Cape Town — While he is “very, very proud” of the fact that the Stormers have 11 players of colour in their starting XV this weekend, coach John Dobson doesn’t believe that the push for real transformation in South African rugby is now suddenly over.
The Cape side will face the Dragons at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Gqeberha on Saturday (2pm kickoff) with a number of Springboks such as captain Salmaan Moerat and star flyhalf Manie Libbok in the mix, as well as lesser experienced figures like prop Kwenzo Blose and wing Tristan Leyds.
Dobson has been juggling his resources in recent matches as he prepares for the start of the Champions Cup — which is much like soccer’s Champions League — with the Stormers kicking off their campaign against Clermont Auvergne in France next weekend.
But he was still able to name a top-class side on Friday for the United Rugby Championship clash against the Dragons, and he kept his word from his ‘Dobbo’s Diary’ column on Thursday that he would select 11 players of colour.
“For us, it’s a source of much pride, and probably one we all ascribe to. We chose the team, sat down and looked at everything,” Dobson said.
“Let’s give Tristan an opportunity, let’s bring Deon (Fourie) back as he didn’t play much this season and didn’t tour with us either. Our plans for the Dragons…
“We literally walked out of the meeting and I submitted the team, and somebody said ‘Do you realise it’s 73 percent players of colour in the starting line-up?’… I didn’t know. That’s where we want to be in Western Province rugby. So, we are very, very proud of it.
“That all our players from all backgrounds can feel a sense of belonging at the Stormers is absolutely critical for us. So, we’re very proud, and it’s not engineered or anything like that, in any form.
“Hopefully the more South African rugby goes in this direction — the national team have done great in the last while — it’s good for the sport, the growth of the sport.”
Some fans on social media have been critical of Dobson’s decision to mention the “history-making” selection of black players in the starting line-up, as they feel that it wasn’t necessary for it to be highlighted and that the race of players shouldn’t come into the equation.
The Stormers coach, though, responded by saying that much more progress needs to be made to ensure that players from all backgrounds receive an equal opportunity to play for the URC team.
“When we chose the team, that (race) wasn’t a factor for us. Ultimately, we want to be in a utopian society where everyone has equal opportunity, access to privilege. But the barriers that exist in society are there, so that’s largely utopian for now,” Dobson said.
“So, for the growth of the sport, it’s really good for rugby that we don’t go through a process where the national body is under pressure from Parliament because of the sport’s lack of effort.
“You want opportunities for kids, you want opportunities beyond just (former) Model C or private schools.
“We still have a long way to go, but I don’t think it helps rugby if there are massive debates around a failure to transform, or remove the Springbok logo, or whatever disagreements of the past.
“Sport must embrace the change. The reality of our society is that we are not an equal society yet — economically, (in) lots of ways. So, it’s just a reality unfortunately.
“It’s important at the moment to be aware of this. And I think if we were not aware of it, we could find ourselves in a bit more trouble.”
15 Clayton Blommetjies 14 Tristan Leyds 13 Ruhan Nel 12 Dan du Plessis 11 Leolin Zas 10 Manie Libbok 9 Herschel Jantjies 8 Hacjivah Dayimani 7 Willie Engelbrecht 6 Nama Xaba 5 Marvin Orie 4 Salmaan Moerat (captain) 3 Neethling Fouche 2 Joseph Dweba 1 Kwenzo Blose.
Bench: 16 JJ Kotze 17 Brok Harris 18 Lee-Marvin Mazibuko 19 Connor Evans 20 Deon Fourie 21 Paul de Wet 22 Kade Wolhuter 23 Mnombo Zwelendaba.