Cape Town - Heyneke Meyer has often been perceived as a Springbok coach who favours Bulls players due to his long association with the Pretoria team.
And who can blame him? The Bulls are the only South African side to win Super Rugby (and three times, nogal), and have won several Currie Cups too.
They run their organisation in a professional manner and produce an endless number of youngsters. Yes, many of those players are not from Pretoria, but the Bulls still have to put a lot of work in to turn those players into stars.
But it’s not entirely accurate to say that Meyer picks his Bok teams through blue-tinted glasses. He has brought through a number of new faces from all over South Africa. Eben Etzebeth, Marcell Coetzee, Coenie Oosthuizen, Siya Kolisi, Adriaan Strauss, Duane Vermeulen, Johan Goosen, Willie le Roux and Cornal Hendricks are some of the players Meyer has chosen from other teams.
And he has a reasonable record with regards to picking players of colour too. Tendai Mtawarira, Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen are first-choices, while the likes of Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Kolisi, Trevor Nyakane, Scarra Ntubeni, Lwazi Mvovo and Hendricks have featured in Bok squads too.
But despite all that, Meyer may still have prevented the controversy over the last few days around the issue of black-player representation in the Bok team. Saru president Oregan Hoskins told an Afrikaans newspaper this week that he told Meyer that more players of colour, especially “black Africans”, needed to get more chances to play, adding that Meyer had agreed that the “time was right” to do so.
Hoskins had been given a mandate by the Saru executive to address the issue with Meyer, and it comes on the back of a Saru meeting with Sascoc.
So it almost seems as if Saru is using the “Sascoc transformation stick” with which to beat Meyer, which would be unfortunate if it was indeed the case.
But Meyer knows exactly what he signed up for when he accepted the job in January 2012. And I definitely don’t think that the Bok coach is deliberately not picking more black players or giving them enough gametime.
If you speak to Meyer, it is clear that he is someone who “lives for the game”. That is a bad cliché, but he is someone who is truly passionate about rugby and is always thinking up plans and strategies.
And therein perhaps lays the problem. Because Meyer is so involved in the actual rugby on the pitch, he may not have given the same time and thought to the sensitivities of transformation in South African rugby.
Transformation is a reality in all walks of our society, and I know that Saru and Meyer fully support the principle. But there have been a few examples where Meyer could’ve made a different selection decision that would satisfied both his and the team’s playing needs, as well as the “bigger picture” of transformation.
In the 2012 series against England, the Boks had already won the first two Tests when they arrived in Port Elizabeth for the final game. Meyer had to decide between Jacques Potgieter and Siya Kolisi for a spot on the bench, he chose Potgieter. Many observers would’ve felt that Kolisi was the better player at the time anyway, but when there are two players of equal or similar ability and one is white and the other black, the principle of transformation suggests that the black player should be chosen.
And just last week, Meyer brought French-based Wynand Olivier from outside the squad on to the bench ahead of S’bura Sithole, who has been a star at centre for the Sharks in Super Rugby.
Those are just two examples, but there are others too where Meyer could’ve made a different choice. Gio Aplon and Juan de Jongh are another two players who haven’t received many playing opportunities under Meyer.
Of course, every coach has the right to pick whomever he wants, but the position of Springbok coach is about more than just rugby.
Tweet of the week:
@jppietersen14: What a test match! What a legend of the game! The most capped Springbok player! A massive milestone. Congrats #BigVic
Who to follow:
@handrépollard: See what the Junior Springbok captain gets up to while in the senior Bok squad.
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