The Great South African Rugby Headache

Heyneke Meyer has been feeling the heat of late.  Meyer has presided over a tumultuous time in Springbok rugby where the side suffered four straight defeats against different opponents and went some nine months without a Test victory.  The former Bulls boss has struggled on the transformation front to boot and for South Africa’s maiden defeat to Argentina fielded a starting XV with just three non-white faces.  Two of those players are coloureds and the other originally hails from Zimbabwe so the harsh reality is that there was not one “black South African” in the side.

Meyer said in a press conference last week that he does not see colour.  Upon taking the job the 47-year old also said he wanted the country to be proud of the Boks.  Unfortunately for the coach the evidence suggests he has failed on both fronts.  Four consecutive losses, two in which defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory and one in which it appeared there wasn’t a player in a green jersey with a heart beat, is not going to make anyone proud.  Then when nearly 80% of the country’s population looks at the team singing the national anthem they could be forgiven for wondering if it is indeed their country being represented.

Now it is Meyer and the selectors’ prerogative to pick the team they deem best suited to win.  That said South Africa has a chequered past and the unique nature of the country’s society demands that those selecting the squad have to carefully consider their choices.  The reactionary view has traditionally been that promoting black players too early would curtail their own progress as well as stifle the strength of the team.

I consider that a weak argument.  Why on earth would the powers-that-be only pick from about 10% of the country’s population and satisfy themselves with perennial second-best status behind the All Blacks, when they could tap into 100% of the population and almost certainly dominate?  This is a scenario New Zealand must love.  They only have to play against a tenth of what the South Africans have to offer.

Tendai Mtawarira, Scarra Ntubeni and Trevor Nyakane would form a formidable front row.  Siya Kolisi, Teboho Mohoje and Nizaam Carr are a talented loose trio in anyone’s book.  The creative juices of Elton Jantjies have hitherto largely been overlooked by the safety-first traditions of South African rugby.  Damian De Allende has shown enough to suggest the inside centre position in Springbok rugby is secure for many years to come and could easily partner with Lionel Mapoe.  Lwazi Mvovo and Cornall Hendricks or Bryan Habana could be your wings and that ladies and gentlemen is a Bok starting XV featuring 11 non-white players and I invite you to point out where and how it is so weak that it would struggle to win matches against the best.

As you can see, it is quite easy if you try.  And therein lies the problem.  While it is obvious that Meyer is blindly loyal to the players who he trusts, there is also no real commitment from SARU.  Yes there is a road map to achieving certain transformation targets but just this past season we saw the Bulls field a starting XV in Super Rugby that had just one player of colour in it.  I am afraid the only word one can use here is pathetic.

Sadly it would appear that unless something more absolute takes place ie institutionalising quotas, nothing is going to change.  And until something changes ie we start using all of our people rather than only those who come from certain backgrounds, then we will always be second-best.  Or fifth-best if you believe the latest World Rugby rankings.