CAPE TOWN – White guys can’t play basketball, black dudes can’t swim… and while we’re trafficking in those heavy racist stereotypes, let’s throw another one into the blender: black South African flyhalves can’t tackle.
Those are some of the thoughts that washed over me when I spotted the latest question marks hovering over the head of Curwin Bosch for his “defensive frailties”.
Isn’t it amazing how in South Africa, black flyhalves often get singled out for not having the stomach to bring a man down around the ankles or the hips, while a white bra gets away with a bellyful of missed tackles without anyone kicking up too much of a fuss.
Elton Jantjies, Damian Willemse, and now Curwin Bosch. All three beautifully gifted players who can add some vivid peaks to our rugby landscape. But all three have been tagged with the same “he can’t tackle” sticker.
Yes, I know Bosch missed a couple of crucial tackles in the Currie Cup final. But so did some other guys.
Yes, I have also been exasperated by the constant mistakes at international level that continue to haunt Elton Jantjies.
And I understand that Willemse often failed to relieve the pressure for Western Province this season. And that Bosch cost the Sharks a try or two in the final.
In the Rugby Championship, TJ Perenara ran past Handré Pollard with ease, and the next thing, Lima Sopoaga scored under the posts. But the world didn’t end. The birds still sang their morning songs as the sun drifted into sight the next day.
A crunching tackle is one of the many wondrous sights in rugby. And it’s one of the key ingredients for success.
But would Bosch and Willemse be subjected to such scrutiny if they were white and were missing the same amount of tackles? I don’t think so.
Take a trip down the chattering hallways of South African social media and tell me if I am wrong.
And here’s another thing: You don’t pick a flyhalf for his tackling. You pick him because he is supposed to be the conductor with the silver baton. The guy who orchestrates the tries and composes the game strategy. You know, die baas en die Naas van die plaas.
And if your No 10 isn’t the greatest tackler, you find ways to help shore up his channel. All the great teams have done that down the years – an inside centre cleaning up here or a loose forward covering there.
Steve Hansen doesn’t select Beauden Barrett for his tackling.
Bosch and Willemse are very special players. Footballers in the real sense of the word.
If Jantjies can get his head sorted out (and I’m not talking about his haircut), he can be one too.
Let’s not simply typecast them as poor tacklers. Let’s rather celebrate them for the tries (and the joy) they can create.
* Ian Smit is the Executive Editor of Independent Media Sport, and a former rugby writer of the Cape Times.