meant we just could not finish off, we kept just giving them the ball,” Butler said.

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    Mark 7:8 – “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”

    Our foundation must be absolute surrender, devotion and obedience to God, rising from pure love for him. Jesus Christ must be central in all things and his will must take precedence over the will of people, regardless of how well-meaning they may be.

    Surrender yourself unconditionally to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then you will be able to identify what is of man with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Then you will be able to serve – in love! – according to God’s will.

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