You’ll need it
The Springbok squad announcement had few surprises, but was informed by trust in injured and aging players, all eclipsed by the transformation furore
Heyneke Meyer’s 31-man Springbok rugby World Cup squad is a hotchpotch of questionable thinking. As predicted, the team falls short on transformation ideals and, from a purely rugby viewpoint, there are a number of questionable selections. The outcry over Meyer – in spite of some selections that smack of window dressing – failing to meet transformation targets is surprising, as the coach, like his predecessors, has at no time in his tenure met what might have been termed acceptable numbers.
The Mind Games column on September 7 last year, titled “Meyer’s story, in black and white”, questioned whether the coach fully understood the imperatives of the country he lived in and that he was picking a rod for his own back.
Caught between the unforgiving historical demand that the Springboks have to win matches, and feeling that he was judged on that basis, Meyer consistently opted for experience and established players.
Until recently, when the Springboks lost two matches on their tour to the UK last year, and all three in the Rugby Championship, Meyer had an impressive record.
However, the losses – and the intensified focus on rugby brought about by the impending World Cup – switched attention to the issue of racial transformation.
Having not made more of an effort since becoming the national coach in 2012, and also not helped by low numbers of black players in Super Rugby teams, Meyer’s squad that will bid to claim the Webb Ellis Cup for the third time was predictable.
He managed to find room for eight players of colour – the inimitable Bryan Habana, Zane Kirchner, Siya Kolisi, Tendai Mtawarira, Lwazi Mvovo, Trevor Nyakane, JP Pietersen and Rudy Paige.
Of these, Paige’s selection is the most obvious effort to balance the books, as he has not been given a chance in a single test match, even though he has been part of previous squads. Meyer has preferred Ruan Pienaar at scrum half with Cobus Reinach as the backup.
The race question dogging the Springboks has found impetus since former coach Peter de Villiers – who himself failed to meet the supposed goals – has been given a voice in the press.
De Villiers’ criticism has been harsh and he has been given support by the Transformation and Anti-racism Rugby Committee, a group whose constituency is unknown, but whose secretary and spokesperson is Asad Bhorat. A frequent racial agitator – the regional secretary of the Western Cape region of labour federation Cosatu, Tony Ehrenreich – is another member.
What is clear is that Meyer will be unable to meet the stipulations of the SA Rugby Union (Saru) that were set out in its Strategic Transformation Plan released in February this year.
It stated that it intends to increase black representation in the Springbok team to 50% by 2019 but added it would “engage with the national coach to increase black-player representation to 30% (seven players of colour in a match-day squad of 23). From the seven generic black players, two must be black African.”
What is clear is that Meyer will be unable to meet the stipulations of the SA Rugby Union set out in February