Curwin Bosch’s composed performance against the Crusaders should give Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus food for thought, writes JON CARDINELLI.
All that was missing from the contest between the Crusaders and Sharks was a hard-rock back track – perhaps something like AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’. By half-time, it seemed as if the supremely aggressive Sharks were on their way to a famous victory and the punch-drunk Crusaders were on their way to the canvas.
That the Crusaders fought back to draw the game says something about the team culture. Most teams would have capitulated after sustaining such a physical beating. The Crusaders – much like the All Blacks – stayed in the fight until the final bell.
The Sharks should be disappointed with the draw. That is some statement, considering they were written off before the game.
Some teams are satisfied to leave Christchurch with one log point. The Sharks left with two. Some might say that they deserved four as the more dominant side on the day.
Every team should be looking to measure themselves against the reigning champs. The Lions were found wanting when they visited Christchurch recently. The Sharks got their tactics right on attack and defence.
The effort – which was questioned in the wake of some dismal performances in earlier rounds – was first-class, as the incredible stat of 183 tackles indicates.
The Sharks should take a lot of confidence out of that performance. While there is room for improvement in certain areas, the gainline and breakdown display showed that they can outplay the best side in the business.
Many South African rugby fans may have watched that performance and wondered where this version of the Sharks has been all season. Indeed, when the Sharks get it right up front and stick to a pragmatic yet brutally effective plan, they start to look like something resembling title contenders.
Then again, there’s been something different about the Sharks over the past two weeks. The decision to back Curwin Bosch at No 10 – one that’s been long overdue – has paid dividends.
Bosch took his chance against the Waratahs. Last Friday, playing at a ground that’s widely known as a graveyard for travelling South African teams, he took the pressure in his stride and produced one of the finest performances on his career.
We know that Bosch has all the attacking gifts. Over the course of this season, we’ve seen Bosch – playing at fullback – cutting the line or putting teammates into space.
Until this tour to Australasia, we haven’t really had a chance to assess his game-management abilities from No 10. Going by what we’ve seen in Sydney and Christchurch, it’s fair to say that Bosch deserves further opportunities in this position.
Bosch played a big role in winning the territorial battle for the visitors. He scored all 21 of the Sharks’ points. The penalty that he goaled shortly before half-time – from 50m out – would have sent a message to national selectors.
His defence remains a concern. Bosch hasn’t done enough to alleviate concerns about his tackling ability. While he’s played much of the campaign at fullback – and thus avoided the heavy traffic at flyhalf – he’s only managed to complete 57% of his tackle attempts.
Is it enough to discard the idea of Bosch as a Bok option? He has the strengths on attack and in the kicking department to be a success at the highest level. One wonders if more can be done by coaches – at the Sharks and at the Boks – to bring him up to speed on defence.
As things stand, Erasmus looks set to pick Handré Pollard and Elton Jantjies as his specialist flyhalves for the World Cup. Damian Willemse is expected to travel to Japan as cover for both 10 and 15.
A lot can happen between now and September, though. If one or more of those players breaks down, Erasmus will have to consider other options. If he’s looking for another player to cover 10 and 15, he need look no further than Bosch.
There may have been a few questions about Bosch’s temperament ahead of this tour to Australasia. In Sydney and Christchurch, he proved that he has the desire, as well as the ability, to shine in high-pressure situations.
One would hope that he receives further opportunities to develop at 10 in the coming months. Backing Bosch in that position of ultimate responsibility could benefit the Sharks in the short and long term. It could also benefit the Boks down the line.
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