I feel for Rudy Paige, I really do. Friday should have been the finest day of his rugby career when the Springbok World Cup squad was unveiled in Durban. Hopefully it still is, but the negativity surrounding the Bulls scrumhalf’s selection may have taken the gloss off this proud moment.
As he walked onto the green-and-gold carpet, many South Africans rugby supporters tweeted and made comments on websites that he was just picked “to make up the numbers”. It was mostly because of reports prior to the announcement that the Springboks needed 30% black representation at the showpiece tournament in England next month, and that Paige will be picked ahead of “star” players like Cobus Reinach and Faf de Klerk.
That was irresponsible, because why should Paige be seen as a “quota” player when he was arguably the best South African scrumhalf in Super Rugby, and has shown some of the traits that Bok coach Heyneke Meyer likes.
“His service from the base is good, and he has an unbelievable kicking game in wet conditions, which we will need at the World Cup,” Meyer said on Friday about Paige.
“I see him as a similar player to Fourie du Preez. It was a tough decision between Rudy and Cobus, but I believe it is the right one. I also believe it’s a good balance if you consider the experience of Fourie and Ruan Pienaar.”
But Meyer is also to blame, because if he had given Paige a chance in the Springbok jersey this year there probably wouldn’t have been such an uproar.
Meyer told the media in Durban that Paige was going to get some gametime in Buenos Aires against Argentina, but because he was under pressure to win, he decided to go with the same group of players who had been humbled by the Pumas in Durban the week before to redeem themselves.
“It was always my plan to give Rudy game time in Buenos Aires, but then we let ourselves down against Argentina in Durban. I said to the players that the same group would have a chance to set things right the following week in Buenos Aires,” Meyer added.
But now Paige, when finally given his chance, will be under double the pressure to perform, because most Springbok supporters don’t see him as worthy of the green-and-gold jersey
Because of this perception that talented black players weaken rugby teams, Paige isn’t the first black player to feel this kind of pressure. And I’m quite sure he won’t be the last. It’s distressing that black players still have to labour under this kind of thinking in 2015.
The South African Rugby Union hasn’t officially confirmed or denied speculation of a new deal for Meyer until the 2019 World Cup. But if the Bok coach has signed a new contract, I hope he doesn’t go into the next World Cup in Japan having not given talented black players, who tend to be under more scrutiny then their white counterparts, gametime to prove that they can do the job on the international stage in the green and gold.
It’s really time to turn the Paige.