Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, former Pumas centre MARCELO BOSCH talks about the healthy state of Springbok rugby, what makes Schalk Brits such a special team-mate and the Loftus Test on Saturday.
Sport24 asked: Your assessment of South Africa’s Rugby Championship triumph?
Marcelo Bosch: The Springboks produced very good performances and truly deserved to win the Rugby Championship. They started really well against Australia, played well to draw with New Zealand and their performance against Argentina away from home was impressive. South Africa pride themselves on their physicality and we know that the Springboks always want to impose themselves in terms of the physical side of the game. However, over and above their physicality, their defence was superb. The way they got off the line, managed the collisions and made decisions around the breakdown was impressive. Their set-piece play was very solid and most of all their scrums and driven line-outs were effective. The Springboks are producing very complete rugby and I really like the way in which they are playing. For this side, it’s not only about being direct and physical. They have very good players on the outside who can create something out of nothing. Handré Pollard, who contributed 31 points against Los Pumas, is enjoying a very good moment. They have scrumhalves and a pair of centres that are playing really well and a fullback that is unpredictable. I observe a Springbok team that has developed plenty of depth and you can see that the players are enjoying themselves and playing for each other. I’m pleased for South African rugby and I see them in a good place heading into the Rugby World Cup which begins in Japan next month.
Sport24 asked: What do you make of the De Allende-Am first-choice centre pairing?
Marcelo Bosch: Damian de Allende is a quality player. He is very strong and physical, but he possesses good skills as well and has soft hands. His partnership with Lukhanyo Am has worked very well in the last three Tests. It is not only from an attacking point of view, but defensively they were both very solid. I like them as a midfield combination. They have got experience playing with each other and they are also functioning really well with flyhalf Pollard. I see South Africa have made 12 changes to their side for the Test on Saturday, with Andre Esterhuizen and Jesse Kriel starting in the centres. They are both very good players as well and it seems as though South Africa have developed strength in depth in positions. It means Rassie Erasmus can try different combinations which is great.
Sport24 asked: Your take on Schalk Brits starting for and captaining his country?
Marcelo Bosch: It’s awesome that Schalk will be playing for and captaining the Springboks against Los Pumas in Pretoria on Saturday. It’s an amazing accomplishment for him and he has enjoyed a superb career. I sent him a text message with my best wishes to say that I am very happy for him and that he deserves it. It’s great that he has an opportunity to play for South Africa again. To still be playing for your country at the age of 38 is a huge achievement. To those who say Schalk is too old for Test rugby, I believe that as long as you are still performing on the pitch it doesn’t matter how old you are. When you reach your late-30s you perhaps lose a bit of speed and reaction time, but if you are still physically up to it, which Schalk is, then the experience you can offer as a senior player is invaluable. If you are still performing and playing really well, as Schalk is doing, why wouldn’t you be selected to play for your national team? I don’t see any reason not to pick him because he knows the game and physically and mentally he is still in very good shape. Erasmus knows what Schalk can bring to the team in the sense of his experience and leadership and, as a hooker, he brings a good scrum set-piece and throwing in the lineouts. In terms of adding value off the field, Schalk was very influential during my time at Saracens. As a person he has plenty of charisma, is very positive and he energises his teammates because he loves playing rugby. It was always a pleasure to play with him.
Sport24 asked: What do you make of the mass changes for both sides for Loftus?
Marcelo Bosch: With this game effectively serving as a friendly, after the Springboks clinched the Rugby Championship last weekend, both coaches want to give game time to other players and also allow their first-team time to recover. In the heads of the coaches, their 31-man World Cup squad lists are basically decided and they don’t want any key players to get injured. It allows Erasmus and Mario Ledesma to test other combinations and assess their depth which is logical. Lucas Mensa and Jeronimo de la Fuente will start in the midfield for Los Pumas who have made 11 changes to their starting line-up. De la Fuente captained the Jaguares during Super Rugby and he is a regular for Argentina, so we know how he plays. Meanwhile, Mensa is uncapped and, to be honest, I don’t know too much about the 23-year-old inside centre. I was a bit surprised that the team didn’t take Matias Moroni and Matias Orlando to South Africa. Their absence presents an opportunity for Mensa and we will see how he and his teammates fare on Saturday. I hope that Argentina perform better in Pretoria than they did in Salta. I know that this game is no longer for the Rugby Championship, but it is still a Test match and you want to play serious rugby. If the weather conditions are good, I feel like we will see a game where both teams want to keep the ball in hand. If Argentina can improve their scrummaging performance, hopefully we can have a more competitive contest than last Saturday, which was definitely Los Pumas’ worst game of the Rugby Championship. Going into a World Cup you need to have a strong set-piece and it will be front of mind for Ledesma.
Sport24 asked: How do you see the World Cup picture playing out from next month?
Marcelo Bosch: Four years ago, the All Blacks were leading the pack and everyone else was trying to catch them. Now you have a number of very good teams arriving to challenge at the World Cup. From the south, it’s not only South Africa, but Australia as well. You can never underestimate the Wallabies at World Cups as they always compete and perform. When they played against the All Blacks last weekend, they showed another level of performance and what they are capable of. When they play like that they can prove really dangerous. In the north, Wales are Six Nations champions and I see England as a favourite. Meanwhile, Ireland beat New Zealand last year and are in good hands. As such, I see loads of teams arriving at the World Cup in really good shape. In terms of Argentina, after the Jaguares reached the Super Rugby final I could see the national team doing well at the World Cup but, after a disappointing performance last weekend (which saw them finish as wooden-spoonists) I am not sure what to expect from them and still don’t know where they are at.
Sport24 asked: Your reply to those who feel the Jaguares have an unfair advantage?
Marcelo Bosch: When the Jaguares entered Super Rugby as part of the 2016 expansion, alongside Japan’s Sunwolves and the Kings from South Africa, it would have been very hard to believe that they would reach a final within four years. It’s true that most of the Jaguares players are part of the national team, but nobody complained when they weren’t performing well and failed to reach the play-offs. Phil Kearns, who said, “This is a provincial competition. Have a provincial team in it – that’s what it's about. It's not about having national teams being in it” and other critics are entitled to their opinions, however, it was only when the Jaguares were doing well that you heard those comments.