Allister Coetzee could select 10 players of colour, on merit, to start for the Springboks against Ireland, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.
Many questioned my view in last week’s column that the Springboks can transform and win.
The stereotype still persists – if my inbox is the measure – that black weakens a team and many challenged me to name the eight or nine black players I said were good enough to start the first Test against Ireland next month.
Springbok coach Allister Coetzee can put down a marker in that first Test to kill off talk of quotas and of inferiority if he backs Super Rugby form and rewards local-based players to win the first of three Tests.
Coetzee is unlikely to select players just from Super Rugby for the opening Test of his tenure but ideally I’d love to see him integrate the European-based candidates for Tests two and three and (for the series opener) go strictly with those who are building to a peak in Super Rugby and don’t arrive exhausted from the demands of a European season.
There’s enough talent in South Africa to pick a local-based side to beat Ireland and the next week pick 15 overseas-based players to seal the series.
It won’t happen but to illustrate why there should not be any talk of black-player handouts in Coetzee’s first Test team the form of black players in this year’s Super Rugby warrants selection simply because they are the outstanding players in their respective positions.
It is an insult to suggest any of the players I will mention are in any way advantaged because they are black. The mindset has to change and the only way to change it is to actually give them a chance to beat Ireland.
Cheslin Kolbe, JP Pietersen and Lwazi Mvovo would be my back three. My midfield would be Lionel Mapoe at outside centre and Damian de Allende at inside centre.
De Allende has not matched his form of 2015 but he is the physical presence South Africa needs at No 12. If not De Allende, then definitely Frans Steyn and hopefully we will see both used in the three-Test series.
Elton Jantjies deserves to play all three Tests and be given the comfort that he isn’t playing for his position over 80 minutes. It is disgraceful that five years after his first Bok tour he has played just 51 minutes (five against Australia and 46 against the All Blacks).
Rudy Paige would be my starting No 9 with Lions halfback Faf de Klerk in the match 23.
Siya Kolisi must be entrusted with a start on the flank and I’d pick an all-black front row to start. That’s four black players in the pack and six in the backs for 10 out of 15 – all there because they are good enough.
What a delight it would be if a national coach actually trusted in form and made a statement that black is good enough.
It would end any talk that the next four years represents politics more than rugby for the Springboks.
The experience of Bismarck du Plessis, by way of one example, can be phased into the Test series. Du Plessis is South Africa’s best hooker but he is at the end of a demanding campaign with Montpellier.
I doubt Coetzee will be as bold or emphatic in his selections and expect to see more old hands than newbies in his first Test XV.
It doesn’t mean I can’t dream, hope or do a rain dance for a Bok coach to finally break the shackles of conservatism in selection.
What a statement it would make for the future of Springbok rugby and for Coetzee’s tenure if from the outset every black player was viewed as being there because of the quality of his play and not because of perceived political interference or an enforced national selection policy of merit with bias – which insults any black player selected and is as distasteful as it is simply wrong.
It isn’t going to happen. Coetzee won’t select 10 black players in his starting XV, but it isn’t because there aren’t two handfuls good enough.
There have been huge strides in this year’s Super Rugby in black player representation but not nearly enough.
The Lions' lack of black representation is unacceptable and equally is the lack of noise from the SA Rugby leadership.
No region should be lacking in black player numbers. SA Rugby, if transformation is the non-negotiable it should be, should be ensuring the spread of black-player talent across all six regions.
Transformation in 2016 should represent the good in our rugby but for too many it is still an evil.
Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP Photo