DURBAN – Spare a thought for young Curwin Bosch this week in Durban where the omnipresence of the Springbok roadshow will be a constant reminder to him that he is in the rugby wilderness.
The gifted Bosch is conspicuous by his absence from the Springboks’ Rugby Championship squad and, in fact, the 21-year-old has not so much as been mentioned in dispatches by Erasmus since he was released from the enlarged Springbok squad 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.
This time last year he was in the Bok match 23 preparing to play Argentina in Port Elizabeth ... for the same fixture a year later he will be in the stands.
The message to Bosch, either tacitly or directly, is clear: you won’t be considered until your defence is up to scratch ... But Bok coach Rassie Erasmus might also point out that his hands are tied in gauging where Bosch is as a flyhalf because he has not played in the position for the Sharks since last year’s Currie Cup final.
Bosch will surely find this extremely frustrating.
This year, Robert du Preez started every single Super Rugby match for the Sharks, with Bosch confined to fullback. The Sharks’ coaching staff will have their reasons for sticking with Du Preez and no doubt some of the reasoning dates back to that Currie Cup final.
It was a match that showcased Bosch’s brilliance and his fragility. He had been excellent all season at flyhalf, with the Sharks losing just one match in the pool rounds with him at the helm, and he had a great first half in the final behind a pack in reverse. His drop goal just before half time from behind a scrum lurching backwards was sublime.
But in the second half he was cruelly exposed on defence ... He hasn’t played flyhalf since, making it difficult for the Bok coach to evaluate him for the position or for Bosch to show that he has brushed up on his defence in that channel.
If the (unofficial) Bok fullback ranking is Willie le Roux, Warrick Gelant, Damian Willemse and Andries Coetzee, that leaves Bosch a distant fifth. And with Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies the flyhalves, Bosch is nowhere.
Bosch will be watching this year's opening test from the stands, or from home. Photo: @curwin_bosch in Instagram
It is an unhealthy state of affairs considering the incredible talent and pedigree of the former Grey High Pupil, who has now gone sadly backwards since 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).
Bosch had his moments of excellence in Super Rugby this year and he is working overtime with Sharks defence coach Braam van Straaten to iron out the chink in his armour. 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.
Time is on the youngster's side; he has the hunger and ambition. Now he has to show patience and let that work ethic do the rest. But it would also greatly help his cause if he was given an opportunity at flyhalf in the Currie Cup.