Cape Town – Everybody hates quotas, but if provincial unions pick one or two players of colour in their match-22 in the Vodacom Cup, then they are just testing everybody’s patience with regards to transformation.
That is the strong view of Western Province Vodacom Cup coach John Dobson, following the South African Rugby Union’s announcement recently that “measurable targets” will be implemented in next year’s competition due to a lack of growth of black-player numbers in the tournament.
Dobson’s Province side were one of the few teams, along with the likes of Boland, Border and South Western Districts who this season already reached Saru’s proposed targets of seven black players in a match-22 – two of whom must be forwards – with five in the starting line-up.
The likes of the Pumas, Golden Lions and Griquas were the worst offenders in 2013, often selecting only two or three players of colour in their match squads.
“I think this new rule is absolutely brilliant. I think teams in the Vodacom Cup this year tested everybody’s patience. When we played the semi-final against the Lions, they had two players of colour in their team, and the same with Griquas in our quarter-final,” Dobson told the Cape Times.
“I think that rugby has to be very careful about testing rugby’s administrators and government’s patience if they continue fielding all-white teams, especially at developmental level. That’s what the Vodacom Cup competition is – it’s about tomorrow’s Springboks today, and if you play a team which has one player of colour, then I can tell that it sat very uncomfortably with WP in the Vodacom Cup playoffs.
“I’m sorry that we have to count to show that we have the high ground at least, but we fielded at least seven or eight players of colour in our match squads. I think that we are on the right track, but the other unions are just testing everybody’s patience.”
Dobson said that he “didn’t like” quotas, but added that Saru didn’t have much choice but to implement these measures for 2014. “I don’t like quotas – I think that they are a bad thing. I think they are unfair on players of colour. But it is better than having no players of colour in a team. That’s just not possible,” he said.
“To be honest, I think teams have just laughed off transformation, laughed off government, and now they must adapt. It’s a good thing for Western Province because we already play those sorts of numbers. Everybody hates quotas. People get upset and the reaction to quotas is always horrific, which I can understand.
“But if people aren’t going to subscribe to the voluntary transformation of the sport, I don’t think you are left with much choice. You can’t then carry on with one player of colour, or two wings in a team.
“So, if you aren’t going to do it voluntarily, then it requires legislation or intervention. Nobody wants it to come to that point, but I think that Saru and government have been very tolerant up to now. It’s 21 years of unity, and we haven’t made the steps that we should’ve.”
Saru president Oregan Hoskins told the Cape Times that the new rules would see more young players of colour receive opportunities to prove themselves and come through at Currie Cup and Super Rugby level, ultimately serving the Springboks. The age-old problem in South African rugby has been black players who have represented the country at junior levels not coming through in senior teams.
“I think one must be positive about this move. If one looks at the Varsity Cup, where there is a form of black representation. This Vodacom Cup decision was very much a gentleman’s agreement in the sense that, if you look at all the black players who are now being given a chance at Currie Cup level who have come through the Varsity Cup… They shouldn’t just be coming out of the Varsity Cup, they should be coming out of the Vodacom Cup,” Hoskins said.
“It’s a case of using black players from clubs, because the excuses that we don’t have black players of quality and so on … Use club players, and look at those who are falling out of the system after matric.
“Ninety percent of the black players in the Craven Week are out of the system. We need to make the extra effort to capture those players from the Craven Week and not lose them.
“I used (Griquas centre) Howard Mnisi (who played for the Madibaz in the Varsity Cup) as an example. When I watched the Sharks-Griquas Currie Cup game, the guy that made the most impact in the Griquas backline was Howard Mnisi. Every time, he broke the advantage line and he offloaded in the tackle and was exciting.
“This is what this Vodacom Cup decision will mean – it will unearth so many new young black and white unpolished diamonds. So, the message is let the whole country embrace this bold step and leap of faith. The nicest thing is that this is coming from our own internal processes. No other stakeholders, no sponsors, no government, no TV or media. It’s an internal decision in rugby, and it’s a great victory.”
Hoskins admitted that some unions have complained that they simply don’t have enough black players in their regions, and they may not be able to fulfil the quotas next year. Saru have not decided if there will be any sanctions for teams who come up short in the numbers.
“Every president said they were happy with the issue of transformation in their provinces. But those who were not in favour in the meeting – and it was the minority – said they had problems with finance. The southern unions are not complaining. It’s the northern unions who say that they are having problems with having to buy black players from the coastal provinces,” Hoskins said.
WP senior coach Allister Coetzee says his union have made great strides with transformation at the higher levels. “Just look at our teams and then you know everything! I know and understand my responsibility at Western Province. I am very pleased with the way it’s gone, from Super Rugby to Under-21s,” he told the Cape Times.
“We had seven players of colour in the Stormers starting line-up against the Cheetahs this season, and in our match-22 in Super Rugby a couple of times as well, which is what we are trying to achieve.”
Clubs in the WP region have often complained that not enough of their players are given opportunities at provincial level. Dobson is aware of that, and says the Vodacom Cup quotas will create opportunities for those players to perhaps come through at other unions.
WP use their Emerging team as a pipeline for club players to make it as a professional, with Jerome Paarwater as the chief scout. “The club argument is a very tricky one, because you can’t pick everybody in the team. A guy like Nizaam Carr is not a club player, and he’s not a club player for a reason – he has shown how good he is to get a contract,” Dobson said.
“But now many of those club players could get contracts elsewhere. A club player trains around 180 minutes a week and he works in a factory, and he has no chance of going to a gym. His diet is probably a gatsby at lunchtime. Now, to expect him to compete with a Nizaam Carr, who is training 500 minutes a week and who has every food supplement available and doesn’t have to go to work, the dice is loaded against a club player.
“I think there is going to be a spin-off, because a player like (WP Vodacom Cup lock) Taz Fuzani, who may have earned X this year, is going to earn five X next year because he is a black tight forward. I think I’m going to become his agent!”
NUMBERS IN BLACK AND WHITE
Number of black players in playoffs since 2011:
Quarter-finals: Pampas N/A Cheetahs 4, Griquas 4 Pumas 5, Lions 5 Bulls 6, WP 5 Sharks 4
Semi-finals: Pampas N/A Sharks 4, Griquas 4 Bulls 6
Final: Pampas N/A Bulls 6
Quarter-finals: Griquas 3 Pampas N/A, Pumas 3 EP 5, Sharks 5 Bulls 5, WP 8 Lions 6
Semi-finals: Griquas 3 Bulls 5, WP 7 Pumas 3
Final: WP 8 Griquas 3
Quarter-finals: WP 9 Griquas 2, Sharks 3 Lions 2, Pumas 3 Pampas N/A, Bulls 6 EP 6
Semi-finals: Lions 2 WP 8
Final: Pumas 3 Lions 2