The South African Rugby Union (Saru) has let Coach Heyneke Meyer off the hook. He no longer has to account for the transformation of the Springbok rugby team.
In August, when Meyer names his 30-man squad for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, which takes place in September and October, he will have to select five black players in his squad of 30.
By comparison, whoever is the coach of the Springboks in 2019 will have to select 15 black players in their squad of 30.
This is according to Saru’s Transformation Strategic Plan, which has committed to a 50% black Springbok team by 2019, 60% of which, in Saru’s language, has to be “black African”. Of these 15 black players, 12 will have to make the match-day squad of 23, and 8 will have to take their place in the starting 15.
If we unpack what Saru means, of the 30 world cup squad players, 9 will have to be “black African”; in the match day squad of 23 there will have to be 8; and in the starting 15 there will have to be 6.
It may seem like a tall order for the Springbok rugby coach of 2019, but there are more than enough talented black rugby players in the country to meet these targets; in fact, most of them have already represented the Springboks or are on the fringes of the squad.
Just consider this Springbok team of 2019, picked now in 2015 by The Con, which obviously doesn’t take into account rugby players not on our radar who will rise through the ranks in the next four years.
15. Willie le Roux
14. Lwazi Mvovo
13. S’bura Sithole
12. Damian de Allende
11. Lionel Mapoe
10. Patrick Lambie
09. Cobus Reinach
08. Nizaam Carr
07. Teboho Mohoje
06. Siya Kolisi
05. Pieter-Steph du Toit
04. Eben Etzebeth
03. Trevor Nyakane
02. Scarra Ntubeni
01. Thomas du Toit
Jesse Kriel (fullback/centre)
Rhyno Smith (fullback)
JP Pietersen (wing/centre)
Cornal Hendricks (wing)
Juan de Jongh (centre)
Handrè Pollard (flyhalf, centre)
Mthokozisi Mkhabela (scrumhalf)
Tera Mtembu (loose forward)
Ox Nche (prop)
That’s a team with 9 black springboks, 7 of whom are “black African”.
Another 7 black player are in the reserves The Con has picked, with 3 being “black African”. Granted, not all of these reserves are ready to play for the Springboks in 2015, but we feel they have enough talent to be potential future Springboks.
But guess how many of the black players in The Con’s starting 15 for 2019 are currently among the 17 players who currently have Springbok contracts?
The answer is one, Siya Kolisi, who was handed a two-year contract in 2013.
The Springbok’s other contracted black player is prop Tendai Mtawarira, who will be 33 in 2019 and probably too old to still play for the Springboks.
Wings Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen would in all likelihood be contracted Springboks as well, but because they play in France and Japan respectively, they are excluded by Saru from being contracted for the Springboks. Habana will be 35 in 2019, and Pietersen will be 32.
But white players on the periphery of the Bok squad such as Francois Hougaard and Coenie Oosthuizen, and players who are not even in the recently announced Springbok training squads such as JJ Engelbrecht and Flip van der Merwe, have Springbok contracts.
It’s clear that up until now Saru has been quite happy to keep black rugby players on the periphery of the squad, happy for them to play a test here or there but not prepared to hand them a long-term Springbok contract. This is going to have to change if Saru is serious about putting a 50% black team on the field in 2019.
Players like Trevor Nyakane (25), Siya Kolisi (23), Teboho Mohoje (24), Lwazi Mvovo (28), Juan de Jongh (27), Cornal Hendricks (27), JP Pietersen (28), Nizaam Car (24) and Damian de Allende (23) have already been capped as Springboks, and most of them will be young enough to still be representing the Springboks in 2019. Naturally, they should form the core of the team.
Other black players such as S’bura Sithole (24), Lionel Mapoe (26), Scarra Ntubeni (24), Tera Mtembu (24), Mthokozisi Mkhabela (20), Ox Nche (20) and Rhyno Smith (20) are either on the fringes of the squad or have shown enough potential to suggest they have Springbok careers ahead of them.
But the question really is: are they going to be backed to perform for the Springboks?
That brings us back to Meyer. Saru may have let Meyer off the hook, allowing him to take an almost exclusively white team to the World Cup in 2015, but what will the ramifications of that decision mean for the Springbok team in 2019? Has Saru made a decision that is in the best interests of South African rugby, or has it taken the shortsighted view in 2015 to the long-term detriment of South African rugby in the run-up to 2019?
If Meyer gets it wrong and doesn’t pick the right players in his squad of 30 in August, he could be doing harm to the 2019 Springbok team vision. Based on Meyer’s team selections over the past three years, it would be fair to predict that Nyakane, Hendricks, Pietersen and De Allende could well make this year’s Springbok World Cup Squad.
But players like Kolisi, Mohoje, Mvovo, De Jongh, Mapoe, Ntubeni and Carr are considered to be on the fringes of the squad and could lose out, and players such as Sithole, who was not even in the Springbok training squads announced a few weeks ago, will definitely miss out. If these players do miss out on selection, we will have a situation where key future Springboks such as Kolisi will be 27 when they get to play at their first World Cup in 2019.
In 2019, Mvovo will be 32, Mapoe will be 30, and Mohoje, Ntubeni and Car will be 28. This is far too late for these key players to be getting their first taste of the pressures of a World Cup. These players are good enough right now to make the Springbok World Cup squad, so if Meyer decides to omit them, he will be dealing a serious blow to the dream of a majority-black South African rugby team in 2019.
It is likely that players such as Schalk Burger, Marcell Coetzee, Hougaard, Adriaan Strauss, Jan Serfontein and Warren Whiteley, to name just a few, could be favoured above these key black players. But are they deserving of their spots if they get them? Let’s crunch some numbers from the Super Rugby tournament so far this year.
It’s clear that Meyer’s first-choice loose forwards are Willem Alberts, Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw. There are probably only two other spots in the World Cup squad for loose forwards, which means Coetzee and Burger will go up against Kolisi, Carr and Mohoje.
Meyer is a huge fan of Coetzee, and rightly so – he is an immense rugby player, and The Con would argue his position as a reserve loose forward is pretty much guaranteed. “He is special, very special,” Meyer recently told SA Rugby Magazine. “He’ll be an 80-plus cap Springbok, probably a centurion if we look after him physically.” That is straight from the coach’s mouth, so you can pencil Coetzee’s name in that World Cup squad from now.
So that leaves Burger going up against Kolisi, Carr and Mohoje for a final loose forward spot, barring any injuries. This World Cup may come just a year too early for Mohoje, but if Meyer decides to pick six loose forwards in his squad, he may be in with a shot. Carr and Kolisi are ready, and the stats after 11 rounds of Super Rugby prove it.
Carr has played 20% more rugby than Burger in 2015 so far, and has gained 50% more metres with the ball than Burger, beaten more than double the number of defenders as Burger, and has collected four times as many loose balls as Burger. On top of that, Carr has made 75 tackles to Burger’s 48, has missed fewer tackles than Burger, and has won more turnovers than Burger. Carr is 24 and Burger is 32 – who do you think should go to the World Cup?
And what about Kolisi, who is also in the running for a place in the World Cup squad? Kolisi has played 6% more rugby than Burger this year and has gained almost equal number of metres with the ball in hand. But he has beaten almost twice the number of defenders Burger has, has collected twice as many loose balls, has made 61 tackles to Burger’s 48, and has missed only a quarter of the tackles Burger has. Kolisi is 23 and Burger is 32 – who do you think should go to the World Cup?
Let’s switch to the centres. If he recovers from his injury, Jean de Villiers, who was Springbok captain until he got injured during the 2014 end-of-year tour, will be going to the World Cup. His centre partner for most of that tour was Serfontein. But the stats after 11 rounds of the Super 15 rugby tournament tell an interesting story.
In De Villiers’ absence, De Allende has been the form South African inside centre.
De Allende is the highest ranked South African in terms of line breaks, carries, and defenders beaten. He is also the second most successful South African player in terms of metres gained and third most successful in terms of offloads. His stats in 2015 are nothing short of phenomenal. If he doesn’t go to the 2015 World Cup, it will be a travesty.
If you compare De Allende’s stats to Serfontein’s, it’s like chalk and cheese. De Allende has 13 line breaks to Serfontein’s 1; 40 defenders beaten to 6; 468 metres gained to 94; 12 offloads to 1; and 63 tackles made to 38. Granted, Serfontein has played just more than half the number of minutes De Allende has played in 2015, but those stats speak for themselves.
Then let’s look at Mapoe, who has 7 line breaks, 17 defenders beaten, 404 metres gained, 17 offloads, and 63 tackles. Mapoe has played 60% more rugby than Serfontein, but that difference doesn’t account for the clear discrepancies in the level of their performances in 2015.
And then there is De Jongh, who has 11 line breaks, 8 defenders beaten, 287 metres gained, 8 offloads and 46 tackles. It’s clear that if you were going to pick on form and looking ahead to the 2019 World Cup, De Allende, Mapoe and De Jongh should go to the World Cup ahead of Serfontein.
If Saru is serious about transformation in South African rugby, it will insist that the core players the 2019 Springbok team will be built around are included in Meyer’s squad. If it doesn’t, it will once again be highlighting the fact that it is not taking transformation and the future of South African rugby seriously.
Gif Credit: Lloyd Gedye