- Former Los Pumas inside centre Marcelo Bosch, who played 39 Tests for his country from 2007 to 2015, defends South Africa’s style of play and explains why they are so effective.
- The ex-Saracens midfielder runs the rule over the centre combination of Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am and talks about what aspects of their play has impressed him.
- The man who spent 14 years living and playing rugby in Europe, also selects the top three players he had the privilege of playing with and shares which South African makes the cut.
Sport24 asked: How would you assess the recent Springbok performances?
Marcelo Bosch: For me, South Africa’s performances have been impressive. I watched them during the three-Test series against the British & Irish Lions and fair play to them for winning it because they were very tough and physical games. It seems to me that the Springboks have plenty of depth in their squad nowadays. I would say that they are covered in every position and they have a strong bench. I was impressed with how they dealt with the two Test matches against Los Pumas. They made a few changes for the first Test and the players who were involved performed really well. It’s clear that everyone in the Springbok group knows the game plan and how they want to play the game. The Springboks really want to stress and suffocate the opponent through their very aggressive defence with good line speed. They also have a solid kicking game, a strong set-piece and an unbelievable driving maul. The Springboks are very strong nowadays and deserve to be number one.
Sport24 asked: Is it unfair to say the Springbok playing style is killing the game?
Marcelo Bosch: People have opinions about everything, but I think it’s unfair to say that. Some have suggested the Boks are boring and others have gone as far as to say they are killing the game, but I don’t share those views. South Africa are champions of the world, the top-ranked team and are continually proving it - by winning the series against the British & Irish Lions or starting strongly in the 2021 Rugby Championship. I believe teams have to play according to their strengths. If people don’t like the way you play, it’s their concept of rugby. South Africa are aiming to win and be the best team they can possibly be. Some teams will feel that the best way to win a game is in a different way to South Africa and that’s okay. However for South Africa nowadays, they are playing this brand of rugby. We saw a lot of kicking and not producing much with ball in hand against Argentina, but at the World Cup I saw the Boks doing great things with ball in hand. The two tries they scored against England in the final were exceptional. Of course critics can say that they recovered the ball and scored from turnovers, but they are still creating those opportunities. The Springboks are employing their current tactics with a purpose and they know that they will reap the rewards by applying pressure on their opponents. They are aware that after playing at that level of intensity for 50-60 minutes, the opposition will get tired because it’s difficult to repel those waves of constant pressure.
Sport24 asked: Do you see similarities between Saracens and the Springboks?
Marcelo Bosch: In some ways I see their brand of rugby related to how we played at Saracens. When the weather was nice, I wouldn’t say that we produced a better brand of rugby than the Springboks, but we played a bit more with ball in hand. I think South Africa have the potential to produce something on attack, but they have clarity in the sense of what they want to do. Their strategy is about putting pressure on the other side and playing for territory as well. You don’t see the Springboks risking an opportunity and they just want to play very safe and to their strengths. At Saracens, sometimes we used to play ball in hand, but in terms of the defence and kicking game, I see a lot of similarities with the Springboks. We protected the No9s so that we were effective with our kicking game. Like we did, the Springbok players work a lot off the ball to give protection when you go up to compete in the air. I’m not in the Springbok camp so I don’t know the conversations in the depths of the team, but at Saracens we prided ourselves on our defence, set-piece and kicking game. We built from there and, if we were strong in those areas, it gave us confidence and freedom to start to play our brand of rugby with ball in hand. It seems with South Africa, it’s much the same.
Sport24 asked: Will the Australasian sides ask different questions of the Boks?
Marcelo Bosch: I believe Australia and New Zealand will try to ask more questions of the Springbok defence. I see South Africa still being very strong against Australia despite what the latter are going to bring on attack. I can’t wait to see the Springboks play against the All Blacks because I consider the former the best team without the ball and the latter are special with ball in hand. The Australasian teams will try to manipulate South Africa’s defence, but it’s very difficult because the Boks are constantly coming off the line. Despite not having the ball in hand, the Boks are setting the terms and are aggressive. You need to make the Boks go backwards, but it’s tough because they are very disciplined and solid in the contact. They know when to counter-ruck and when to put more numbers on feet to have more players available for better spacing. The South Africans make good decisions and know when to go to the ball and when to tackle hard and slow down the opposition attack so they can’t put speed on the ball. It’s tough to play against a constantly suffocating defence.
Sport24 asked: Your assessment of the De Allende-Am centre partnership?
Marcelo Bosch: I love South Africa’s current midfield combination. I think they make a great partnership and they both played amazingly at the 2019 World Cup. Since then, you can see they have even more confidence in each other and among the team. I see them do stuff which might not be out of the box but they consistently do the right things at the right time. For the brand of rugby that South Africa play, the pair are very solid at what they do. I think Lukhanyo Am has something else as well to his game. I loved his pass to Makazole Mapimpi in the World Cup final against England. The way he recovered the chip kick and gave the pass to Mapimpi showed me that he possesses a broad skill-set and not only the physicality he displays week-in and week-out. In terms of Damian de Allende, he is getting stronger and stronger each Test match. Against the British & Irish Lions I noticed that De Allende often wanted the ball in his hands to carry the team forward or cross the gain-line. He loves to do that and, for the brand of rugby South Africa play, he is very important.
Sport24 asked: Who were the three most talented players you played with?
Marcelo Bosch: Even though I only played for two teams in Europe – Biarritz and Saracens – I was fortunate to have played with some very talented players. However, two stand out for me. Dimitri Yachvili and Schalk Brits were something else. Those two made me feel different when I played in the same team as them. Yachvili’s left foot was special and his leadership in the team set him apart. He had an eye over the whole field and knew where the space was to kick the ball into. In terms of Schalk, he had time on the ball and a great knowledge of the game. He was also capable of playing any style of rugby. He could play direct and be aggressive on defence, but was also deadly with ball in hand. He was an incredible player and could do everything. In terms of Argentina, during his best playing days I would say Juan Martin Hernandez. Nicknamed The Magician, he was something else.
Sport24 asked: What’s been keeping you busy since hanging up your boots?
Marcelo Bosch: After leaving Saracens and retiring from professional rugby, I stayed in the UK for another year and worked for a company. It was good because it gave me experience in the corporate world. But then I moved back with my family to Argentina after 14 years in Europe. Nowadays, I’m writing a book with a friend of mine. The book will be about my life in rugby, but will not only tell about the good days. I will speak of the challenges as well such as the doubts and injuries I had. I think readers will enjoy learning more about what professional rugby abroad is like for an Argentinian player. I have also linked up with a mental coach who will offer some input in print as well. Hopefully the book will be released next year. I’m also working as rugby analyst every Sunday for an Argentinian TV station and am assisting with some coaching at my former amateur rugby club.