It's all been happening in SA in the last month; the Boks lost to Argentina for the first time and Heyneke Meyer came under fire for not maintaining progress with the 'racial transformation'
SPRINGBOKS WINLESS FOR THE FIRST TIME
Since the inception of the Tri-Nations in 1996, and then the expansion to the Rugby Championship in 2012, the Springboks have never gone through the entire tournament without a win. But in 2015 they lost three out of three in the truncated tournament, sending the Boks into a mini-crisis before the World Cup. Narrow losses to Australia in Brisbane and the All Blacks in Johannesburg hurt, but were titanic struggles that could have gone their way. But in Durban, against the Pumas, there were no crumbs of comfort. The Boks were totally outplayed as they lost 37-25 – to hand the Pumas their first ever victory over South Africa in their 20th attempt.
MEYER UNDER PRESSURE
South African rugby and the issue of racial transformation are uncomfortable bedfellows, but are inextricably linked. Earlier this month, after a relatively passive period, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer’s transformation record blew up following the Boks’ third loss of the Rugby Championship. The Western cape branch of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) made unsubstantiated claims that five black players had approached them to complain that they were being treated unfairly when it came to selection. Cosatu could not produce names or any evidence. Unfortunately the Springbok trio of flank Siya Kolisi, prop Trevor Nyakane and hooker Scarra Ntubeni were all forced into a situation where they had to publicly distance themselves from the claims in various media outlets.
DE VILLIERS AND OTHERS IN A RACE AGAINST TIME
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers, who made his return to Test rugby against the Pumas in Durban after 10 months out due to a knee injury, is still in a race against time to be fit for RWC 2015. De Villiers suffered a fractured jaw during the 37-25 loss and might only be fit for the Springboks second World Cup match against Samoa in Birmingham on September 26. Bruising No 8 Duane Vermeulen and scrum-half Fourie du Preez also did not feature in any Tests this winter due to injury. But both are likely to be picked for the World Cup. Utility back Frans Steyn also missed out on game time after he was released on compassionate leave following the tragic death of his older brother. On the positive side, powerful flank Willem Alberts made a strong return from injury against Argentina in Buenos Aires while young lock Pieter-Steph du Toit was also back on the park after a serious knee injury.
TRANSFORMATION BY THE NUMBERS
The fallout of the situation opened the debate of racial transformation just five weeks before the Rugby World Cup. Much was written but South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper at least did an ‘audit’ of coaches in the professional era and their commitment to transformation. The outcome of, admittedly a crude but revealing count of black player representation, showed that there had been a decline under Meyer. Through British eyes these measurements might seem ridiculous, but in South Africa, due to the variations on the quota system, numbers matter and are used as a measure of progress or otherwise.
The first two Bok coaches in the professional era – Andre Markgraaff and Carel du Plessis – never picked a single black player in 21 Tests between them in 1996-97. Nick Mallett awarded 833 Test caps in his 38-match tenure and picked only six black players who collectively earned 37 caps. It translated to 4.4% black player representation. Harry Viljoen upped that to 11% in his short term awarding a total of seven black players 33 caps out of 299. Rudolf Straeuli’s disastrous tenure saw 10 black players earn only 70 caps out of the 464 he awarded. Jake White, who led the Boks a record 54 times, awarded 1080 caps and picked a record high 23 black players. They collectively earned 213 caps – 19.72% of the total. Peter de Villiers, South Africa’s first black coach, awarded the most caps, 1212, in his 48-match term. He picked 21 black players who earned a total of 285 caps, or 23.8%. Meyer, who had presided over 40 matches at the time the calculation was done, had awarded 881 Test caps with 174 of those going to 17 black players. It represents a 19.75% representation for black players.
TABLE OF BLACK PLAYER REPRESENTATION PER COACH, PER TEST:
De Villiers – 5.9
Meyer – 4.3
White – 3.9
Rudolf – 3.0
Viljoen – 2.2
Mallett – 1.02
Carel – 0
Markgraaff – 0
JONES LINKED TO STORMERS JOB
Former Brumbies and Wallaby coach and current Japan boss Eddie Jones has been linked to the vacant Stormers coaching job for next season’s Super Rugby. Cape newspapers reported that Jones had been offered a two-year contract. Jones admitted to Japanese media that he had spoken to Stormers officials but that nothing had been finalised.
SA SCHOOLS BEAT ENGLAND AND WALES UNDER 18s
South Africa’s best under-18s narrowly beat England 23-16 in Cape Town to avenge their 2014 loss to the same opponents. In an earlier match SA Schools beat Wales under-18s 42-11 while England were much too strong for the SA Schools ‘A’ team winning 33-8. SA Schools also beat France 12-5 to win three out of three. Wales completed their fixtures with a 20-20 draw against SA Schools A.