Isn’t it time for a trans­for­ma­tion ind­aba?

CityPress - - Sport - Simnikiwe Xabanisa sports@city­ Fol­low me on Twit­ter @Simx­a­ban­isa

akhenkesi Stofile, the late for­mer min­is­ter of sport, found him­self in a tight spot Ten years ago, when he had to give his bless­ing to a Spring­bok World Cup squad whose com­po­si­tion didn’t meet his ex­pec­ta­tions.

Sim­ply put, Stofile had is­sues with the num­ber of black play­ers in what would be­come South Africa’s sec­ond World Cup-win­ning squad.

But he nev­er­the­less gave his con­grat­u­la­tions to all the play­ers – be­grudg­ingly – “be­cause they didn’t pick them­selves”.

The same is­sue cropped up in 2011, but the sports min­is­ter by then, Fik­ile Mbalula, was so busy scream­ing “Moer hulle, Bokke!” at the team’s send-off that he didn’t get around to notic­ing that 2007 his­tory had just re­peated it­self.

Then, in 2015, a lit­tle-known po­lit­i­cal party thought it would put its name in lights by ap­proach­ing the Johannesburg High Court to seize the Bok play­ers’ pass­ports to pre­vent them from go­ing to the World Cup as they “didn’t rep­re­sent the whole coun­try”.

The point is, come 2019, you can set your clock to the fact that the same furore with pick up steam again.

The pow­ers that be will tell you it shouldn’t hap­pen again, hav­ing given cur­rent Spring­bok coach Al­lis­ter Coet­zee a man­date to de­liver a 50% black squad for the World Cup in Ja­pan.

But the ques­tion is: Where will Coet­zee find those play­ers if none of the Su­per Rugby or, in­deed, the Cur­rie Cup squads, have 50% black rep­re­sen­ta­tion in their squads?

In the first three rounds of Su­per Rugby, all but one of the South African fran­chises stead­fastly stuck to the al­low­able min­i­mum of 30% black rep­re­sen­ta­tion in their match­day squads of 23.

The Kings were the only team who went above that with nine (or al­most 40%) black play­ers in their team to play the Storm­ers yes­ter­day.

On the other end of the spec­trum, the Lions – who are re­peat of­fend­ers in the bare min­i­mum stakes – had five black play­ers in their whole squad, which changed to four once Howard Mnisi’s knee in­jury ruled him out for the rest of the sea­son.

Be­fore this be­comes a stats fest, I prob­a­bly need to echo Coet­zee’s sen­ti­ments this week by point­ing out that trans­for­ma­tion is about peo­ple and not num­bers.

The rea­son num­bers be­come an im­por­tant stick with which to beat rugby is be­cause there is a re­al­is­tic fear that some coaches wouldn’t even pick the 30% if it wasn’t the guide­line.

Take the Lions and the Sharks, for in­stance.

The Lions knew last year al­ready that there were grum­blings about the com­po­si­tion of their team, yet there are zero new black faces (Marvin Orie doesn’t count – he’s a Bulls prod­uct) pro­moted to the se­nior team.

The Sharks were no bet­ter. When look­ing for a full­back to re­place Spring­bok Wil­lie le Roux, they went to France and bought 34-year-old Clé­ment Poitre­naud, who, even when he was at the peak of his pow­ers, was flaky. Now he’s just slow and un­re­li­able.

When you have Cur­win Bosch, Rhyno Smith or even Garth April, why would you in­vest in an over­seas player past his best?

See­ing that this ap­proach is roughly the same as the one that had our teams play­ing ir­rec­on­cil­able rugby and had the kind of con­di­tion­ing that was detri­men­tal to the Boks, how about Coet­zee call­ing for a trans­for­ma­tion ind­aba?

It sounds dras­tic, I know, but we have to ad­mit that, based on the first few weeks of Su­per Rugby, we have wit­nessed a change in our six fran­chises, which came cour­tesy of ev­ery­one meet­ing un­der the same roof and dis­cussing the Bok coach’s wishes and ex­pec­ta­tions.

Pre­sum­ably, the Bok coach also has ex­pec­ta­tions re­gard­ing how Su­per Rugby sides can help him trans­form his team and, if that’s the case, he should meet with the coaches so that they can all thrash out a na­tional ap­proach on a sub­ject that keeps on be­ing treated like an af­ter­thought.

SA Rugby’s pol­i­cy­mak­ers, with their many ap­proaches to trans­for­ma­tion in the 25 years since “unity”, con­tinue to miss more than they hit.

So why don’t we leave the trans­for­ma­tion to the coaches – like we trusted them to sort out our play­ing style and con­di­tion­ing?

After all, it is they who are at the coal­face.

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