Sharks coach Rob du Preez Snr has to back form flyhalf Curwin Bosch for the ultimate challenge against the Crusaders in Christchurch, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Does the coach reinstate his son, Rob Jnr, at No 10 this Friday, or does he continue to back the player who was at the centre of the team’s biggest win of the season?
Last Saturday, Bosch kicked 13 points to guide the Sharks to their first win against the Waratahs in Sydney since 2000. While it wasn’t the most convincing team performance, it was clear that Bosch offered the side more options from the flyhalf position.
It’s been a hot topic in Durban over the past two seasons. Du Preez has backed his son at No 10 for the most part, preferring to utilise – and some might say limit – Bosch’s siege-gun boot and attacking gifts at fullback.
This year, Rob Jnr has started nine of the Sharks’ 10 matches in that position. He’s failed to impress – admittedly in a Sharks side that’s blown hot and cold – and was particularly ineffective in his last two games against the Jaguares and Reds.
There will be nowhere to hide for the Sharks when they visit Christchurch this week. While they currently sit at the top of the South African conference, only four log points separate them and the fifth-placed Lions.
Du Preez has to pick his best available side if he hopes to secure what has become the rarest of victories: an away win against the Crusaders. The Sharks were the last South African franchise to win in Christchurch – when Jake White was in charge back in 2014.
The Waratahs beat the Crusaders earlier this season. The fixture between the Highlanders and Crusaders in Dunedin was cancelled – and the log points shared – in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Christchurch. Other than that, the Crusaders have won eight of their 10 matches – five of those with a try-scoring bonus point.
The Crusaders and Sharks share the No 1 ranking for fewest tries conceded (22) in 2019. In terms of attack, however, the teams are poles apart.
The Crusaders rank first in the tournament for points (300) and tries scored (45), as well as linebreaks (78). While the Sharks defence has had its moments this season, it hasn’t been tested by such a well-balanced attack.
They may be buoyed by the news that senior All Blacks Owen Franks (injury), Sam Whitelock (rest) and Ryan Crotty (rest) will not feature this week. They may feel that they can pressure the Crusaders at the scrum, as the Cantabrians have conceded a lot of penalties in this area.
Who does Du Preez back to step up and capitalise on the Crusaders’ infringements, though? Bosch has converted 10 of his 13 attempts on goal this season, and his kicking from hand has put several teams under pressure. The Sharks will not push the Crusaders close – let alone score a big win – if they fail to boss the forward and territorial battles.
How far behind the Crusaders are a side like the Sharks? The coming game will provide an answer. The contest could also show whether players like Bosch – who’s played two Tests for the Boks – have what it takes to cope with a different sort of pressure.
At the start of the season, Bok coach Rassie Erasmus confirmed that 80% of his World Cup squad have already been selected. Handré Pollard and Elton Jantjies should travel to that tournament as the first- and second-choice flyhalf options, and Damian Willemse could be included to cover both flyhalf and fullback.
A strong performance by Bosch in Christchurch, however, could give Erasmus some food for thought. It’s possible that one or two of those aforementioned players will break down before the World Cup. Fullback options such as Willie le Roux and Warrick Gelant might also succumb to injuries before the squad departs for Japan in September.
In that scenario, Erasmus will have to find someone else who can cover flyhalf and fullback. Bosch still has a lot to prove in terms of defence, but has already shown he has what it takes to mix it with the best in other departments such as attack and kicking.
It won’t matter who is starting at No 10 for the visitors on Friday if the Sharks pack fails to fire. That said, one would at hope that Bosch, after producing such an encouraging showing against the Waratahs, gets another chance to prove his worth.
Photo: Gerhard Duraan/Samuel Shivamu/BackpagePix