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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.

Jake bemoans bare Bok cupboard, but confident team will ‘play some rugby’ 0

Posted on February 28, 2023 by Ken

Bulls director of rugby Jake White once again bemoaned how bare his cupboard is when it comes to Springboks, but he seemed still fairly confident on Friday that his team will be able to “play some rugby” and see off the Ospreys in their United Rugby Championship clash at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

The Bulls will still field half-a-dozen Springboks in their starting XV and Morne Steyn on the bench, and White hinted that there will be no lack of ambition from his side on Saturday from 3pm.

“Ospreys drew with last season’s champions, the Stormers, which means they can play,” White said. “I know a couple of their main guys are not here, but Wales rugby is under pressure and their players could see this as an opportunity to put their hands up for national honours.

“They were tough to beat last year and I don’t foresee an easy game, but we would like to play through our centres and Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe can tick that box.

“They played three Super Rugby finals together, so imagine the hours they have spent practising and playing together, they’re probably the most experienced centre pairing in South Africa.

“And then Nizaam Carr is unbelievable on attack, he will add something running between and linking off the backline players. WJ Steenkamp as well,” White said.

With both the URC challenge and the European Rugby Champions Cup on his immediate radar, White said the Bulls had entered something of a new phase with a new generation of core players. He pointed out that when he arrived at Loftus Versfeld in 2020, his leadership group was Ivan van Zyl, Steyn, Gio Aplon, Duane Vermeulen and Arno Botha, all Springboks.

Now they have a new captain in lock Ruan Nortje, and fellow leaders in Johan Grobbelaar, Elrigh Louw, Chris Smith, Johan Goosen and Vorster.

“The whole dynamic has changed and I would like this group to have their own personality,” White said. “Ruan is quieter and doesn’t talk as much as Marcell Coetzee, but all my captains are totally and utterly driven to do well.

“But I am excited to see him stay the same Ruan Nortje, I would encourage him to bring his own personality and captaincy style.

“But South African rugby needs to find a new model post the next World Cup, we have to make sure our regions are strong, we keep our best players and keep our teams together.

“Why would we want to play in the Champions Cup if we don’t have a realistic chance of winning it? My salary cap of R70 million compared to the R180 million of Leinster or Munster, and even more for the French teams, is what I have to worry about,” White said.

Bulls:Wandisile Simelane, David Kriel, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Stravino Jacobs, Chris Smith, Embrose Papier, Elrigh Louw, WJ Steenkamp, Nizaam Carr, Ruan Nortje (c), Janko Swanepoel, Francois Klopper, Bismarck du Plessis, Gerhard Steenekamp. Bench – Jan-Hendrik Wessels, Simphiwe Matanzima, Mornay Smith, Ruan Vermaak, Cyle Brink, Zak Burger, Morne Steyn, Marco Jansen van Vuren.

Nortje willing & excited about new adventure as Bulls captain 0

Posted on February 28, 2023 by Ken

Ruan Nortje has not captained a team before at senior level, but the willing second-row forward sees his new responsibility as an exciting adventure after he was confirmed as the new Bulls captain for the rest of the season on Thursday.

With Marcell Coetzee enjoying a sabbatical in Japan for the next few months, the Bulls needed a new leader and director of rugby Jake White has gone for one of the team’s inspirational young guns. Nortje has also been surrounded by an exciting young leadership group including potential future Loftus Versfeld legends like Elrigh Louw and Johann Grobbelaar.

“I’m very excited for the challenge and it’s an unbelievably big privilege. I captained a team maybe one or two times in high school but never at professional level or anything,” Nortje said.

“As a lineout leader, there’s also a lot of pressure, and doing that has definitely helped me gain confidence and I’ve learnt a lot about leadership. But I don’t know how I will feel running out in front on Saturday.

“I’ve known about it for a while and had a long time to get my head right for it. It’s another step on my journey towards my greater goals at the Bulls.

“Marcell asked me for a lot of advice on the field and I’ve learnt a lot from him. But the one message from him that stood out was to be myself as captain, don’t try too hard, just lead by example,” Nortje said.

One senses a new, young leadership group fits in perfectly with White’s long-term plan for the Bulls, with the director of rugby recently extending his contract at Loftus Versfeld through to June 2027. While there are still some richly experienced and massively respected older players at the Bulls, the new guard is starting to push itself to the forefront.

“It’s been coming a while, from last season already it came up that Marcell was probably going to go away for a Japan stint,” Nortje said. “Both Marcell and Jake spoke to me about how I would feel about the captaincy. It’s all been done in a systematic way, not just suddenly decided one morning.

“From the first time I played for the Bulls, I think of all the legends who have played before in the number five jersey whenever I put it on. Like Victor Matfield, who I will also follow now in his footsteps as captain.

“It’s a big motivation and when under pressure, I feel the best comes out of me. And I’m always chuffed and excited to play every weekend and give my 100%,” Nortje said.

The Bulls will return to United Rugby Championship action on Saturday when they host the Ospreys in Pretoria.

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.

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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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