Quota demands are unrealistic

The government should be investing in the development of black players rather than making quota demands that South African rugby sides cannot possibly meet, writes JON CARDINELLI.

The Boks will play the Wallabies in Cape Town next Saturday, and the All Blacks in Johannesburg the week thereafter. If the proposed quotas were to be enforced right now, South Africa has the players to field a team that is 50% white, 30% ethnic black African and 20% coloured.

However, what South African rugby does not have at present are the resources to field a team that is both reflective of the country's demographics and capable of beating the best Test sides on the planet. Indeed, there's a big difference between meeting a racial quota, and fielding a truly transformed team.

Unfortunately, too few people are willing to talk about real transformation in this country. Too many are concerned with quick fixes and perpetuating the lie that the system is working.

Too few are willing to admit that the national side is currently not reflective of the South African population because the teams at the lower levels have battled to develop the necessary player base. The feeding system to the senior level is also fundamentally flawed, and too many talented players fall through the cracks.

Too often it's the national coach who takes the blame for something that's not within his control. Jake White, Peter de Villiers and Heyneke Meyer have all been criticised for a perceived unwillingness to transform the national team. The reality is that every one of those coaches has done the best with what they had. The pool of experienced top-flight black players in this country is smaller than most are willing to believe.

I wrote a column before the start of the 2014 season highlighting the slow rate of transformation at Super Rugby level. An analysis of the five teams competing between 2009 and 2013 confirms that few black players have received opportunities.

A total of 79 players featured, 54 of them backs and a mere 25 of them forwards. Further inspection reveals that even fewer were backed in starting positions. If that's the case, how could the Bok coach be expected to stack the national side with players of colour?

The Sharks and the Stormers have given a number of black players opportunities over the course of the 2014 season, and have thus provided Meyer with a few more options. All eight teams in the Currie Cup Premier Division have made an effort to include more players of colour in their lineups.

But the situation will not change overnight.

At a coaches symposium earlier this year, Rassie Erasmus spoke about a new player tracking system that may boost transformation in the long term. Saru's high-performance manager was confident that the system would help to identify any technical weaknesses and address other problems such as poor nutrition before young players reached the senior level.

Ultimately, it's hoped that fewer players, black players in particular, slip through the cracks in the future. The idea is sound in theory. A naturally gifted player from a disadvantaged area will receive the assistance that allows him to make the step-up.

But there are no guarantees. Will an experimental system implemented in 2014 ensure that South Africa fields a genuinely transformed team at the 2019 World Cup, when the proposed quotas are expected to be enforced? It may take longer than five years to see any benefits from that system.

There is pressure on Meyer to pick more black players in this year's Rugby Championship. There will be pressure on him to pick more black players for next year's World Cup squad. In 2019, there will be pressure on the Bok coach to meet some steep quota demands.

I doubt that he will, considering that in 2014 there isn't a union in South Africa that boasts a team that is 50% white, 30% black African and 20% coloured.

That may change over the next couple of years, with a few teams reaching the target every now and then. Consistency, however, will be impossible.

As the stats from the past five years confirm, there aren't enough black players progressing to the senior level and playing meaningful roles in Super Rugby. What if the few who are, sustain serious injuries? That will seriously compromise a team’s ability to meet the requirement on a regular basis.

It's easy to talk about targets for 2015 and 2019, but there needs to be a realistic plan for meeting those targets. The plan also needs to be geared towards real transformation. The ultimate goal should be selecting a side on merit that's also more reflective of the country's demographics.

It’s also easy to take aim at the Bok coach and blame him for the problem. But until more time and money is invested in the development of young black players, and until more black players are competing at Super Rugby level, the blame for the slow rate of transformation cannot be laid at Meyer’s door.

Saru's Strategic Transformation Plan

Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix

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