CAPE TOWN – There would’ve been many South Africans who were nostalgic last week, the 10-year anniversary of the Springboks’ 2007 Rugby World Cup victory.
There were TV replays of the quarter-final against Fiji, semi-final against Argentina and the 15-6 win over England at the Stade de France.
Even SA Rugby had “informal gathering” of the 2007 World Cup squad, although it happened a few weeks ago.
Invited to that lunch – held in Cape Town on the afternoon of the All Black Test at Newlands – were members of the 1987 non-racial Saru national team as well, for their 30th anniversary as part of SA Rugby’s 25 years of post-unity rugby initiative.
The likes of John Smit, Victor Matfield, Percy Montgomery and Jean de Villiers posed for pictures with such unheralded (in the “traditional” rugby establishment circles) legends such as Fagmie Solomons, Aslam Toefy (present on behalf of his brother Nazeem), Francois Davids, Faiek Hendricks, Desmond Booysen, Taureq Britton and the list goes on…
But while Mzansi experienced a wave of elation and emotion last week, the reality on the ground is still grim when it comes to transformation of the game.
Yes, there’s that “swear word” again – transformation.
There were only four players of colour in the Springbok starting line-up for the All Black Test – Dillyn Leyds, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies and Siya Kolisi – and three on the bench in Bongi Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane and Rudy Paige.
In the Bok side for the 2007 World Cup final, starting wings Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen were the only black players in the entire match-22.
So, two extra players of colour in the starting team, and three substitutes in 10 years…
And if you think things are better at lower levels, think again. In the 2007 Currie Cup final between the Cheetahs and Lions in Bloemfontein, the home side had three black players in their squad, with the visitors on four.
Fast forward to a decade later, and not much has changed.
In the past weekend’s Currie Cup semi-finals, Western Province had four black starters and four on the bench; the Lions had just three and two; the Bulls five and three; and the Sharks matched the unacceptable level of the Lions with five in total.
Yet we have rugby fans around the country, on all the social media platforms, bemoaning the policy of transformation in our rugby.
“Quota players” such as Elton Jantjies, Raymond Rhule, Rudy Paige, Bongi Mbonambi and even Trevor Nyakane are routinely singled out for criticism, sometimes unfairly so, but only Jantjies and Rhule played regularly this year.
And Rhule had technical shortcomings on defence, which had nothing to do with the colour of his skin.
To be fair, there were a few other wings who were more deserving of selection, but they were all black – Leyds, Makazole Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi and Seabelo Senatla.
These numbers fly in the face of SA Rugby’s own transformation charter, and government-agreed target of 50% black representation in the Springbok team by the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The Boks are currently on 30% – from the All Black Test. But what is more worrying is the situation at Currie Cup level in 2017. How can the Sharks and Lions justify having just five players of colour in their match-23? That’s only 22%...
Not complying with the transformation policy could even have dire consequences for SA Rugby’s 2023 Rugby World Cup bid, as government are holding the sport to account with regards to transformation scorecards.
Another opportunity was lost to make progress in the overall rugby spectrum on Tuesday, with Jaco Peyper appointed as the referee for the Currie Cup final for the third time in six years. Shouldn’t Egon Seconds or Cwengile Jadezweni have been given a chance on the big stage?
Let’s be honest about this – without transformation and quotas, there is no way so many black players would’ve come through the system over the years. And that includes the record-breaking Habana.
It is time that SA Rugby and their provincial affiliates stop paying lip service to transformation. Otherwise, there may be serious consequences to their World Cup bid, and on a broader scale, the future of the sport in this country.
* Ashfak Mohamed is the Digital Sports Editor of Independent Media.