What to make of Bosch, Willemse?

Dawie Boonzaaier

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a young player being trialled in multiple positions. Dan Carter started out at inside centre, deputising for Andrew Merthens and Carlos Spencer.

Stephen Larkham started out at fullback. Matt Giteau was a scrumhalf, made his name at 10 and 12, converted back to nine, and eventually settled as a hybrid 10-12. Mike Catt played professional and test rugby for eight years before England finally realised he was an inside centre.

Hell, even Ma’a Nonu had to go stand on the wing for a season or two before moving inside, and Beauden Barrett had to establish himself on the Test scene as an impact player covering the back three.

These six players average 95 Tests, 567 points and one World Cup trophy per player between the lot of them.

So why the outcry over Curwin Bosch (21) and Damian Willemse (20) each deputising at fullback in some matches, even though both prefer to play flyhalf?

The answer is Brent Russell, Ruan Pienaar and Frans Steyn.

All three of these players were blessed with incredible talent. Pienaar won 88 caps for his country, Steyn won 56 and Russell played in 23 Tests. Each won a Tri-Nations championship. Pienaar and Steyn won a World Cup.

But there’s another thing that all three of them have in common: potential that was never fully realised because coaches couldn’t decide where to play them. They were often used as stop-gap options while coaches tried to figure out what to do with them, or find someone more suited to the job.

Pienaar was supposed to be the best scrumhalf in the world when Fourie du Preez took a Japanese hiatus in 2012, Steyn should’ve been the most capped Bok by now and Russell only managed 23 Tests because even he didn’t know what his best position was.

So, seeing Bosch and Willemse playing at fullback after making their names as flyhalves probably gives supporters an unsettling sense of déjà vu.

Willemse is a future Bok star but unfortunately doesn’t yet have the nuance or experience to lead the Bok backline ahead of incumbent 10s Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies. Rassie Erasmus has shown that he rates Willemse, throwing him in at the deep end as the last line of defence versus England at Twickenham. So why not give him valuable Test game-time at fullback a la Barrett from 2012 to 2015?

He may just become a great 15, or, when Pollard and Jantjies eventually fade or retire, he can slot in and become the pivot with 30 Tests already under his belt. In any case, the back-up spot at fullback is all but settled for the World Cup later this year, and Willemse’s versatility makes him a more than pleasing squad option.

Bosch’s form has deteriorated since bursting onto the scene in 2016, with coaches reluctant to pick him at flyhalf with the 21-year old missing 38% of his tackles in 2017, and 28% of his tackles in 2018 during Super Rugby.

But more than that, it’s his counter-attacking prowess that makes him even more dangerous from the back. Bosch averages more than 11 metres per carry in Super Rugby, with his searing pace also causing 15 line-breaks last year, the 7th most in the competition. Add to that a well-educated cannon of a boot, and you must wonder why Bosch wouldn’t want to play 15?

Besides, if reports are to be believed and Bosch is looking into a move to Cape Town, he will play second fiddle to Willemse at 10 there, but could easily be the starter at fifteen.

But can you blame long-time supporters for being skeptical about these two prodigious talents being moved around in the backline? Probably not, especially when Bosch and Willemse continue to play understudy in Super Rugby to flyhalves that are either woefully out of form, or just not nearly as talented.

There’s a fine line between serving an apprenticeship in multiple positions for long enough to gain valuable experience, and crossing the tipping point that leads to a star talent being branded a utility back. Over the course of the next two or three seasons, Willemse and Bosch must each settle in one position if they’re going to make a meaningful impact for South Africa.

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Follow Dawie on Twitter: @dawiboon

- Dawie Boonzaaier

Let's chat

  • Wesley

    Its clear for both at the moment. Their respective coaches are not willing to let their flyhalf incumbents feel any pressure for position in their squads. Who is actually pushing them from the bottom to succeed? A culture of competition breeds success. JLDP is woefully ineffective for the Stormers, and RDP is screwing up more and more, and the calls of “daddy boy” will only get louder and louder. Time for them to feel the heat, step up, or move aside.

    Curwin is not a defender, sure, but one aspect of his game can be approved upon. The rest he is pretty well settled. Big boot, pace, vision. Same with Willemse, although that vicious step comes in handy to beat rush defenses. Have them actively and openly compete for flyhalf in the squads, and stop protecting your incumbent 10.

    • Barry

      I agree with your points Wesley, but just a bit of expansion on some issues:

      Rob Du Preez – he has simply played too much rugby and needs a break! He played ever game for Sale Sharks in the off season and frankly pulled them out the dwang! He was supposed to have sat out the first few matches in 2019 but Bosch was injured. I suspect we will see Rhyno Smith and Bosch cover 10 & 15 for a spell, least that would be sensible!

      Do not concur with the view on Bosch’s defense nor with the stats offered by the scribe. In 2018 for example, Bosch missed 0.6 tackles per match whilst Willemse missed three times as many! The defense story was something manufactured by certain facets of the Cape Media who specialize in The subliminal distribution of disinformation.

      He is not a big lad so he will never be a dominant tackler, but his defense is adequate!

      Sorry about your Lions, they’re a better team than that – they’ll be back!

      • Greg Shark

        With you on that cape media comment…..they are the most vocal about wp and stormer players being the next best thing for Boks! Most often they turn out to be nothing more than a few game wonders and fizzle out…the Boks have a litany of average stormer and ex stormer players in the squad while other franchises have good players deserving of opportunity….

    • Chris Mouton

      Yeah, the best way the see what they’re made of is to let them play as much as possible, especially at fly-half. Then again, their respective coaches aren’t really known for their vision, are they? And this is coming from a Sharks supporter…

      • Greg Shark

        if Curwin remains at he Sharks he will definitely play fly half next year, no more Rob du Preez to stand in his way!

  • SweetAz

    Well, I just watched the Sharks murder the kittens,-loved it, should keep youknowwho quiet for a while. The Lions expansive gameplan, their superhuman skills, genius level decisionmaking was simply next level, by FAR the best SA team, the ONLY SA team who knows anything at all about rugby. RASSIE should sit up and take note if he wants to change that 50% win ratio he should select all these Lions —-OH Wait, sorry my mistake. I got the jerseys mixed up. Have the Lions beaten ANY SAFFA side yet this year?

    Last night I watched the Stormers put up one of the most inept performances I have ever had the misfortune to waste 80 minutes of my life watching. Both these players were involved and on these performances, Willemse is not even Currie Cup standard, Bosch was all class, Springbok material even. He was the best flyhalf on the park playing at fullback.
    Robert Du Preez is probably a decent Currie Cup flyhalf, if that.

    • Dean Bright

      Do you forget that Willemse is still only 20 yrs old in his second season of professional rugby? LOL and of all the players you blame him. I blame the coaching staff and seniors in that team. Bosch was brilliant, he generally is when he plays fullback. Still, he doesn’t tackle well and teams will target the 10 channel if he plays there. Personally, I think his best position is fullback because he has a massive boot and is deadly on the counter attack. Think Damian McKenzie, effective at 15 not so much at 10. Damian on the other hand I believe his best position is at 10. He’s got the physicality, defense and similarities to Pollard. We really don’t need 4 flyhalves so it makes sense to have Bosch competing for the 15 jersey.

      • SweetAz

        I dont disagree with you Dean, I’m merely responding to the author of this article who posits that the 2 of them are potential superstars. I don’t doubt Willemse has loads of talent but his decisionmaking is a bit average at times and it’s hard to shine when playing in the Stormers backline. I also agree Bosch has much more potential as a fullback, I’m simply saying that he was still a better flyhalf than anybody playing in that game,—-including EJ and RDP.

        • Greg Shark

          nice! so where die vok is Marelise….oh, sorry the walking talking typing encyclopedia of all things rugby…?

          • SweetAz

            Shhhhh, the language police will come and get you, don’t lower the “tone” of these forums……LOL

    • Dean Bright

      A little harsh to blame Willemse like that. He was millimeters from scoring a very good try. I also saw him make a very good covering tackle. Unfortunately, Malherbe (so unfit and doesn’t even deserve to be playing at this level right now) and Sergeal Petersen (defensively poor, always has been) missed tackles in that same movement which led to a try. Also, how bad must your defense be to allow the 9 to score a try with 3 Stormers players in front of him. Defense is about attitude and the Stormers have none of it. They looked like they stopped playing at times. Ntubeni and Malherbe look extremely unfit. SP Marais has never been good enough to play at this level. The coaching staff must also take a lot of the blame because there is no clear plan or direction. Kolisi and the senior players don’t look like they know what is the plan either.

      • SweetAz

        Yeah, I did say before the season that they were going to get nowhere with the ructions at that union coupled with the fact they hadn’t even announced a coaching team a few days before their first match. The players over there look like they are going through the motions. The only one deserving of a bok place at this stage is PSDT. I really hope Kolisi drops out of Bok contention because I don’t rate him as a player or a captain. SP Marais is like a recurring nightmare for me, I call him SP Maarhyskak, – who misses a conversion almost dead in front when your team is running out of time?

  • Dean Bright

    A little off topic but I was watching some of Faf’s performances for Sale. They calling him the best 9 in the World over there. Reinach has also been consistent all season. It will be hard to ignore both of them considering the poor form of our scrumhalves in SA. I still rate Papier after his performance against Scotland last year. The rest are not even on or near the level of Faf and Reinach.

    • Jay

      I would say Papier and would add Schreuder. Van Zyl is just too slow with his distribution. Sure, his box kicks are on point but when the opposition backline as had time to setup it does not help much.

  • Wesley

    Well well the author must be pretty chuffed with one half of his subjects of this article. Well done Bosch, you have pretty much played your way back in, and then some. Although a move to the Stormers might not be a bad idea, they seriously need some injection and the duPreez monopoly wont give you enough opportunity anyway.

    Wow the Lions suck, and im a solid Lions fan. I was kinda expecting a loss, but not at this extent. I was even flabbergasted by the SS panel Superbru picks touting the Lions as predicted winners. They have had quite an easy run up until this point but woeful against local opposition. They should have seen it coming. There are serious questions there and Marx cant carry the entire team on his own. The Dyantyi centre experiment failed. He is not midfield material, why Simelani is benched every game boggles my mind. Seems also every flyhalf except Pollard is seriously faltering. EJ and RDP, the two next in line to the throne, is just not there this season. Pretty worrisome.

    • Greg Shark

      Rob du Preez leaves for sale Sharks after SR…Bosch gets his opportunity….. move to stormers? that’s like cutting off your nose to spite your face!

      • Barry

        No chance, he likes getting paid at month end!

  • Jay

    I would think since RDP is moving up North, Bosch would be open for a slot at 10 again? Although that said, I do prefer him at 15 and the Lions game showed why. He played not only like a player that had something to prove but he looked like he was thoroughly enjoying his time out there. Granted who would not be enjoying a performance he gave.

    Willemse is great on attack as an individual but not sure about his distribution. I have not watched enough of his games to fairly comment on his best position.

    EJ I think is battling behind his forward pack and rejigged backline. I think come Bok time he should still be a good impact player to bring on.

    • Wesley

      On EJ…. Gosh i hope you are right… He is pretty damn good as an impact for the Boks, struggling to remember him being a weak link in the last 20 after coming on sub. He gets a fire going, that little step and over to Warren setting up Aphiwe in the corner against the ABs last year is certainly my personal highlight the last couple of years.

  • Barry

    I believe Damian Willemse is yet another victim of over exuberant journalism coupled with sponsor interference in selections. He was prematurely elevated into the Stormers starting team and then into the National side.

    If we are to be honest, he has not delivered in either forum. My criticism is not of the player at all, he seems a nice youngster, but rather that of the parties that forced him before he was ready!

    When you continually read reports about how good you are, you eventually start to believe them and when your delivery comes up short, your left in a very lonely and confusing position.

    Willemse needs to be left alone to settle and grow and to regain some confidence. Given a year or two he’ll be great!

  • Barry

    Anyone doubting Bosch’s ability will have had that doubt firmly removed last night after his return to the starting 15.

    He has been lacking in confidence and not dissimilar to Willemse, has been a victim of circumstances beyond his control. In 2017 he was a fringe player for the National side, albeit premature, but in 2018 was unceremoniously cast aside for Willemse. This coincided with Rob Du Preez arrival at the Sharks where he similarly was shunted back to 15 to make way for Du Preez son at 10!

    I was delighted to watch his performance last night because the statement he made was more testament to his character rather than merely a confirmation of his talent!

  • Greg Shark

    “….Bosch’s form has deteriorated since bursting onto the scene in 2016…”…. he was absolutely SUBLIME last evening…!!!

    • Herman Schroder?

      Greg, I still believe he is a fragile feller unfortunately. His distribution is still very shaky and he’s also inclined to go to ground as soon as he is touched. Has a known tackling weakness despite what people say about his ‘improved’ tackling. Tackling should be instinctive and fearless and when under real pressure, unless those factors kick in naturally the player will ultimately fail.

      Remember also the Lions centres last Saturday were not centres and the better teams won’t give him so much space to work with. But whatever you do don’t send him to the Stormers, that will finish him off. Cheers.

  • Redge

    First of all Jantjies is the worst 10 in SR. Pollard is brilliant at the moment If the Boks reach the final they will be involved in 4 big games. In the pool matches against NZ, 2 playoffs and the final. Jantjies shouldn’t even be in the mix for selection in any of those 4 matches.

    Willemse is the future at 10 and Bosch at 15. Bosch struggle on defence but surely that can be fixed. He is brilliant and create space like Damian McKenzie. Both of them should go to the WC. Bosch will be a great 10 as well.

    We need to settle talented players like Willemse and Bosch in a position and stick with it. Dan du Preez is not the future at 10 and JDP offers nothing at 10 at the Stormers.

    • Herman Schroder?

      Well if the worst flyhalf in SR can take his team to THREE SR finals then how crap must the other flyhalves be ??

      Not so sure about your optimism about Willemse and Bosch. Couple them with DDA at centre then you have a barn door opening up for any team with a bit of bulk in midfield and smarts to go with it. Cheers.

      • Redge

        No he didn’t take them to the finals the team did. That was not 2019. You sounds like the Bulls supporters who keep on reminding everyone that they have won SR once upon a time.At the moment Jantjies is useless. His tactical kicking is pathetic. Willemse is a much better defender than Jantjies as well. McKenzie, Barrett, Mo’unga, Black, Gatland (all NZ) Cooper, Foley, Lealiifano, Hegarty (AUS) Parker (SW) and Gonzalez (Jag) are all better than Jantjies. Pollard is the only no 10 in SA that makes the cut.

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