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
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
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.
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