Jake’s not to blame

Gavin Rich, writing in the Weekend Argus, responds to Cheeky Watson’s criticism of the lack of black players in the Bok squad.

You won’t get me disagreeing with Cheeky Watson in his view that the make-up of the Springbok squad for this World Cup is an indication that transformation is failing the game.

It is now 2007, 15 years on from unity, and I must admit that for a long time I was labouring under the impression that Springbok coach Jake White had been instructed to include 10 players of colour, in other words one third of his 30 man squad. And when I thought that, I knew that it would still not be nearly enough.

Seven black players in a squad of 30 is simply not good enough, and Watson is 100% correct. What I cannot understand, however, is his intimation that because of this, he will not be supporting the Springboks at this World Cup.

It is not the Springbok players or the Springbok coach who is to blame for the lack of transformation, and I have a strong feeling that South African Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskins would join me in agreeing with Watson’s basic point. As he has done on a few occasions recently, he would probably go further, and put the blame squarely on the organisation which he heads.

The real problem is not the number of black players in the Springbok team, but the number of black players coming through in first class rugby. Which begs a question of Watson – did he take the same attitude that he now takes towards the Springboks when his son, Luke, led the Stormers against the Chiefs in a Friday night match at Newlands earlier this year?

If my memory serves me correctly, Breyton Paulse was the only black player in Stormers colours that night, and on that particular weekend of Super 14 rugby, which saw five South African teams, and thus a minimum of 75 local players take the field, there were less than 10 black players in action.

I wrote at the time that it wasn’t good enough, and that this was when the likes of the rabble-rousing Bantu Komphela, who in my opinion gets quoted far too often in some sections of the media, should come forward and say so. He didn’t, and I can’t recall Mike Stofile doing so either.

Transformation was not on the agenda then because it was not the Springboks we were talking about, and I do get the impression sometimes that the emblem is the heart of the problem because of the emotion it stirs up.

By the way, if I was running South African rugby, I would have discontinued the emblem in 1992, just like all the other sports did. I don’t buy the argument of the long tradition and the history for the simple reason that if you really take a look at that history, and you are fair about it, then the “good old days” were really “the bad old days”, and the Springbok should have gone the same way as the old flag.

Back though to the point – how can you select six black players in a Springbok starting team if there are only just over that number of black players playing in the main feeder competition?

The solution is to stop blaming the national coach, and maybe even the Super 14 coaches, but to get the structures right so that there is a steady flow of black players coming through and they don’t get lost in the system after they leave age-group level.

In this regard, it was pleasing to read Hoskins, in an interview run in Friday’s edition of The Argus, talk so passionately about what his organisation is doing for rugby in the Eastern Cape. That is the real heartland of black rugby in this country, and those who have travelled down to watch the big derbies featuring schools such as Dale, Selborne and Queens College have spoken positively about the black talent coming through.

The Spears concept was never properly thought through, but the basic philosophy behind it, as I argued at the time, was good. The sooner Eastern Cape rugby is strong again, the sooner rugby will be able to deny the likes of Watson and Komphela their soap-box.