Remember back when SARU announced, Allister Coetzee, as the man to take the Springboks headlong into the “Rainbow Nation”? The former Western Province boss was quick to call the transformational quotas imposed on him by SARU, and inadvertently the government, as an exciting challenge rather than an unfair burden. But after three games, with untold pressure on his shoulders to win, Coetzee, quite sneakily, has changed his focus to winning and rather put any progress of transformation on hold, especially when it became apparent that it cannot work, at least not with the current “2019 plan” in place
It might be argued by some, that transformation is a necessary requirement for South African rugby, since SA rugby will ultimately have a much larger pool of talent to tap into. However, top-down transformation, as it is currently being implemented, is as effective as sticking a plaster on your forehead after breaking both your legs; it is designed to fix a problem, but it is way off the mark and far too ineffectual.This idea of quotas and hard numerical guidelines the Springbok coach has to meet is a farce, and it is SARU who should be blamed – the pool of selectable “quota” players Coetzee has at his disposal is shockingly shallow.
Coetzee Caught In A Catch-22
When the final whistle was blown against the Irish in Port Elizabeth, Coetzee had one black African on the field, and that was Bongi Mbonambi who was given 90 seconds in what must have been a sentimental move to give the guy his first cap after warming the bench for the whole series.
Coetzee could hardly go on ignoring Ruan Combrinck anymore, or Jaco Kriel for that matter. Warren Whiteley is the form number eight and was also included on merit, along with teammate Franco Mostert, in the same way Elton Jantjies was included in the squad.
The issue for Coetzee is that he is caught up in a catch-22 situation. He undoubtedly would want to please his employers at SARU, and meet his transformation targets, but at the same time he wants to reward form and it just so happens that some of the hottest form players at the moment are caucasian. And this is where the crux of the matter is: there will often be more form white players because there are more white players for the coach to choose from in Super Rugby.
Trawling through the Super Rugby squads and dividing the players by whether they are white, or players of colour brought up some interesting numbers. It was only worth looking at Super Rugby, because to be fair, that is where the potential Springboks are playing. In the tally, players were only counted who have had game time, or those who would have had, were they not injured – such as Handre Pollard.
Examining Current Pool Of Players – 2019 Setup To Fail
The numbers do not look good… Out of 200 or so active, Super Rugby players, 145 of them are white and 55 of them are players of colour. That is Coetzee’s pool to choose from – 55 players!
While he has not got the 50 percent quota enforced on him just yet, if that quota is his goal, he is in real trouble. If he were to choose a squad of say 40 players for a World Cup squad today, 20 out of those 55 players of colour would have to be good enough to represent the Boks.
Sadly that is just not viable, there are going to be players in that group of 55 who are just not Bok material. If we look at ratios again, a squad of 40 out of 200 would be the cream of the crop, so that is 20 percent. So, 20 percent of 55 leaves Coetzee with 11 players of colour who are good enough for the Boks – almost exactly 50 percent. Heaven forbid there is a single injury on match day!
It is quite clear from these numbers that if Coetzee chooses players who are performing at Super Rugby for his Bok team, he is going to get a lot more white players in his net. It actually adds far more pressure on players of colour because every single one of them would have to be outplaying everyone around them to feel they have been chosen on merit.
With these numbers and facts now apparent, it really shines through how little research, if any, had been implemented by our dear rugby administrators, regarding the 2019 quota enforcements.
The top level of South African rugby has enough pressure on it to simply win and to be a powerhouse of the game. There is no room for the government to implement its policies in this powder-keg of pressure and expectation, of which winning, and pursuing excellence, seems to be the very last item on the agenda.
A More Effective Approach
The reality is transformation in South African rugby is here to stay and is not going anywhere in the near future, so we might aswell have a look of what should have been done.
A far more effective, and necessary, use of the government’s intervention would be at the grassroots of the sport. Take rugby to the schools, take it to the areas where rugby has never been heard of before, allow youngsters to pick up a rugby ball and start their path to being a Springbok at age 8, as common logic suggest; this will lead to a flood of players of colour into high schools, into semi-professional clubs, into the Currie Cup and then into Super Rugby, all based on merit, which is all we are really asking for at the end of the day!
Once Super Rugby is at least 50 percent full of players of colour, who are there on merit and not only to make up numbers, only then there will be a fair shot at the Springboks being properly, and well and truly, transformed.