The announcement of the Springbok squad on Monday revealed Rassie Erasmus’ pecking order for fullback as well as confirming the coach’s preferences at flyhalf, and nowhere to be seen is the name Curwin Bosch.
In fact, the 21-year-old has not been mentioned, even in dispatches, by Erasmus since he was released from the enlarged Springbok squad that was picked ahead of the series against England. In the short to medium term, this spells bad news for the prodigiously-talented youngster from the Eastern Cape.
The message to Bosch, either tacitly or directly, is clear: you won’t be considered until your defence is up to scratch.
To a degree, Bosch is a victim of circumstance – his proven ability at flyhalf was not showcased at the Sharks this year because Robert du Preez was firmly entrenched in the position. Du Preez started every single match for the Sharks and, together with Ruan Botha, played the most minutes for the Durbanites (just over 1000 minutes).
That restricted Bosch to fullback, a position he has said he enjoys just as much as 10, but it does expose him as the last line of defence, and his ability in this regard has long been questioned. Frailties on defence at flyhalf can be covered by the shrewd use of loose forwards. They cannot at fullback.
In Stellenbosch on Monday, Erasmus openly spoke about Damian Willemse being selected predominantly as cover for starting fullback Willie le Roux. Against England, Warrick Gelant was the No 2 fullback and when he comes back from injury late in the Rugby Championship he will either reclaim his spot on the bench, or perhaps find himself behind Willemse — the gifted 20-year-old from the Stormers could quite possibly play himself into a position where he becomes indispensable.
Erasmus has also said this year that Lions fullback Andries Coetzee is close to the squad and the 28-year-old can indeed consider himself unlucky at disappearing out of the mix after starting 13 Tests in 2017.
If the (unofficial) fullback ranking is Le Roux, Gelant, Willemse and Coetzee, that leaves Bosch a distant fifth. And with Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies the flyhalves, Bosch is nowhere…
It is an unhealthy state of affairs considering the incredible talent and pedigree of the former Grey High Pupil, who has sadly gone backwards since making his Test debut off the bench at fullback almost a year ago against Argentina, and then starting in June against Wales in Washington.
It is the first time that Bosch has been out of favour in his rugby life. Scaling the rugby ladder since he was a pipsqueak at primary school in humble Alexandra, near Port Elizabeth, Bosch has played Eastern Province schools at all age groups, two years of SA Schools (2014-2015), two years of SA Under 20 (2016-2017), plus Super Rugby for the Sharks in his first year out of school and he then debuted for the Boks at age 20.
He is one of the most talented players on the SA scene — blistering pace (10.9 for the 100m at school), a defence-beating side-step (his excellent try for the Sharks against the Highlanders comes to mind), his passing is pin-point and his kicking exceptional – whether out-of-hand, at goal or drop-kicking (a long range drop goal through driving rain against the Bulls last year was incredible).
But that brings us to the chink in his armour. Last year’s Currie Cup final at Kings Park saw Bosch at flyhalf for the Sharks and Willemse at fullback for Western Province. The former had a brilliant first half, including a cracker of a drop goal just before half time, but his second-half defence was costly in the extreme.
Willemse was robust at the back for Province. The 20-year-old has no issues with physicality or defence, prompting Erasmus to say on Monday that he would have no qualms about playing him at fullback.
“Damian reminds me of Frans Steyn, a guy who is ready to play Test rugby from a very young age,” said the Bok coach. “He will get his chance against Argentina.”
Where does this leave Bosch? In March, Bosch said: “It is no secret that people have been worrying about my defence and we have been working on it.
“I feel that my tackling has definitely improved. It is not yet where I want it to be but I am happy to be in a position like fullback where I have to make more tackles. You can only improve on a weakness by testing yourself in match situations.”
Bosch has also spoken about his problem with perfectionism and over-training in the quest for it — for example, at high school he developed a knee problem from practicing his kicking too much.
But that’s because he has lofty goals: “I want to be a great Springbok, I want to be a Jean de Villiers and play 100 Tests.”
The weakness in Bosch’s game is well documented, but the Sharks coaching staff testify to his unstinting work ethic.
Time is on the youngsters’ side; he has the hunger and ambition. Now he has to show patience and let that work ethic do the rest.