Springboks

Boks still lag in 2019 ‘target’ quest

2016-10-26 14:01
Allister Coetzee

Cape Town – The Springbok Test squad soon headed for Europe, and fewer than three years out now from the next World Cup in Japan, still falls some 20 percent behind the requirement of at least an even split between black and white players by 2019.

SARU’s Strategic Transformation Plan is trying to ensure that the Boks fall in line with Government insistence that players of colour – and 60 percent of those black African – make up at least half of the national side by the time RWC 2019 arrives in September of that year.

As Allister Coetzee nears the end of his hitherto rocky first calendar year as national coach, he can at least be described as having made some progress in selection terms in realising the longer-term goal.

Bearing in mind that the 31-strong Bok squad which flew the flag at RWC 2015 in England last year contained barely more than a quarter of players of colour, the current Boks are heading a bit more northward on the transformation curve.

The 30-man party chosen for the Barbarians “warm-up” exercise on November 5 – before the more important, Test-level challenges of England, Italy and Wales respectively – includes 11 black players, meaning a percentage of 36.67.

It could be an educative, very handy blooding opportunity, in a slightly less frenetic environment than the full Test one, for such newcomers as Jamba Ulengo, Sergeal Petersen, Cheslin Kolbe, Lizo Gqoboka and Uzair Cassiem.

That said, Coetzee may also be thinking quite spiritedly toward the huge England hurdle at Twickenham a week later – the keynote game of the tour – and be wishing to give some of his more established personnel a good gallop in the Wembley fixture against the BaaBaas.

It will also be a bit of a concern to the SARU hierarchy that the percentage of players of colour in the 33-strong squad for the Tests portion of the Euro trek dips to 30.3%, as there are only 10 ticking that box.

That represents a shortfall of 19.7 percent on where the Boks wish to be in transformation terms by RWC 2019, so there remains fairly significant ground to make up in limited time -- they would presumably want the vast majority of all their tournament personnel to be well “bedded down” in the Bok dressing room by then.

On the plus side, it is gratifying that several fresh faces in the immediate squads have decent degrees of youth on their side.

If in-form Petersen and Cheslin Kolbe, both of them nippy, elusive outside backs and 22 years old, and someone like the promising Blue Bulls loosehead prop Gqoboka, who is 26 – that is still acceptably young for a front-rower – show some lustre against the BaaBaas, their prospects of more regular green-and-gold activity down the line will lift.

Coetzee needs a few of his first-timers to develop at a healthy rate of knots, considering that his core, match-day 23 for Tests generally remains understocked with players of colour.

When the Boks played their last, disastrous Test against the All Blacks in Durban, there were only four black players in the starting XV (Tendai Mtawarira, Oupa Mohoje, Juan de Jongh and Bryan Habana) and two others – Lionel Mapoe and Bongi Mbonambi – making up the 23, for a worrisome percentage of only 26.09 in relation to the long-term objective.

At least there is the relative comfort of knowing that a handful of currently injured players of colour should be back in contention next year, including the hugely exciting, tearaway loose forward Sikhumbuzo Notshe, plus Siya Kolisi, De Jongh and hopefully that luckless hooker Scarra Ntubeni, albeit haunted by a legacy of major medical setbacks.

Countering that, however, is the fact that someone like long-serving Habana, showing increasing signs of his 33 years, won’t be around for the assault on Japan in 2019, stalwart prop Mtawarira also seems to have left his best years behind him, and Mohoje is far from a must-pick right now as the Bok blindside flanker – he needs to show much more in go-forward to match his industry on defence.

Complicating the picture further is that next year the Boks will also see fit again several white players with already established international credentials – into that category will fall men like Francois Louw, Handre Pollard, Jan Serfontein, Frans Malherbe, Cobus Reinach, Marcell Coetzee, and others who are similarly far from spent forces.

Roll up those sleeves, SARU … this job’s not complete.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  allister coetzee  |  rugby
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