When white is right and white is wrong

Keo, in his Business Day column, writes that if Jake White includes Hanyani Shimange and Solly Tyibilika in his national squad and excludes Schalk Brits, Luke Watson and Jacques Botes, it will be a victory for window dressing and an insult to transformation of rugby in this country.

It will also be a victory for those conservatives who still get their Monday morning rush in the misguided view that South African rugby’s continued Super 14 failures are the work of black players. It will give these dinosaurs further ammunition to blame any possible Springbok failure on black players picked to improve the colour – and not the impact – of the national picture.

There are some fine black players in the Super 14, as there are some fine white players, but in the case of Shimange and Tyibilika there are better white players who deserve to be judged as rugby players.

White has shown a commitment to transformation throughout his career as the SA under 21 coach and as the Springbok coach in the last two seasons. He should not be judged by administrators playing a black numbers game. Equally he should not be prepared to use this as an excuse. There are black players good enough to make the test squad on merit, but in the case of Shimange and Tyibilika there are black players not good enough to make the test team this year.

Schalk Brits has consistently made an impression in the last two seasons, even though White has publicly criticized the hooker’s supposed inferior scrumming and accuracy as a lineout thrower. Shimange, however, has been poor in these two departments. And that unfortunately is where the comparison between the two hookers ends. Brits offers a squad so much more as a player. Selecting Shimange ahead of him would be a political selection and while White would think he is aiding the cause of transformation by doing this, he is in fact harming the plight of the black player who has triumphed over prejudice and now picks himself because he is the best in the country.

White in recent weeks has hinted at selecting Bulls third choice hooker and exciting 19 year-old prospect Chilliboy Ralepelle. It is absurd. The national squad is a finishing school and not an institution for learners. It should also not be used to entertain political favours.

Ralepelle, in five years time, could well play test rugby. To include him now ahead of John Smit, Brits and Gary Botha short changes his future claims to being judged as one of the best in the country. His selection now would be an attempt to inflate the black numbers in what is already looming as an inflated national squad of 45.

Tyibilika this year has been off form and has struggled for consistency in his game. He cannot make the Sharks Super 14 team. There are more in-form South African players, most notably Sharks flanker Botes and Stormers loose-forward Watson. White has stated that he would not pick Watson ahead of Schalk Burger and that he views Burger as his openside flanker. It is an opinion that is respected, but what cannot be entertained is the view that Watson is not good enough. His performances this season have been as good as any opensider in the competition and his display against the Sharks was his best of the season in the context of the game.

Botes, too, has kept out Tyibilika on form.

Black players have fought for a hundred years to be judged on their ability. Finally, you’d think we have a national coach who is prepared to do this. Equally, you’d think he would judge the white player on ability.

There is no need to prejudice very good white players, just like there should never have been a need to prejudge a very good black player. There are enough good white players who will never be good enough to play for the Springboks and whether we like to admit it or not there are good black players in the same category.

But when the very good white ones are being overlooked because of political convenience then the national selectors and Bok coach are as guilty as their predecessors who ignored the claims of very good black players because of politics.