Stormers break black barrier

Rassie Erasmus has made transformation history by including six players of colour in the Stormers starting XV to play the Bulls.

The Stormers team that lost to the Sharks in their last Super 14 match of 2007 had just three players of colour in the XV – Bolla Conradie, Conrad Jantjes and Breyton Paulse. On Saturday, Brian Mujati, Ricky Januarie, Gcobani Bobo, Sireli Naqelevuki, Tonderai Chavhanga and Gio Aplon will run out of the tunnel at Newlands. Another player of colour, Bolla Conradie, is on the bench.

Sceptics will say that two of these non-white players – Mujati and Chavhanga – are Zimbabwean-born, while Naqelevuki has represented Fiji and can’t be picked for the Boks. However, Chavhanga has already worn the Bok jersey in Tests and Mujati on Wednesday told that he’s lived in South Africa for the last five years and could be picked for the Boks tomorrow. When it comes to rugby, Zimbabwe has always been regarded as a South African “province” and poaching their players should not be condemned, especially considering that Zimbabwe’s national rugby team is even more of a joke than their cricket one.

Naqelevuki, meanwhile, is a quality player who adds tremendous value to the Stormers squad. Who’s to say he won’t inspire coloured and black kids to play the game?

Ironically, Erasmus was criticised last year for failing to pick enough black players for the Cheetahs. When the Bloemfontein franchise beat the Lions in the final round of the Super 14, Eddie Fredericks (wing) and Bevin Fortuin (fullback) were the only players of colour in the starting XV.

Erasmus insisted throughout that season that he was committed to transformation, but bemoaned the lack of quality black players in the central region. When he accepted the Stormers job, he cleverly signed Bobo (who didn’t crack the Sharks Super 14 team last year, but did well for the Bok Sevens team), Januarie (the third-choice Bok scrumhalf at the World Cup) and Mujati (who the Lions initially refused to release from his contract because he was so valuable a player). In doing so, Erasmus ensured that transformation wouldn’t be an issue for him in 2008.

Stormers – 15. Gio Aplon, 14. Tonderai Chavhanga, 13. Gcobani Bobo, 12. Jean de Viliiers (c), 11. Sireli Naqelevuki, 10. Peter Grant, 9. Ricky Januarie, 8. Luke Watson, 7. Francois Louw, 6. Schalk Burger, 5. Andries Bekker, 4. Francois van der Merwe, 3. Brian Mujati, 2. Tiaan Liebenberg, 1. JD Moller. Subs: 16. Schalk Brits, 17. Brok Harris, 18. Adriaan Fondse, 19. Ross Skeate, 20. Bolla Conradie, 21. Joe Pietersen, 22. Dylan Des Fountain.

By Simon Borchardt