By Murray Williams and Dale Granger
Western Cape Premier Ebrahim Rasool says he regards Western Province skipper Luke Watson as a "black player" and he should therefore be included in the Springbok team ahead of "white" players of equal talent.
Rasool, a rugby fan, gave fulsome support to Watson on Monday as the player found himself the centre of the latest raging controversy in South African rugby.
The battle began after it emerged that in an astonishing intervention, SA Rugby Union head Oregan Hoskins had overruled Bok coach Jake White to add Watson's name to a list of 45 players invited to a Bok training camp this week.
Newspapers, radio stations and websites are being flooded with furious reaction from rugby supporters - either accusing Hoskins of rank political interference or praising him for putting a recalcitrant White in his place.
On Monday Rasool entered the fray, arguing that Watson should not be seen as a white player and should thus be selected for the team ahead of other white loose forwards of equal talent.
"Given where he comes from, and where his father deliberately chose to play his rugby, on the dusty, pot-holed fields of the Eastern Cape's townships, Luke comes from a historically disadvantaged community," Rasool said.
"Jake White shouldn't be looking at Watson as a white player.
"If there are white flanks of equal ability, then Luke should get the nod because of his family's history."
Rasool said that including Watson would be a symbolic moment. He recalled from his boyhood days a visit to Athlone Stadium by Kwazakele, the team of Luke's father, Cheeky Watson.
Kwazakele had 13 black players and two whites (Cheeky and his brother Valence).
Even the locals had joined the struggle chorus, which had been adapted as "Siyomlandela u Watson!" (We will follow Watson!).
"White shouldn't be afraid of the old non-racial Saru flag that Luke carries in his heart," Rasool said.
Including Watson would be "a signal that they're ready to include the entire history of rugby's cultures. Instead of being afraid of it, we should embrace it.
"The selection problem will be solved if White no longer sees Luke as a 'white' player," Rasool argued.
Meanwhile, Hoskins has admitted that he had never wanted to interfere in the selection of Springboks teams and had no intention of doing so in future
He said the insistence of Saru's leadership on including Watson in the Bok training camp starting in Bloemfontein on Wednesday was "an exception, not the rule".
"We want to select the strongest possible team for the World Cup later this year to give ourselves the best opportunity of winning the Webb Ellis trophy," Hoskins said.
"In South Africa there is an air of optimism that we can achieve this. Even internationally, we are regarded as just about the only country that can beat the All Blacks (the favourites for the World Cup)."
"Nobody can accuse us of not standing by Jake. It's not for the leadership to make the selections, but if the coach and selectors are seen to be making the wrong choices, then we need to look at the possibility of appointing new coaches and selectors."
Ultimately, Saru's leadership had clashed with White only over their inclusion of Watson as an extra player at the first training camp of the season.
White had not persisted in resisting the inclusion of Odwa Ndungane, twin brother of Springbok wing Akona, in what is effectively a 19-man training squad that will be together for slightly more than two days of fitness evaluation.
The remaining 27 players in the 46-man squad selected for the training camp are Bulls and Sharks players preparing for Saturday's Super 14 final in Durban.
But Hoskins revealed that with the first test against England starting in Bloemfontein next weekend, the squad could be trimmed to 30 by as early as Friday.
The remaining Bulls and Sharks players will not be arriving in Bloemfontein until Sunday evening or Monday morning.
Watson was not expected to make the final group chosen for the two-test series against England.
Top SA Rugby sources also revealed that the leadership of Saru were angry at White for his stubborn stance on Watson.
"In a week of celebrating a South African team winning the Super 14 trophy for the first time ever, the sole focus of rugby in the country should have been on Saturday's Super 14 final in Durban, not on Luke Watson," Hoskins said.
The rugby bosses believe that if White had accepted the inclusion of Watson in the 46-man squad to begin with, the political storm that has erupted over the Stormers captain's selection could have been avoided.
Hoskins revealed that Saru had been summoned to appear before the parliamentary sports portfolio committee on May 29 - for the second time this year - to explain transformation and development plans.
Parliament wants to discuss the representative nature of the Springbok squad to be chosen for the World Cup.
White could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
He is believed to have consulted a lawyer on Monday over breach of contract. His contract gives him "final say over team selection".