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Ken Borland



Sharks have put SuperRugby epoch behind them, fully ready to embrace European competition 0

Posted on May 02, 2023 by Ken

South African rugby teams have put the SuperRugby epoch behind them and, now that they have tasted the Champions Cup tournament, are ready to fully embrace European competition, even when it takes a team like the Sharks from the subtropical summer heat of Durban one week into the icy winter of the hilly Bordeaux region the next.

The Sharks, having marked their Champions Cup debut with an impressive 39-31 win over Harlequins at Kings Park, now take on Bordeaux Begles at the Chaban Delmas Stadium on Friday night.

“It definitely met expectations and all the hype playing against Harlequins and we made a good start, even though there was a lot for us to improve on,” hooker Bongi Mbonambi said on Tuesday from France.

“And now we take on top French players at home in front of their own crowd. The big difference is we just came from 31° in Durban to 2° at the moment and it might be zero on Friday night.

“It’s a totally different kind of cold, but we are here to make memories and make sure we are totally prepared. We’re looking forward to the challenge.

“The massive learning from the Quins game was that we can never relax, these are very good teams in this competition. They’ve been playing European Cup for longer than us, and we still have a lot to learn.

“We have to embrace it, you can’t always have home advantage. But even in tough conditions and with a hostile crowd, some of us enjoy it, it’s like what we face in international rugby. Hopefully we can teach the other players to embrace it too,” Mbonambi said.

Bordeaux lost their opening Champions Cup match away to Gloucester 22-17 in a photo finish, but the fact they were 17-5 up in the final quarter will have them extra motivated to inflict some real damage on the Sharks this weekend at home.

Bordeaux have a powerful pack and a punchy backline, and the fact that their halfbacks, scrummie Maxime Lucu and pivot Matthieu Jalibert, both played off the bench against the Springboks last month, steering France to victory, is a graphic illustration of the sort of quality the Sharks are up against.

“The French teams always hurt after losing in the Champions Cup and Bordeaux have a really good squad,” Mbonambi acknowledged. “They slipped up last weekend, so this Friday will be really tough.

“They have great loose forwards and their halfbacks played in the Test, they are really good at running the whole place, they control things.

“Their pack will definitely put our attacking breakdown under pressure and we can’t let their big forwards run at us,” Mbonambi said.

Bravely entering a new world is paying off for SA Rugby 0

Posted on June 21, 2022 by Ken

When SA Rugby bravely shifted away from their long-standing relationship with Sanzaar and SuperRugby and decided to throw in their lot with European club competition, there was plenty of uncertainty as to just how well the move would pan out.

Now, with the United Rugby Championship in its final weekend of round-robin action and three South African sides in the quarterfinals already, one can only say it has been a great success.

It’s been a tremendous journey for the Sharks, Stormers and Bulls, and even the Lions have shown their worth in being way more competitive than many expected. The tentative first steps into the URC were made when the country was still in the grips of Covid restrictions, the franchises were without their Springboks and they had to start their campaigns in Europe in the northern hemisphere autumn.

It was a chastening introduction and there were understandable fears over whether SA Rugby had made the right decision. Wiser heads pointed to the circumstances above and pleaded patience.

And how richly that patience has been rewarded with the four South African teams tenaciously dominating the second half of the competition, making their home stadiums fortresses and producing some thrilling rugby in the process.

Of all the sports in South Africa, rugby has probably borne the brunt of Covid, given how they were the code which was most accustomed to having big crowds in stadiums.

With at least one URC home quarterfinal guaranteed, wouldn’t it be marvellous for that team/s to have the backing of a properly sold-out stadium?

SA Rugby have been patience personified when it comes to working with government and their time-lines in terms of Covid protocols. But having seen the British and Irish Lions tour almost ruined last year, one totally understands their frustration at how slowly the wheels are now turning to get spectators fully back into stadiums.

If only Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa was as preoccupied with something that really will contribute to the economy, rather than that stupid monumental flag of his.

You always see politicians front and centre, ensuring they are in the limelight, when our sports teams enjoy global success. They piggyback so hard on the triumphs that you cannot help but wonder whether they believe they played an integral part in achieving the result.

The truth, of course, is that politicians do very little for sport in this country. You only need to look at facilities, especially at grassroots level, to see that. And yet they bask in the nation-building and social cohesion that sporting success brings, as if they had a key role in ensuring those outcomes. It is just another example of the parasitic tendencies of our politicians.

But even without capacity crowds in South Africa just yet, one feels the URC will go from strength-to-strength.

On the last weekend of round-robin play, defending champions Leinster are guaranteed to finish first on the log, but little else is certain. A team like the Bulls, depending on the results, could either finish second or seventh in the final standings.

And playing in the European Champions Cup next season will only heighten the hype here in South Africa.

Given the steady flow of South Africans to those teams, there has always been great interest in the English and French clubs and now those powerhouses will be coming to these shores as well.

SA Rugby are sure to see the vindication of their brave move in the years to come, as aligning with the major economies of the rugby world will bring an even greater profile to South African rugby.

URC loans some of the predictability of SuperRugby 0

Posted on May 17, 2022 by Ken

The United Rugby Championship is the successor to SuperRugby for the four South African teams involved in it, and it loans from the southern hemisphere competition the excitement of seeing different players and styles of rugby.

It also, however, is running into the same problem that SuperRugby did in terms of how incredibly difficult it is for teams to win overseas; perhaps even more so in the URC.

Excluding the matches involving the two Italian teams, who have won just four of their 27 games combined, there have only been four wins by teams travelling overseas to play, as opposed to 26 losses and one draw, which was when the Stormers held Edinburgh 20-20 in October.

The overseas victories have been by the Sharks over the Ospreys, the Bulls beating the struggling Cardiff Blues, Stormers beating the hapless Dragons and Edinburgh surprising the Sharks at Kings Park.

The best sporting events have a large element of unpredictability about them; the excitement of a 50/50 contest, nobody being quite sure who is going to win. It is partly why a Test match between the Springboks and All Blacks is so exciting.

But so far in the URC, teams hosting an overseas side (excluding matches involving Zebre or Benetton) have won 84% of the time. So the competition has been a little too predictable.

But let’s not detract from the overall excellence of the Celtic teams playing at home or the superb manner in which the South African teams rebounded from tough starts to the competition, being thrown straight into the deep end overseas in the UK autumn.

I am optimistic that the URC will go from strength-to-strength as a thrilling, highly competitive tournament, especially with the announcement this week from CEO Martin Anayi that from next season, the schedule will pause during international weekends.

That means teams like Leinster, Edinburgh, Ospreys, the Sharks and Stormers, will not be deprived from playing their internationals at key times of the tournament. Even Cardiff, who are sitting 13th on the log, have had 10 Welsh internationals ripped from their squad for much of the tournament.

The first year of the new URC has suffered badly from the effects of Covid and the postponements it has forced. But as the pandemic dies down, so we should get a clearer picture of how good this new competition really is.

Refereeing is a constant source of controversy in all rugby these days, and the South African teams certainly struggled to adapt to not only the conditions in the UK but also how the officials interpreted the game. There was a feeling that it would be payback back at home when local referees befuddled the visiting teams.

And then the URC announced that all matches in South Africa would be controlled by neutral referees, which was no doubt a snub for our officials and bad news for those wanting to see overseas teams blown off the park.

But Bulls coach Jake White is a sly old fox, and he recognised early on that having the best referees in control of matches would lead to the best team winning more often. He backed the idea of neutral referees and it certainly seems to have helped the South African teams establish their dominance on home soil.

My feeling is that our local referees allow too much skulduggery at the ruck, which leads to slow ball and a lack of momentum for the attacking team.

Now, with confidence restored, let’s hope a couple of other South African teams can sneak into the top eight and join our Shield champion in the playoffs.

Sharks have failed to reach same great heights but Currie Cup is a new slate 0

Posted on August 03, 2021 by Ken

The Sharks have failed so far to touch the great heights they reached at the start of the year in SuperRugby, but when they host the Pumas in a Currie Cup fixture on Friday night at Kings Park Stadium in Durban, they will be looking to start the new competition with a clean slate and with a slick performance.

The Sharks scraped to a one-point win over Griquas, a team similar to the Pumas, in their last outing, but they won 42-19 in Nelspruit in their match there earlier this season, which will give them some confidence.

Apart from that disappointing display, and a loss to the champion Bulls at Loftus Versfeld, the Sharks’ graph has generally been upwards, however, and Springbok Thomas du Toit makes his return to the front row after injury to provide a timely boost to a scrum that has struggled at times.

The Pumas finished second-bottom on the Super Rugby Unlocked log with their only victory coming in week two against Griquas in Kimberley, but they were unfortunate not to collect more points. They have some big, heavy hitters and an enterprising backline means they are not easy to defend against. The Pumas were particularly impressive in a narrow defeat to the powerhouse Stormers, so the Sharks will know it could be a very close contest.

The Pumas have been hard hit in recent weeks though by players testing positive for Covid-19, and that could affect their cohesion.

“Obviously our long-term goal is to win the Currie Cup, but we’re not going to win it if we don’t perform well, so our focus is just on the job at hand this weekend. It’s an opportunity for us to perform at our optimum, we’ve done really well at home this season, we’re unbeaten at Kings Park.

“The Pumas ran the Bulls close though in the second half last weekend and there are no easy games in this competition as we saw against Griquas. We are four points behind on the log and there are just six games in the Currie Cup, so it’s important that we start building log points and to get five against the Pumas would be great,” Sharks coach Sean Everitt said.

Teams

Sharks: Manie Libbok, Yaw Penxe, Jeremy Ward (c), Marius Louw, Madosh Tambwe, Curwin Bosch, Sanele Nohamba, Thembelani Bholi, JJ van der Mescht, Dylan Richardson, Hyron Andrews, Ruben van Heerden, Thomas du Toit, Kerron van Vuuren, Ox Nche. REPLACEMENTSDaniel Jooste, Khwezi Mona, Hanro Jacobs, Zain Davids, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Cameron Wright, Werner Kok, Sbu Nkosi.

Pumas: Devon Williams; Morné Joubert, Erich Cronjé, Ali Mgijima, Etienne Taljaard; Theo Boshoff, Ginter Smuts; Francois Kleinhans, Phumzile Maqondwana, Daniel Maartens; Pieter Janse van Vuren ©, Darrien Landsberg; Ruan Kramer, HP van Schoor. Liam Hendriks. Bench: Marko Janse van Rensburg, Wikus Groenewald, Brandon Valentyn, Heath Backhouse, Chriswill September ,Wayne van der Bank, Tapiwa Mafura, Dewald Maritz.

Kickoff: 7pm.

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    John 15:16 – “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”

    Our Christian experience begins when the Holy Spirit starts working in our imperfect lives. An inexplicable restlessness and a feeling that nothing can give you the satisfaction you yearn for, could be the Spirit working in you.

    Even when God calls you and chooses you to serve him, there may be inner conflict and confusion because you are not always willing to do what God is asking of you.

    But this inner struggle is part of spiritual life … Commit yourself to God and open yourself to the inflowing of the Holy Spirit.

    It is by great grace that you were chosen by God to serve him and to live to the honour and glory of his name. Surrender unconditionally to the Lord and you will discover that your life gains new meaning and purpose.



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