Warrick Gelant has been the best SA fullback in Super Rugby, but will he lose out to Willie le Roux at the Boks? Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix
Warrick Gelant has been the best SA fullback in Super Rugby, but will he lose out to Willie le Roux at the Boks? Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix
Lukhanyo Am has been outstanding for the Sharks in midfield. Photo: Tracy Nearmy/EPA
Lukhanyo Am has been outstanding for the Sharks in midfield. Photo: Tracy Nearmy/EPA

It looks good, doesn’t it – 19 black players in a Springbok squad.

Rassie Erasmus’ first group is unprecedented in many respects – much like his own situation, in fact, given that he has a six-year contract and is also the director of rugby.

To be able to name a 43-man squad is unheard of for any Bok coach, although there are unusual circumstances this time around due to Saturday’s Test against Wales in Washington DC.

But we all know that one of the major aspects of Erasmus’ KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) is ensuring that transformation takes place in the Bok set-up.

He has already stated that the target is 45 percent this year, and 50 next – and has come close with Saturday’s announcement by reaching 44 percent.

But don’t be fooled by the number 19 above. The real test of Erasmus’ commitment to transformation will be in how much game time is afforded to black players.

And no, being part of the match-23 or 43-man squads shouldn’t determine that appraisal, nor should getting the last five to 10 minutes of a Test.

Remember how Rudy Paige was treated in the past? Gio Aplon? Siya Kolisi? 

At least these players got Test caps, unlike Cheslin Kolbe, who had to move to France to create new dreams of playing at the highest level in future after being ignored by Allister Coetzee, who rather picked his namesake Andries at fullback.

Erasmus knows what precedes him – 26 years of unfulfilled promises and lip-service being paid to true transformation in South African rugby.

One aspect that the entire Ashwin Willemse saga should have taught us as a rugby nation is that the time for cheap talk is over – black players to be treated fairly and be given proper opportunities to establish themselves in Test rugby.

Erasmus has said he “can experiment a bit against Wales, but we definitely won’t pick an A side and a B side… it will be equally strong sides” against Wales and England.

Whoever makes the cut for the trip to the US should be grateful for the opportunity, as a really impressive display may just have a positive effect on Erasmus for the future.

But the real measure of the transformation chart will be the opening Test against England. Will there be a minimum of seven black players in the starting line-up, which would constitute 46 percent representivity?

And another four on the bench, to make it 11 in the match-23?

It is definitely possible, but the fact that the likes of Willie le Roux, Frans Steyn, Faf de Klerk, Duane Vermeulen and Bismarck du Plessis have been recalled from overseas complicates matters on that front.

While they are unlikely to feature against Wales as the match is outside of the June Test window, it would be a surprise if they don’t feature – probably as starters – against England in the first Test at Ellis Park on June 9.

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has picked a large 43-man squad for the Tests against Wales and England. Photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

There are accomplished black players in each position played by those overseas-based Boks.

Warrick Gelant and Curwin Bosch are contenders for the No 15 jersey, Lukhanyo Am can operate in both centre positions, Embrose Papier is a superb young scrumhalf talent, Nizaam Carr and Sikhumbuzo Notshe are both quality No 8s, and Bongi Mbonambi and Chiliboy Ralepelle are good enough to start a Test.

And so we can go on: at flyhalf between Handré Pollard and Elton Jantjies, loosehead prop with Tendai Mtawarira and Steven Kitshoff, and tighthead can be filled by either of Trevor Nyakane, Wilco Louw or Frans Malherbe.

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Erasmus, to his credit, spoke frankly to the media just over a month ago about the transformation targets.

“Our targets are 45 percent this year. If we don’t reach it at the end of the season, then I didn’t pass one of my KPIs. So, it’s as easy as that. I know you can have five injuries, and then you’re going to have to make a plan.

“Unfortunately, or fortunately, we know now that we have to make a plan. If I don’t make it, I’ll be in trouble. It is what it is, we must work around it.”

Let’s hope for Erasmus and the Springboks’ sake that he won’t be “in trouble”. And there’s no need for him to be, as there are more than enough top black players to fulfil one of his key mandates...

* This is what my match-23 (out of the current squad) would look like against England at Ellis Park:

15 Warrick Gelant 14 Aphiwe Dyantyi 13 Lukhanyo Am 12 André Esterhuizen 11 Makazole Mapimpi 10 Handré Pollard 9 Ivan van Zyl 8 Nizaam Carr 7 Jean-Luc du Preez 6 Siya Kolisi (captain) 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit 4 RG Snyman 3 Trevor Nyakane 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle 1 Tendai Mtawarira.

Bench: 16 Bongi Mbonambi 17 Steven Kitshoff 18 Wilco Louw 19 Franco Mostert 20 Kwagga Smith 21 Embrose Papier 22 Elton Jantjies 23 Curwin Bosch.

 

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