Best Bok lives as quota dies

Keo, in his Business Day column, writes that green should be the only colour that matters in Springbok test selection.

Black and white representation in SA’s rugby teams should be a matter of course and not a national event each time a team is made official.

When black players can be dropped and white players can replace them, without fuss or accusations of racism, our rugby will have moved beyond the farce that paraded as a unification process in 1991.

South African Rugby Union (Saru) president Oregan Hoskins’s public confirmation that coach Jake White would be free to select his best team every weekend was the most significant endorsement any Bok coach has received in the last decade.

Too much emphasis has been placed on how many black players make the Test team. There has never been enough emphasis on increasing playing opportunities for black players in club, Currie Cup and Super 14 rugby.

The logic should always have been that the bigger the black playing pool, the greater the number that progress to the national team. But when you had a system in 2001 that demanded four black players be in every Springbok match 22, but only six were starting regularly out of 60 in the then Super 12, there was always going to be an issue with black representation at the top.

Perhaps, just perhaps, Springbok rugby is moving towards normalisation where the best can play, regardless of colour. And perhaps the message has finally sunk in that if 50 black players are getting regular Currie Cup and Super 14 exposure, no selector has to play the political numbers in determining the make-up of the national squad.

The quota system, post unity, was always necessary in South African rugby, but the application of the system never complemented the intention. The quota system failed because it was measured at a national level, when the national structure should have been the beneficiary of an effective quota system at other levels.

Hoskins’s acknowledgement that White would not have a gun held to his head every time he picked a test squad was overdue and good news. Where I disagree with him is in his qualifying statement that the Bok team should never again be an all-white team.

If the Bok coach has carte blanche to select the best, then there should not even be an afterthought of a colour count.

If opportunities are present at all levels I doubt a Bok XV would be all white too often.

However if, because of lack of form and injury, there is no black player good enough to make the starting XV then so be it. If in 20 years’ there is no white player good enough to make the first XV then so be it too.

The merit of national selection should be that the best man plays. In SA’s rugby for the past decade this was not always possible because of racist mindsets that could not acknowledge that white may not always be best.

For every black player accused of being a quota Test selection, there were plenty of white players who wouldn’t have been picked had it not been for a misguided belief in SA this past century that white was superior.

White, the coach, has changed that, with his belief in black players at under 21 level, and in the past two years at Test level. But rugby politicians bullied him initially for his belief, and his credibility was questioned because of a black numbers game.

White players were being prejudiced as White sought alternatives to injured black stars Gurthro Steenkamp and Ashwin Willemse. White needed clarity that black does not have to replace black, just as he broke down the bias that black cannot replace white. He now has freedom of choice. He no longer has to pick a black wing and a black manager, the ugly stereotype so synonymous with Springbok rugby’s transformation in recent times. He can now pick the best team. Some may call that normal, but in the context of SA rugby’s last decade it’s an abnormality.