Transformation, that old “enemy of rugby”, has been roused from its hibernation. Last week Minister Fikile Mbalula announced after a meeting with provincial sports MECs that transformation targets had been moved to 60% black players for South African national teams. This was in response to an identified “lack of willingness in implementing transformation”, and follows a recent damning report about the state of transformation in South African sport.

Mbalula said these quotas would come into effect immediately, but it is still unclear how this will be implemented. Naturally, many white supporters, administrators and coaches who were hoping transformation’s state of slumber was permanent are now jumping up and down and crying foul.

It’s a pity the issue of player development in South African rugby is so locked up in these discussions of transformnation, but that is the legacy of our apartheid past.

Many think, understandably so, that transformation is a numbers game, and it’s easy to deduce this as we measure transformation by numbers. But, transformation is a game of trust.

I recently had a conversation with the Sharks’ director of rugby, Jake White, and the one word that kept coming up was “trust”.

White places great emphasis on the trust between the players and coaching staff. The Sharks coach is, in my view, a proponent of how we should view transformation not only in rugby but in all other of the country’s representative sports.

White believes in empowering players, and he has proved this time and again by backing players to play in unfamiliar roles. His decision to play Bryan Habana on the wing for the Springboks, when he had only a few caps at centre for the Lions, is a case in point.

There is no shortage of black players in the junior stages of South African rugby; many are leaders in their positions. Our junior teams sometimes have more black players on the field than white players.

However, somehow in the ascendency towards professional rugby, black players become lost in the rugby system. No one has been able to help explain this phenomenon but I think White has shown us the answer.

After high school, players presumably move to tertiary institutions and colleges. They play club rugby, in the Varsity Cup and in the Community Cup. But coaches at this level are predominantly old white players who are unwilling or unable to drive transformation in their teams. White is unlike these coaches − he understands that to get the best out of a player, there needs to be trust between the coach and his players.

Look at 23-year-old S’bura Sithole and the 27-year-old Lwazi Mvovo. White moved Sithole to outside centre from wing and Mvovo to fullback from wing in an attempt to get both players more involved in the game. He has shown trust in both players’ abilities and they have excelled in their new positions, with Lwazi capping a brilliant performance against the Lions by scoring a scintillating try, and Sithole delivered a man of the match performance that earned him rave reviews from Nick Mallett.

After the match, which the Sharks won 23-12, Sithole credited White and his coaching staff for his great form. “As a player, there’s nothing better than running out on to the field knowing you’ve got the full backing of the coaching staff,” Sithole said. “I think that’s something that has made a difference in the way I’ve played now.”

Unfortunately, as we have seen in the past 20 years, other South African coaches are less inclined to back and trust black players in their squads. They probably would have searched high and low for a replacement when they lost a centre of the calibre of Paul Jordaan, who was ruled out for a month with an ankle injury, but White merely backed the next player in line. He happened to be black.

Many laughed at White when he announced that Mvovo would play fullback against the Waratahs a few weeks ago.

White defended himself, arguing that he had full confidence in Mvovo’s ability to play fullback and insisting that he could one day play in that position for the Springboks. “There is no reason he can’t play fullback, and I’m quite excited,” said White.

Mvovo has 59 Super Rugby caps for the Sharks − why would people doubt Mvovo’s ability to play fullback? Because he is black? Well, guess who is laughing now.

Not only have Sithole and Mvovo performed for their coach, they are getting better and better with every game. This is not rocket science, it is man management.

Herein lies the answer to transformation − unless our predominantly white rugby coaches trust black players and give them a chance to perform, nothing will transform.

If these coaches can’t step up to the task, they need to move on and let more capable coaches take the reins. Trevor Nyakane and Raymond Rhule at the Cheetahs are players in similar positions to Sithole and Mvovo; they both need backing and trust to be in the reckoning for the Springboks, and unless they get this backing, they are unlikely to reach their full potential.

While many may view the issue of transformation in sport as uncomfortable and unnecessary, it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that rugby players get equal opportunities to represent our national sport teams − especially when we consider our history of racial exclusion in sport and current systems that ensure the odds are loaded against black players.

It is quite clear that if we leave it up to the rugby fraternity we will get nowhere; there are not enough coaches like White in South Africa. Teams that embrace this way of thinking will not only gain a larger pool of quality players, they will also find favour with impartial South Africans – and, of course, the nation’s government.

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16 Responses to “Wanted: White’s Trust for Black Players”

  1. thabo mophiring
    April 18, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

    In short, White Rugby coaches must stop being racist.

  2. Greg
    April 18, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

    Ridiculous. This experiment failed before. And now idiots with zero knowledge of rugby have a colour quota!
    One would imagine the black bosses would understand racism. This is pure racism at the expense of a once great nations rugby reputation. Choose the best player. Black, white, yellow who cares. A win is a win is a win. But stop this total, total bs.if this issue is of such an issue. Have separate teams. How’d that work before? You idiots are adding to the mass exodus of players. Black and white. At 60% at all costs. Watch SA become the whipping boys of top 6 teams.

  3. The Editor
    The Editor
    April 19, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

    @ Greg. Your response appears to ignore the structural issues around rugby and rugby transformation. So, what do you think of the writer’s suggested solution to the transformation conundrum: that coaches need to transform themselves and how they view black players?

  4. Brad
    April 19, 2014 at 6:23 pm #

    Greg is a racist. He thinks there are yellow people.

    • Greg
      April 19, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

      @TheEditor Firstly. Players should always be picked on merit alone. No one cares Internationally what colour players are. South Africans should only care that they are winning.

      Look at other sports like Golf. They have a Growing the game programme in every territory.

      If Black numbers v Whites is enough of an issue to weaken a National team. Than grow the game everywhere. The traditional schools (even if they are majority white) will continue to pump out class players. But if concentration is placed at all kids. Non white players will flow through.

      Lets take Ireland as an example. They have the smallest playing population in the small Country. Yet they won the 6 Nations Championships. In Ireland there are 100,000 playing vas England where 1,000,000 play.

      Irelands players have always come from traditional/private/rich schools

      Until they started growing the game at kids level.

      Look at the team now. You get a guy like Sean O Brien, Leinster also known as the Tullow Tank being the stand out player. He never had the opportunity to go to one of the elite schools yet junior club rugby had the supports to attract him. Same can work in SA. It takes time but it can work.

      As for Brads comment. I ‘do’ satire so will ignore you calling me a racist. If you are seriously calling me a racist. Let banter it out here

      • Shingi
        April 20, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

        @Greg, I think the author’s point is precisely that players are NOT being selected on merit enough. As he says:

        “There is no shortage of black players in the junior stages of South African rugby; many are leaders in their positions. Our junior teams sometimes have more black players on the field than white players.”

        Something is going wrong between the grassroots level and the pro level. The author’s claim, which I agree with, is that part of what is preventing all these young black rugby players from reaching the elite level is that coaches at the varsity and club level do not choose players on merit alone and have a bias, conscious or unconscious, towards picking players who are not black.

        If it were as simple as ‘pick players on merit alone’ that would be great. But black people in South Africa have never been allowed to be picked on merit alone – their merit is too often ignored in favour of whites.

    • greg
      April 23, 2014 at 8:34 am #

      @Brad There aren’t yellow people!!! If you believe that Brad. You are a racist. And because I disagree ergo I am a racist

      (You appear to have forseen what would happen on this thread B.)

  5. Thabo Mophiring (@QhaBhuti)
    April 19, 2014 at 9:34 pm #

    Dear #greg “Firstly. Players should always be picked on merit alone. ” this is precisely what is not happening.
    Deflecting issue to be one of grassroots development does not address the racism in rugby.

    I will not call you a racist, but I will point out that as long as racism benefits Whites you are happy. The moment anything jeopardises that benefit you scream bloody murder. Perhaps that deserves the tag of racist.

    • Greg
      April 19, 2014 at 9:57 pm #

      You’re not calling me a racist but….benefits whites I am happy

      That is quite simply the most amazing statement I have ever heard. Why don’t you just say. You don’t agree with me. You are a racist.

      I’m mixed race. And I’m Irish who were called the Blacks of Europe.

      I played provincial pro rugby as well.

      I am speaking as a rugby person who never looked at colour/creed or FA. I played from 4 years of age to retirement

      I don’t give a fk what colour a man is. But someone who accuses another of being racist because they ‘don’t agree or get it or understand rugby’ is on the wrong forum.

      You are just proving what is wrong in SA. You have learned nothing from your oppressors.

      • Sixolile
        April 20, 2014 at 10:34 pm #

        Greg, quotas arent the best solution to a rugby problem. Transformation of the trust issues and the removal of a superior/inferior mindset and this has been explained over and over again.

        What is the worst that could happen if we see a player that is not white and can actually play rugby better than their counterparts that wear the same number on their backs this season.. Will he be picked and trusted to play his game to his strengths or to a gameplan that inhibits his ball handling abilities?

        How will we know all this? How will wr know that he is a matchwinner? Put Him in and let him decide how good or bad he is.

        If they cant decide, someone else has to do it for them. And I do support them to a certain extent as it does put a lot more pressure for the Rugby fraternity to try harder in ensuring the talented players get their time to compete as much as everybody else does, WHICH HAS BEEN THE OBJECTIVE ALL ALONG!!!!
        And it is what is supposed to be happening.

      • Thabo Mophiring (@QhaBhuti)
        April 23, 2014 at 7:32 am #

        Dear Greg

        Racism and its denial is what is wrong with SA. People such as yourself climb an angry moral high-horse when it is called out.

        I apologise for helping realise you are a racist.

        • greg
          April 23, 2014 at 8:30 am #

          @Thabo How can I be racist??? This is the most hilarious and saddening thing I’ve ever heard Thabo. Come on tell me. How can someone of of my ethnic background be racist?

          Did you even play rugby?

          Did you experience the fellowship and brotherhood of rugby which bypasses all religious and other afflictions?

          You did in your arse.

          Maybe what’s wrong with SA is you.

          If someone doesn’t agree with you they’re a racist right? Ever stop to think that people aren’t agreeing with you because you are and idiot?

          I’m not on a moral high horse *whatever that is?

          Calling for problems. Real or imagined to be stamped out with the kids. Who as a Dad let me tell you don’t see colour. And for that being ridiculed shows what kind of BS people who want to grow the game face.

          I think you are a dick not because you disagree with me or are black or white. You are simply an oik

          Time you went back to soccer pussy

  6. Trevor
    April 21, 2014 at 7:23 am #

    Guys my problem lies at school level , the reason why our so called players are not coming thru is that school coaches have too much power and it’s there where if a school coach doesn’t like you or you are not in his so called good books he benches the boy and if his dad doesn’t have enough money he falls out of the system… in 2014 Grant Khomo trials two coaches selected half of their school A teams thru, breaking the hearts of the boys who truly deserved it, when I queried this I was told by a reliable source that I’m wasting my time because every year these coaches submit the same players…….So my solution to this problem is to rid the schools of teacher/coaches and bring in union coaches when it comes to selecting…..just me….Trev

    • Thabo Mophiring (@QhaBhuti)
      April 23, 2014 at 7:32 am #

      Dear Greg

      Racism and its denial is what is wrong with SA. People such as yourself climb an angry moral high-horse when it is called out.

      I apologise for helping realise you are a racist.

    • Thabo Mophiring (@QhaBhuti)
      April 23, 2014 at 7:33 am #

      The problem is at all levels.

  7. Phil B
    May 22, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

    This is the a poor conclusion to a good argument Mr. Mbambo.

    You said it yourself, “There is no shortage of black players in the junior stages of South African rugby; many are leaders in their positions… somehow in the ascendancy towards professional rugby, black players become lost in the rugby system.”

    Sure, I don’t deny that there may be bias by mid-level coaches, but wouldn’t a more logical conclusion be that there is what’s lacking is support at this level of rugby to encourage black players to continue into the professional system?

    It takes a huge amount of money and support to get through “minor leagues”; medical bills, training, food, accommodation, university tuition. You need someone to bank roll you. Players from affluent backgrounds have a support system that poor players don’t, and most of those players tend to be white.

    The conclusion is to setup proper academy support for promising players throughout their lives. European Soccer has done it, and other South African sports have done it, with incredible results. Then it can truly be about a players drive and skill and nothing else. When the best players are black, and they’re available for selection, they’ll get the call-up.

    Or, we could just cry “racist” and use sport to drive a wedge between South African, because really, that’s what political quota’s are about.

    Fixing useful problems is bad politics, and Mbalula is all about politics.

    Unfortunately talented black players are paying for it.