Backing for Damian Willemse and Curwin Bosch doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive, writes SIMNIKIWE XABANISA in the latest SA Rugby magazine.
Mention Willemse and Bosch and the response you’re likely to get is binary, as in whatever rugby fan you’re talking to is likely to classify themselves as either a Willemse or a Bosch person – and hardly ever both.
The patent differences between the two are pronounced, which makes the contrast in the prisms through which they are seen understandable.
At 1.87m and 91kg Willemse is visibly bigger than Bosch (1.80m, 83kg); the Stormers man – as explosive as he is agile – exudes thoroughbred athleticism, while his Sharks counterpart’s qualities are deceptive until he kicks the brown stuff out of the ball; the former is all instinct, the latter tactically astute; and Willemse uses his size as licence to throw his weight around, while Bosch can look apprehensive at the prospect of putting the shoulder in.
The latent similarities surprisingly have the same resonance for both: they shot up the ranks as once-in-a-generation talents hand-picked for South Africa by the rugby gods, the two of them have, for very different reasons, flitted between flyhalf and fullback, and a mere four years into their first-class careers a typically impatient rugby public has given up on them living up to their immense promise.
Willemse’s fate seemed sealed last year when he started struggling with his game management at 10 to the point where it looked like he couldn’t direct a rugby match if he’d slipped a GPS on to the field.
In February, Bosch was also in the process of being banished to the same scrapheap for supposedly lacking BMT, thanks to the Sharks squandering a 10-point lead to lose the Currie Cup final against the Bulls.
To this couch sports psychologist, there’s a suspicion that the Sharks hadn’t expected to find themselves with that 10-point lead to the extent where they had no clue how to manage it for the remainder of the game, which has as much to do with the messages coming from the coach’s box and the captain.
But because he missed several kicks at goal – at times from Hail Mary positions on the field because he’d nailed them from the parking lot en route to carrying the Sharks to the final – the blame was heaped solely on Bosch when the Sharks could have turned to either of their goal-kicking scrumhalves, Jaden Hendrickse or Sanele Nohamba.
The upshot is that Willemse and Bosch find themselves in the purgatory that social media experts call fraud watch, the next step presumably being throwing out the child prodigies with the bathwater.
As an aside, the esteem in which the two players are held at Springbok level is different.
There’s a hope that Willemse kicks on at flyhalf, but if he doesn’t his versatility fits in perfectly with the 6-2 split strategy, while the fact Bosch can exhibit the defensive firmness of wet toast means he doesn’t pass Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber’s critical ‘warrior’ test for selection.
But if the Bok brains trust gives up on them, who’s next? Handre Pollard is nursing an ACL injury and Elton Jantjies, who wasn’t in the 23-man squad for the World Cup final, will be 31 this year.
Three of the most recent SA U20 flyhalves – Manie Libbok, Lubabalo Dobela and David Coetzer – have still not been given a proper shot at first-class rugby. So who’s the immediate future, then? A 37-year-old Morne Steyn or a 19-year-old Kade Wolhuter?
At the rate we’re going, it seems like we’re more than happy to dispense with four years of the two – whose ability screams ‘real thing’ – paying their school fees not long before it’s time to cash in on players this country desperately needs.
Besides, why can’t it be Damian and Curwin?
Photo: Steve Haag