The Sharks have been rocked by a stand-off between the senior players and coach Robert du Preez over the latter’s preferential treatment of his struggling son at flyhalf at the cost of the exceptional Curwin Bosch.
It is a situation that is making it ever tougher for Du Preez to continue as coach and if the whispers from the corridors of power at Kings Park are to be believed, the change will come soon after the end of Super Rugby.
In short, Du Preez’s employers at the Sharks created a monster by not insisting on sensible selection parameters for a unique situation where the coach has three sons in his squad, and now the monster has to go.
It was former assistant coach Dick Muir that suggested a selection panel but nothing came of it when Du Preez’s insistence that his sons picked themselves on merit was allowed to go unchecked.
The selection panel did not happen and for a long time the Sharks got away with it because all three Du Preez players were indeed commanding starting places. But last year, Rob Jnr started showing signs of fatigue (he was completely overplayed, with no chances whatsoever going the way of Bosch at flyhalf), and then this year Du Preez has been in dreadful form (again seemingly heavily fatigued after playing for Sale Sharks in the SA off-season).
Matters came to a head after the Sharks lost heavily at home to the Jaguares and the Reds, with Du Preez a ghost of the player he had been for periods in 2018 and particularly when he played so well for Western Province.
The avalanche of stinging criticism on social media of both Robert Snr and Jnr was dismissed by the coach as “cockroach comments”, but he did relent and picked Bosch for the Sharks’ tour-opener against the Waratahs. The 21-year-old responded with a man-of-the-match, game-winning performance.
It was a grudge selection by the coach, as reflected by his insistence on bringing his son on at 10 early in the second half of every match Bosch has started, with the latter moving to fullback and the unfortunate Aphelele Fassi being relegated from that position to the bench.
Two weeks ago, before the Sharks’ home match against the Hurricanes, the flyhalf issue came to a head for a second time this season when coach Du Preez made clear his intention to recall Rob to the flyhalf starting spot, to the detriment of Bosch and Fassi.
The leadership group in the squad strongly objected and the coach backed down. But the players did not have similar joy last week in Buenos Aries.
The big issue with the recall of Du Preez at flyhalf is that it had no basis. It was not as if he had been in such good form that he could no longer be ignored and at the same time Bosch had been shaky and thus warranted demotion.
We know Bosch misses the odd tackle but what he brings to the table in terms of dynamic attack and educated boot outweighs his shortcomings. He has largely been brilliant when he has played 10, his form contrasting starkly with that of Du Preez.
The coach’s insistence on making the change at flyhalf has incurred widespread criticism. SuperSport analysts, including Nick Mallett, Joel Stransky, Jean de Villiers and Odwa Ndungane have expressed their dismay, and not just at the ill treatment of Bosch.
The pawn in this disappointing business is Fassi, who is taken off the field when he is in full flight at fullback, surely damaging the youngster’s confidence.
The Board of the Sharks will surely have noticed that the mistreatment of Fassi and Bosch will also be construed in many quarters as anti-transformation.
In summary, this is what has been happening in the crucial positions of 10 and 15: Bosch gets moved away from the action after having commandingly directed play at flyhalf; Fassi, one of the Sharks’ best attacking players, gets moved to the bench; and a player struggling with confidence and form is thrust into the hot seat.
It makes no sense and leaves Sharks supporters asking: “Why? Why? Why?”
It also leaves the Board of the Sharks with no option but to sack the coach.