Johannesburg - Robert du Preez sounded a little like a man whose coaching was coming to the end of its tether.
“We’ve worked really hard on Curwin [Bosch] and his one-on-one defence‚” the Sharks coach was quoted as saying after the Currie Cup final. “It’s definitely an area of his game that he is going to have to work hard on‚ especially playing international rugby.”
Bosch’s defence – which is more speed bump than roadblock – had been coming under increasing scrutiny during the Super Rugby and Currie Cup seasons. In the final of the latter last weekend, Bosch brought the criticism to fever pitch by missing two crucial tackles against winners Western Province in the second half.
And just like that the 20-year-old went from having had a great first half behind a losing pack to not only having his place in the subsequent Springbok touring squad questioned, but also being expected to be demoted to Sharks fullback come the 2018 Super Rugby season.
Talk about throwing out the former child prodigy with the bathwater.
Springbok coach Allister Coetzee, who, having handed Bosch his first international cap in the Rugby Championship, named Bosch in his squad to tour Europe and promptly mounted a, ahem, stout defence for the youngster.
“Every player will have shortcomings,” he began. “There are work-ons and we’ll make sure that we work on all aspects of his game. It’s not that I want to come up for Curwin but show me a flyhalf who takes the skin off the opposition [in defence].
“He’s a young guy, he’s 20 years old, give him time and he’ll develop and he’ll get the confidence. He’s a talented young player also and when he kicks the ball there’s something special about him, so instead of focusing on his weakness I’d like him to focus on his strengths.”
In all this conjecture there has been nary a solution proffered. Enter Omar Mouneimne, the former Sharks defence coach who now coaches at Worcester in the English Premiership.
The intense Mouneimne is credited with having improved the Sharks’ defence out of sight in 2015, thanks in part to something he called “test match Tuesday”, where the players took lumps out of one another in defence.
For starters Mouneimne agreed with Coetzee: “Everyone has defensive deficiencies. Sometimes their system knowledge is low, their reaction is slow or a player makes 95% of his tackles but all are negative hits.
“Even the bravest guys in defence can be terrible defenders if they are challenged when it comes to their understanding of the defensive system.”
He went as far as saying something most of us don’t consider when we think about rugby players. “All players suffer from doubt and fear in defence, the most important thing you can give them is certainty. You do that by giving them two things: a system and how it works, good technique and preparation.”
Looking at Bosch’s situation, Mouneimne made a few suggestions he felt could help him: “I’d start by getting him grappling two days a week to help with his mobility and explosiveness and shore up his confidence without collision.
“Next he would do collision training to train his nervous system to take collisions and get him used to the G-forces. Then I’d work on his system knowledge and put systems in place to shore him up, like a flanker on his inside and an inside centre outside him and get them working together in defence.”
The last point speaks to Mouneimne’s belief that Bosch shouldn’t be moved from flyhalf in defence as has been the case at the Sharks, where they have attempted to hide him on the wing when defending during games.
“I’d keep him at 10, from set piece you can give him cover at certain scrums or lineouts,” he explained. “If you hide him by moving him to the wing there are big (positional) nuances he has to learn there, now you have to teach him the nuances of defending on the wing.
“But the good news is everybody can be improved in defence.”