CAPE TOWN - If you don’t know what you’re talking about, just don’t talk about it. Period. When it comes to rugby, it would be bizarre to suggest that somebody like Steve Hansen doesn’t know the game.
It goes without saying that he - as the master of the world’s most successful rugby team - must have invaluable knowledge relating to the game. How could you not, with a record like that?
But in a recently published book; The Jersey: The Secrets behind the World’s Most Successful Team, Hansen’s comments regarding South African rugby’s transformation policy are downright ignorant.
During an interview in 2017 with British rugby writer Peter Bills, Hansen said that picking players based on the colour of their skin “goes against all principles and the spirit of sport”. And while that statement might be correct in theory, it’s a very different case in real life, in SAs history. A history that Hansen will never understand.
“They are the only team in sport I know that doesn’t pick its best team,” Hansen is quoted as saying in the book.
“I understand what they are trying to do but ... Nelson Mandela understood it better than anyone else. He knew that the Springboks were a team that could unite the nation. I still believe it is.
“If they got things right and allowed it to develop naturally, it would. And you would get the right people in the team. In the end, it would be a multi-cultural team.
“Rugby wasn’t a black man’s sport, but it was the sport that would unify the country in a way that no other sport or business could. Now I think that unity isn’t there so much.
“As a nation, it has got such a lively history and it has created a whole lot of things we will never understand, because we were never part of it. There is a lot of ill-feeling. But the thing they don’t want to fall into is actually reversing that.
"That is a pretty political statement but when you look at the rugby, one of my great mates, Heyneke Meyer, found out that having to select a team based on what colour a man’s skin is, goes against all the principles and spirit of sport.
“What it does is create a situation where: 1) You are not picking the best team, and 2) The guys that get picked are thinking, ‘Am I here because of the reasons of quota or because I am good enough?’”
Firstly, what gives Hansen - a white New Zealander - the right to talk about “getting things right” in SA rugby like he knows with any degree of certainty that black representation in SA rugby would have been on par with white representation had we just allowed it to “develop naturally”?
What gives him the right to talk about “getting the right people in the team” like black players are merely pawns who can offer nothing but a number to take the place of a “merit” white player? And where does he get that rugby wasn’t a black man’s sport?
If rugby wasn’t a black man’s sport, why do we have black clubs that are over 100 years old (take Primrose; a predominantly coloured, 122-year-old club and Busy Bees RFC; a 95-year-old black African club, as just two examples in the Cape)?
Why did the formation of the Western Province Coloured Rugby Football Union take place in 1886, only three years after the formation of the whites-only WPRFU in 1883? Why was there a SA Coloured Rugby Football Board by 1897?
So no, Steve, rugby isn’t and wasn’t only a white man’s sport, black people were just never given the same kind of freedom, exposure and opportunity as their white counterparts at claiming the highest honours in the sport.
The only passage in the above-mentioned quotes from Bills’ book that shows any grain of understanding is this: “As a nation, it (SA) has got such a lively history and it has created a whole lot of things we will never understand, because we were never part of it.”
Hansen is right there - he will never understand. And he is of course entitled to his opinion. But for someone with such a presence in rugby to speak of transformation as if it’s an absolute waste of time and somehow unfair, is unacceptable.
There are enough anti-transformation feelings in SA alone. Black players are already constantly reminded of their “quota” status, be it through social media or public chats.
So the last thing SA needs is a Steve Hansen giving his two cents on a matter he rightfully admitted he was never part of and will never understand.