Steve Hansen insisted in mid-2017 that the Springboks would be strong enough opposition for the All Blacks if they picked their best team.
The All Blacks coach made the comment during an interview with Peter Bills for his recently published book, The Jersey: The Secrets Behind the World’s Most Successful Team. The chapter in question focused on the demise of the All Blacks’ southern-hemisphere rivals, South Africa and Australia, and the effect it could have on New Zealand rugby.
‘They are the only team in sport I know that doesn’t pick its best team,’ said Hansen of the Springboks. ‘I understand what they are trying to do but … Nelson Mandela understood it better than anyone else. He knew that the Springboks was a team that could unite the nation. I still believe it is. If they got things right and allowed it to develop naturally, it would. And you would get the right people in the team. In the end, it would be a multi-cultural team.
‘Rugby wasn’t a black man’s sport, but it was the sport that would unify the country in a way that no other sport or business could. Now I think that unity isn’t there so much. As a nation, it has got such a lively history and it has created a whole lot of things we will never understand, because we were never part of it.
‘There is a lot of ill-feeling. But the thing they don’t want to fall into is actually reversing that. That is a pretty political statement but when you look at the rugby, one of my great mates, Heyneke Meyer, found out that having to select a team based on what colour a man’s skin is, goes against all the principles and spirit of sport. What it does is create a situation where 1) you are not picking the best team and 2) the guys that get picked are thinking, “Am I here because of the reasons of quota or because I am good enough?”’
In the same chapter, former All Blacks coach Graham Henry, who was also interviewed for the book in mid-2017, said South Africa had ‘major issues’.
‘It’s not likely they are going to be a serious presence on the world stage again,’ he added. ‘A huge number of players have moved away from South Africa and are playing for other nations or in other countries. Too many South African taxpayers are leaving and this is dissipating the strength of sport there, especially rugby.’