Curwin Bosch has been the standout performer for the Sharks on tour. Photo: Martin Hunter/www.photosport.nz
The Sharks return from New Zealand tomorrow on top of the SA Conference and with so many positives yielded from their tour, yet there is the frustration that they could have done even better had it not been for a series of mystifying substitutions.

At the risk of banging the Curwin Bosch drum too persistently, it is stupefying that in yesterday’s dramatic 29-23 loss to the Chiefs, Bosch, who was enjoying yet another field day, was substituted for Robert du Preez as early as the 49th minute.

In the Sharks’ tour opener, against the Waratahs, Bosch’s first match at 10 of the season, he was moved to fullback in the 60th minute; against the Crusaders it was in the 56th minute and yesterday seven minutes earlier.

It appears that the better Bosch plays, the less time he gets in the hot seat that is flyhalf. It’s almost like the coaching staff are playing the 22-year-old at flyhalf under duress and then pointedly shift him away from the action.

It has left television commentators in Sydney, Christchurch and Hamilton dumbfounded, and in yesterday’s SuperSport studio analysts Jean de Villiers and (Sharks old boy) Odwa Ndungane were equally nonplussed and wondered on air if the right call had been made in changing up the flyhalf and fullbacks positions.

Ndungane made an added, telling observation that the unfortunate casualty in these premeditated substitutions was Aphelele Fassi, who yesterday was having a belter of a game before he was taken off.

So as yesterday’s game reached the final quarter, with the Sharks in the lead and in charge of the game, their two most attacking players on the day - Bosch and Fassi - were removed from the flyhalf position and the field.

This week Robert du Preez did not make the unfortunate errors that he did when he came on last week, and there was a very good touch from him when he put Bosch through a gap that almost had him off to a match-winning try, but the point is that the changes are unnecessary.

With Bosch and Fassi playing so well, nothing was broke so why try and fix it? But let’s not dwell on the negative when much good came out of a tour that produced seven invaluable log points.

The Sharks team that played on this tour bears little resemblance to the aimless bunch that surrendered at Jonsson Kings Park to the Jaguares and the Reds.

After yesterday’s match, captain Louis Schreuder said that one of the best things to come out of the tour was the “bonding between the players”.

The Sharks indeed played like a team with a unified purpose and with a simple, clear game plan based on territory, pressure, unyielding defence and the kicking at goal of penalties rather than the wasteful kick-to-the corner strategy that seldom results in scores.

This plan could only work if the forwards dominated, and they did. As a unit they were exceptional and they gave Bosch the platform to manage the game as expertly as he did.

What helped this Sharks pack come together so nicely was the return to form and from injury of key players. Jean-Luc du Preez, Philip van der Walt and Ruan Botha missed the earlier part of Super Rugby and on this tour collectively hit their straps. They were assisted by the outstanding form of Dan du Preez, who has been consistently good all season, and Coenie Oosthuizen.

Botha, the former captain, was colossal against the Chiefs yesterday with his physicality he made 16 tackles and nine aggressive carries - and he formed a very good second row with the mobile Hyron Andrews.

It was perhaps fitting that the Sharks’ two tries were scored by each of the locks.

The Sharks return home in far better shape than they left and confident they can win the SA Conference. They have a bye this week and then play the Lions (home), Hurricanes (home) and Jaguares (away) before finishing with what could be an almighty showdown with the Stormers (away).

Chiefs 29 - Tries: Brad Weber (2), Mitchell Karpik, Anton Lienert-Brown. Conversions: Marty McKenzie (3). Penalties: McKenzie.

Sharks 23 - Tries: Hyron Andrews, Ruan Botha. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (2). Penalties: Bosch (3).

@MikeGreenaway67


Sunday Tribune

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