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Ken Borland



SA franchises off to Europe; let’s hope it lifts their games 0

Posted on October 05, 2020 by Ken

Europe, via the Pro14 – soon to be Pro16 – has now been confirmed as the new horizon for South African rugby franchises and let’s hope that the change in scenery and far easier travel demands lifts their games.

There is no doubt some truth in the assertion made by Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos that the regular high-intensity clashes between the players of South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and latterly Argentina, in Super Rugby, plus the top-class standard of play in the Rugby Championship, has helped create the dominance of southern hemisphere teams when it comes to the World Cup.

Super Rugby was probably the most demanding competition in world rugby and as much as fatigue was a problem for players crisscrossing the globe, it certainly toughened them up and made them more adaptable.

There has been some talk about Pro14 being an inferior tournament and if that is the case then those bolshy fans of the Stormers, Bulls, Lions and Sharks will be expecting to see their teams dominate. The Free State Cheetahs and Southern Kings might not have managed it, but there is certainly a degree of expectation out there that there should be at least a couple of South African semi-finalists every year in the Pro16.

But playing in mid-winter in Europe, it is going to be difficult to replicate the grandeur of some of the running rugby seen on display on a sunny and warm day at Loftus Versfeld or Ellis Park; the high-tempo game favoured by the last three world champion teams – the Springboks and the All Blacks in 2015 and 2011 – is going to be hard to pull off on frozen, muddy fields.

My personal opinion though is that the move to Europe will be a much-needed shot in the arm for South African rugby. I don’t expect instant dominance – it will take time to adapt to the different conditions – but a slower- more forward oriented style of play will probably suit our franchises more than trying to keep up with the New Zealand teams and their often helter-skelter running rugby.

And Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus has often pointed out that European rugby is generally closer to the style of play needed to win Test matches than the flowing, high-scoring games with limited emphasis on defence or kicking for territory we have seen in Super Rugby. So that will be good training for our players as well.

Travelling to Europe is much easier than heading to Australasia or South America, and our players won’t have to worry about jetlag, which always stacked the odds against teams on tour.

While it is highly unfortunate that the Eastern Cape, the bedrock of Black African rugby, will no longer have a professional franchise now that the Southern Kings have run out of loans, the maladministration that dates back to the days of Cheeky Watson is their own fault.

One can only feel sympathy, however, for the Cheetahs, who have also been booted out of the Pro14, having earlier been shafted from Super Rugby. As ever, economics have also decided their fate, but it is not the fault of the well-run, passionate Free State Rugby Union that they are based in one of the smaller (both in terms of population and finances) cities in the country, and their own fans have not always been the most forthcoming in filling their stadium. Which is a mystery because there’s not much else to do in Bloemfontein on a Saturday afternoon.

While negotiations are ongoing between SA Rugby and Pro 14 owners Celtic Rugby DAC, it is expected that the Pro14 will become a Pro16 with the addition of the Sharks, Stormers, Bulls and Lions, and the demise of the Cheetahs and Kings. When that would happen is anybody’s guess.

More importantly, though, it is vital that SA Rugby negotiate the eligibility of South African teams to qualify for one of the seven places the Pro14/16 offers into the European Champions Cup; the top three teams from each conference are guaranteed a place in the premier tournament that used to be called the Heineken Cup, and given the expected occupancy of those top places by at least a couple of our franchises, it is important that public interest over here is sustained by the lure of that promotion. Then our teams will really be up against the best-of-the-best.

South Africa’s decision to focus on playing in Europe has already caused some panic in New Zealand. Despite the inspirational rugby their teams continue to churn out, they are in financial strife of their own; a small country with a small population does not have a big economy and they are particularly susceptible to the devastating fiscal effects of the Covid-19 pandemic that are being felt in so many countries.

More and more of their top stars are playing in Europe, where the big bucks are, and the loss of the South African market, which brought in the majority of the broadcast monies for Sanzaar, could be the final straw that starts the gradual fall of the All Blacks.

The prospect of only playing against Australian, Pacific and Asian teams has set off the alarm bells in New Zealand. Which is only fair because they were the first to break the Sanzaar agreements on Super Rugby.

Pilanesberg National Park 0

Posted on February 15, 2016 by Ken

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Some of the beautiful pride of 10 Lion seen on Tshepe Drive

Pilanesberg National Park has open grasslands and plenty of soothing aquatic habitats, but, driving around the fourth largest conserved area in South Africa, one cannot help but notice the violent, almost cataclysmic events that shaped the spectacular scenery.

Pilanesberg is centred on the crater of an extinct volcano with its mountains being a series of concentric rings of igneous rock i.e. solidified lava. The forces of erosion, operating on cracks and faults, have then created a broad valley running from the south-west of the park to the north-east.

The fascinating geology of Pilanesberg gives rise to diverse vegetation, which in turn produces great birding.

Although much of the park comprises broadleaved woodland and open grassland, which contains fewer birds, there are areas of thornveld and its rich insect life, as well as some of the special birds that call Acacias home.

These thornveld endemics can be tricky to spot, but the Manyane campsite is set in a stand of typical Kalahari Thornveld, dominated by stately Acacias.

So walking around the campsite always provides plenty of birds at close quarters and on this occasion, the highlight was a Burntnecked Eremomela which hung around for a long time in a thorn tree close to our site.

Crested and Swainson’s Francolin, Redbilled Hornbill, Yellowfronted Canary, Goldenbreasted Bunting, Redwinged Starling and Whitebrowed Scrub Robin were also friendly neighbours, along with a Blackbacked Puffback and a Brubru amongst a host of species in a bird party in the tree above our camp.

Arrowmarked Babblers would move determinedly through the camp, grabbing breakfast tidbits, while a business of Banded Mongoose would also come foraging through camp, making their delightful purring noises. Longtailed Shrike was a visitor to the Acacia trees as well, which often also held colourful Southern Tree Agama. Chacma Baboons were less welcome intruders.

The Tlou Drive, pretty much in the centre of the park, goes through classic Acacia thickets in areas of open grassland, both short and long. In other words great bushveld country and ideal habitat for the beautiful Violeteared Waxbill.

Being August, the bush was dry and brown, so a Violeteared Waxbill with its dazzling mixture of blue, violet and red offset against chestnut, really stands out when the bird is strolling around on the ground on an exposed culvert.

In the same area, a Crimsonbreasted Shrike and a Pied Barbet were also hanging around, so there was a sudden, startling burst of colour amongst the otherwise drab winter tones of the Tlou Drive.

A Steenbok was hiding in a little grove of trees and African Elephant were also around.

The Mankwe Dam is the largest water body in Pilanesberg and an ideal place to spot the mammals and birds that are attracted to the water. There were lots of Blue Wildebeest and Giraffe (including, unfortunately, a deceased one) on this occasion, as well as Nile Crocodile.

The Hippo Loop is one of the better roads from which to explore Mankwe Dam, allowing one to get very close to the north-western shore.

There, where the last of the previous summer’s water was draining away, leaving soft mud perfect for waders in its retreat, were some strange long-billed birds.

Heavily marked with brown, black and buff, there were four of them probing deeply and rhythmically into the mud. It took a while to identify them because the only African Snipe I had seen previously were single birds either flying over a wetland, doing their characteristic drumming display, or crouching in thick vegetation.

But apparently they are known for coming out and foraging in the open when water levels recede, exposing the soft mud that contains the worms that are their favourite prey.

A Tawny Eagle and a few Greater Striped Swallow were flying about, while a Chinspot Batis was investigating the bushes.

The other water birds present were Great White Egret, Yellowbilled Duck, Reed Cormorant, Egyptian Goose and African Fish Eagle.

Tlodi Dam is a much smaller water body close to Manyane Camp and Pearlbreasted Swallow is often seen here collecting mud from the water’s edge for its nest.

There are usually Hippopotamus in the dam as well and plenty of Southern Masked Weaver starting to get into breeding plumage.

Heading north from Manyane will bring you to the Malatse Dam, which has an excellent hide that allows you to get close to the action. With the hide facing east, it’s a good place to spend the late afternoon, only about 9km from camp, and the sort of place to spot exciting stuff.

African Spoonbill, African Darter and Dabchick were out on the water, while a Threebanded Plover was dashing about and a Natal Francolin was right below the hide window.

The Tshwene Drive links Manyane camp with the centre of the park and Mankwe Dam, and goes through often tall grassland with thorny and bushy thickets.

This is ideal country for the Browncrowned Tchagra and sure enough one landed on top of a bush, vigorously wagged its tail and then dived into a thicket as we possibly disturbed an imminent flight display.

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Marico Flycatcher are common, friendly inhabitants of the Acacia savanna in Pilanesberg

The area also produced Blackchested Prinia, Marico Flycatcher and Lilacbreasted Roller.

Ntshwe Drive is one of the gateways to the western portion of the park and is rather scenic with trees and koppies.

White Rhinoceros, accompanied by Redbilled Oxpecker, were present as was a solitary Redeyed Bulbul, which was much more secretive than its common cousin, the Blackeyed. Kalahari Robin was also present but inconspicuous.

The Tshepe Drive also heads towards Mankwe Dam, approaching from the south-east of the park and is well-vegetated and full of game. Having spotted Tsessebe and Springbok, we came across a beautiful Lioness and then, shortly after she sauntered towards the road, a nine-strong pride of youthful, virile-looking males followed her.

Sightings list

Helmeted Guineafowl

Crested Francolin

Redbilled Hornbill

Arrowmarked Babbler

Forktailed Drongo

Common Myna

Longtailed Shrike

Longbilled Crombec

Swainson’s Francolin

Whitebrowed Scrub Robin

Burntnecked Eremomela

Impala

Pied Crow

Vervet Monkey

Cape Turtle Dove

Redfaced Mousebird

Warthog

Southern Yellowbilled Hornbill

Southern Masked Weaver

Blackshouldered Kite

Greater Kudu

Marico Flycatcher

Browncrowned Tchagra

Grey Lourie

Blue Wildebeest

Blackeyed Bulbul

Giraffe

Chinspot Batis

White Rhinoceros

Redbilled Oxpecker

Redeyed Bulbul

Kalahari Robin

Crimsonbreasted Shrike

Sabota Lark

Southern Boubou

Slender Mongoose

Pied Barbet

Chestnutvented Tit Babbler

Fiscal Flycatcher

Violeteared Waxbill

African Elephant

Speckled Mousebird

Steenbok

Groundscraper Thrush

Glossy Starling

Blackchested Prinia

Rock Pigeon

Blackbacked Puffback

Brubru

Pearlbreasted Swallow

Hippopotamus

Blacksmith Plover

Blue Waxbill

Tsessebe

Lion

Springbok

Crested Barbet

Whitebreasted Cormorant

Grey Heron

Greater Striped Swallow

Tawny Eagle

Laughing Dove

Banded Mongoose

Yellowfronted Canary

Chacma Baboon

African Spoonbill

African Darter

Dabchick

Natal Francolin

Threebanded Plover

Familiar Chat

Kurrichane Thrush

Neddicky

Grey Hornbill

Lilacbreasted Roller

Nile Crocodile

Great White Egret

Yellowbilled Duck

Reed Cormorant

Serrated Hinged Terrapin

Egyptian Goose

African Snipe

African Fish Eagle

Goldenbreasted Bunting

Southern Tree Agama

Redwinged Starling

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