Transformation has to be embraced and discussed on a daily basis and not just in the lead-up to a World Cup squad announcement, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Heyneke Meyer has included eight players of colour in his 31-man World Cup squad. Right now, many fans and stakeholders will be wondering what that says about the state of South African rugby some two decades after unification.
At the unveiling of the squad in Umhlanga on Friday, Saru vice-president Mark Alexander declared himself satisfied with the demographic make-up of the World Cup group. Alexander said he was content with the rate of transformation in South African rugby. He confirmed that the South African government felt the same way.
On Saturday, minister of sport and recreation Fikile Mbalula took to social media to explain his support for the Boks and Meyer’s selections. Mbalula said that transformation will take time, and that we shouldn’t expect change overnight.
Inadvertently, Alexander and Mbalula have confirmed that the system responsible for identifying and developing black talent at the lower levels has let the national side down. Of course, this has been happening for years. Whether the national coach has been black or white, he has struggled to pick enough black players on merit. He has been let down by the system on a consistent basis.
This will always be the case unless something is done to help more black players transition from junior to senior rugby. This will always be the case unless the group of black players currently competing at Vodacom Super Rugby level is increased substantially.
Much was said about the demographics of Jake White’s World Cup squad in 2007, about Peter de Villiers’s squad in 2011 and, most recently, about Meyer’s squad in 2015. In the past, and indeed over the past few weeks, too much pressure has been placed on the national coach to right the wrongs of the South African system as a whole.
That pressure needs to shift to coaches and administrators at provincial and Super Rugby levels. It’s going to take a complete buy-in from the franchises and provinces for Saru and the Boks to realise their lofty transformation goals over the next four years. More should be done to ensure black players not only receive a chance, but are developed to the point where they can add value on the Test stage.
The transformation conversation should be a daily conversation at each and every union. It shouldn’t be a subject that is discussed once every four years before the Boks travel to a World Cup.
It should be seen as something positive that will eventually benefit South African rugby. Increase the black player base at provincial and Super Rugby levels, and national targets will become easier to meet. Ultimately, the national coach will have more quality players, black and white, from which to choose, and South African and Springbok rugby will become stronger.
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