Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, former Argentina centre Marcelo Bosch talks about the value of picking foreign-based players, why the Springboks could be the All Blacks’ closest challengers and previews the return fixture in Mendoza.
The 34-year-old represented Los Pumas in 39 Tests between 2007 and 2015.
Sport24 asked: Your assessment of South Africa’s win over Argentina in Durban?
Marcelo Bosch: I was invited to the Sky Sports studios to analyse the match with my good friend and Saracens team-mate Schalk Burger. I felt the Springboks won the opening game in Durban, fair and square. The home team enjoyed more territory and possession and in the set-piece, most of all the scrum, they were better than Los Pumas. South Africa’s forwards were dominant and they played a huge role in the 34-21 victory. I agree with Mario Ledesma, who commented post-match that the Springboks are the “the most physical side in the world by far.” They won the physical exchanges and gained loads of yards. Credit to Argentina, who fought and capitalized on two occasions in the first half and took a 14-10 lead into the break. However, if you think about the opportunities both teams had and the way the game was played, South Africa were the more dominant side on the day.
Sport24 asked: Does Ledesma’s appointment point to a new era for Pumas rugby?
Marcelo Bosch: Yes, I hope so. It’s great that Mario has returned to play a part in Argentinian rugby as a coach. His return to the country as head coach of the Jaguares went well - they qualified for the Super Rugby playoffs for the first time in their history. It shows that Mario is very capable and surely one of the best coaches in Argentina. However, we all need to understand that going from Super Rugby to the national team is another level and a new step for him and the players. Even though last Saturday was a tough start for Los Pumas under the leadership of Ledesma, I believe he is the right man to coach the national team because of his experience and what he means to Argentinian rugby.
Sport24 asked: What did you make of South Africa’s centre pairing last Saturday?
Marcelo Bosch: I thought Andre Esterhuizen and Lukhanyo Am played really well. The pair’s selection shows that South Africa is starting to build depth in some positions because last year Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel were the starting midfield combination for the Springboks. Esterhuizen, a surname I find hard to pronounce, was very good against Argentina and is a highly physical and direct player. Am, meanwhile, also played a really good game. He defended well (at times a criticism of the Sharks outside centre) and scored a try. It shows that there is competition for places in the centre for South Africa, which is positive for the national team... The thing about centre play in the modern game is that the physicality they present is enormous. Players are becoming bigger and stronger and, as consequence, the collisions are getting more intense. Centre is a tough position in the sense that you are tackling players and they are running at you with plenty of speed. The collisions are pretty hard and, even if you are a strong man, if you play every week at that level of contact and physicality, injuries will occur because we are human beings and not machines. It’s really important how teams and coaches manage player load because of all the hard work and physicality centres have to bring to the game. (Bosch underwent surgery on both his shoulders this summer and is completing his rehabilitation, with a view to return to the training field in October).
Sport24 asked: Would you like to add to your 39 Test caps for the national team?
Marcelo Bosch: Yes, of course. You always miss playing for your country, but in the beginning it was tougher than it is now. It has been three years since I last played for Los Pumas. You always want to wear the jersey one more time, but I don’t see myself playing for Argentina again because it’s been a few years now and at my age - 34 - it is what it is. There are, however, some European-based players who have come back into the team. The likes of Juan Figallo and Facundo Bosch have been recalled and, on the face of it, it seems like the policy of picking overseas-based players is starting to open up. However, I don’t know if the coaches have the freedom to select any player they want. It seems that some exceptions have been made because the coach felt that Los Pumas needed more depth in the front row because they were lacking experience in that area. I think what happens is that the coach presents the list of European-based players he wants to call up to the board, they will analyse it and decide whether or not it’s a fair request. At the moment, there is a grey area in terms of Argentina’s selection policy and I don’t know where it’s going... I’m in favour of not having a cap on the number of overseas-based players that can be selected. The influx of European-based players would lift the level of the team and provide competition for places. I’m not saying that if Argentina suddenly call on more players from Europe, they will start to win every game. However, players with experiences from different leagues would bring a renewed energy and sense of freshness. The fear from the board is that if they pick an unlimited number of foreign-based players, young Argentinians will leave in their droves to play in Europe. However, for me, you need your best players playing for the national team and selecting players from Europe for Argentina would strengthen not weaken us.
Sport24 asked: How would you sum up the five years you have spent at Saracens?
Marcelo Bosch: Having spent seven years playing in France, it was great for me to experience a new club, country and championship. Saracens is a special club and my time so far has been fantastic. The club treats the players really well and takes care of the family as much as they can. The past five years that I have been involved at the club have been really successful and the experience is very positive in every sense because I continue learning and improving as a rugby player. As a collective, we always try to improve and be the best team we can be. We finished last season very well in the Premiership and it was a positive trend in the last six weeks, but we want to do better in the European Cup. We want to start our season like we ended it, with good momentum. Individually, I have to get fit again and then come back and play. I will hopefully perform and earn some minutes.
Sport24 asked: Do you see New Zealand clinching a third successive Championship?
Marcelo Bosch: The All Blacks were really good against Australia in Sydney and it’s hard not to think they won’t win the Rugby Championship again. The All Blacks have shown for years and years why they are the best team and there is no reason they won’t make it again. However, the competition is still young and we will see what happens. I think South Africa, in terms of what they showed in June and against Argentina, can prove their closest rivals. I believe South Africa can be stronger than Australia against New Zealand. Under a new coach and captain, the Springboks have returned to their traditional strengths and they are playing with loads of physicality in the forwards. It seems that they are building in the forwards before sending the ball to the backs. The Springbok pack of forwards were unbelievable against Los Pumas and the level that Eben Etzebeth played at, in his first game back after nine months out, was outstanding. In the backline, South Africa have very good players in key positions. Faf de Klerk is an unbelievable player. He has great vision, can introduce pace to the game and his kicking has improved by playing in the UK. Another European-based player that has returned to the Springbok fold this season, Willie le Roux, has been awesome to watch. The Boks are bringing their physicality, kicking game and defence as before, but they have some players that are introducing flair to the game as well. It’s a pleasure to watch and I am quite excited to see what happens between South Africa and New Zealand when they clash in September and October.
Sport24 asked: Your outlook ahead of the reverse fixture in Mendoza on Saturday?
Marcelo Bosch: I was part of the Pumas side that drew 16-16 with the Springboks in Mendoza in 2012. Historically, Argentina play better in the second Rugby Championship match against South Africa because we know what we have to improve. It also helps always having a big crowd supporting us. There is an increased level of confidence from Los Pumas when they play at home because the players know that they have produced good games in Argentina over the last few years. Looking ahead to Saturday’s Test, the team is confident that they can be competitive again and why shouldn’t they believe that they can beat South Africa? Los Pumas are capable of doing good things with ball in hand and, in terms of Mario’s team talk ahead of the 28th Test match between the two teams, I imagine him encouraging his players to have more ball possession. However, that comes about through a strong set-piece. You need good quality ball from scrums and line-outs in order to attack. That didn’t work well for Argentina in the last game and I’m sure they are working on their set-piece play in order to generate good quality ball. Argentina are at their most dangerous when they are in possession of the ball, go through the phases and find space in the opposition defence. In Mendoza, the Pumas will try to play more with ball in hand, but in the right parts of the field. I hope we can expect a tougher test for South Africa in Mendoza. I’m keen to see a better set-piece showing from Argentina and them being more dangerous on attack. If the Pumas produce a strong set-piece display and they get the better of the Springboks at the breakdown, which will be a crucial area of the game, it can be a different story this Saturday and a closer outcome on the scoreboard.