Curwin Bosch. Photo: BackpagePix.
After two rounds of clean sweeps for the SA sides in the URC, the Sharks were sadly the first team to give away a victory on Saturday. There’s certainly no shame in losing to a side as good as Edinburgh, but questions are mounting as to why a team that has so many outstanding players is struggling to capitalise on its opportunities.
Of course, many fingers are being pointed at flyhalf, Curwin Bosch, who admittedly had a bit of a shocker on the night, missing some easy kicks at posts and making a number of other fairly inexplicable errors. And that’s the thing – the situation does appear to be inexplicable. The Sharks have a crisis at 10, but how did they get there? The people baying for Curwin’s blood on social media appear to have forgotten that he was once so exceptional that there was talk of him entering the mix as a Springbok 10 more regularly. While he may have had a few hiccups during his career, like any player, his kicking stats have generally hovered around the 80% success rate, and he was able to control the game well.
So, what has gone wrong, if anything? Players don’t just suddenly forget how to play overnight. It would be hard to dispute the fact that Bosch appears to have lost his confidence, badly. After helping the Sharks to make it to the Currie Cup final for the 2020/21 season, largely through the accuracy of his boot and some impressive long-range strikes, it all seemed to fall apart in that final. Suddenly, kicks that he had been nailing with ease for weeks were going astray, and he ultimately missed five shots at goal and three drop kick attempts. What’s significant is that most, if not all, of the kicks he missed were long range attempts, that many other players would have kicked into touch to set up the lineout. He obviously felt able to attempt them, as he’d had such success with similar distances in the build up to the final, so the most bewildering thing for fans is that no one from the coaching box thought to suggest kicking for the corner once it became clear that this was not going to be his day. No one would have questioned that. But the team persisted with their strategy, and ultimately went down to the Bulls 26-19. Bosch bore the brunt of the criticism in the media and on social platforms afterwards. Since then, he has never really looked like returning to his previous form, and has been in and out of the starting line up (and squad) so much he must have whiplash.
But this issue doesn’t begin and end with Bosch. When Robert du Preez moved to the Sharks in 2018 for the Super Rugby season, he had been having a fantastic run at the Stormers as flyhalf. He immediately displaced Bosch, who moved to fullback, and started to work his magic for his new team. After a fantastic start with the team, he became more erratic, and the rumblings began. It was perceived to be nepotism that he was still being kept on as the starting 10, since his father was coaching the side at the time, and fans clamored for Curwin Bosch to be reinstalled as flyhalf (oh, the irony now).
Again, it was painful to watch as du Preez had clearly lost his confidence, and the same vicious circle that we are now seeing with Bosch unfolded with him – the more mistakes he made, the more he lost confidence, and the more he lost confidence, the more mistakes he made. Given that players do not live in caves in the wilderness somewhere, it’s unlikely that the endless criticism on social media and elsewhere went unmissed or helped the situation. Something had to give, and for du Preez, it was a move to the UK, where he seems to be much happier with the Sale Sharks. There have been rumours of Bosch moving to Bath, so will he find a similar solution?
Even if Bosch does leave, and is replaced more permanently by the excellent Boeta Chamberlain, this may not be a solution for the team. The flyhalf crisis at the Sharks, which ultimately effects every element of the game, is not just about individual players. It is clear that there is something bigger at play, and that it needs to be addressed with urgency. Whether that involves a change in the coaching set up, an increase in the support provided to players to handle challenges to their confidence, or something else entirely, I’m not really sure. What I do know is that vilifying individuals (who we once heaped with praise) is not going to solve the problem. The Sharks are blessed with an abundance of talent and resources. Perhaps it’s time for some serious introspection at the highest level, so that they can understand how they keep ending up in this position, and how to fix it. Soon.