How many players of colour have left a lasting impression on Springbok rugby over the last 25-30 years? Chester Williams, Tendai Mtawarira, Breyton Paulse and Ricky Januarie….who else? Brian Habana who has a white mother and went to one of Joburg’s best schools.
Too often players of colour have been chosen to fill quota requirements and they have come and gone without leaving a mark. Springbok coaches have been very cunning in the way they include players of colour and manage them in a way that their main purpose of being there is to hold tackle bags.
Heyneke Meyer included Lionel Mapoe in his squads in the build up to the Rugby World Cup but only gave him 3 minutes of playing time before dropping him from the squad instead preferring a player that had played all season at fullback in Mapoe’s position of outside centre. Rudy Paige was chosen out of the blue when Meyer realised he never had enough dark-skinned players in his RWC squad. As a third choice scrumhalf this selection was hardly likely to make a big impression and in the end Paige got 28 minutes of gametime through the whole of RWC 2015.There was an outcry especially from Sharks supporters as they felt their man Cobus Reinach was much more deserving of a RWC spot than Paige.
Springbok coaches have had to deal with selecting players that they don’t really want and have become masters of manipulating situations and manage these Quota selections to have as little effect on the team as possible.
Does this sound like any of these coaches want transformation to take place? Have any of these coaches actually tried to grow these players and take their potential and further them as players? Lost in the system are names like Jongi Nokwe, Tonderai Chavanga and Hilton Lobberts. The coaches chose these players because they had to rather than wanted to.
Guaging by reaction the vast majority of the white rugby supporters are not keen on seeing these players in their teams either. Take the recent inclusion of Elton Jantjies in the Springbok team, every mistake that Jantjies made was magnified by a public waiting for him to make a mistake and any good he did was not mentioned compared to the relatively armchair ride that Morne Steyn enjoyed. Steyn was abysmal in his run on appearances for the Springboks, missing tackles and the team not scoring any tries. South Africa lost by less in New Zealand with Jantjies at flyhalf than they did in South Africa with Steyn at flyhalf against the All Blacks.
Many of these players of colour are more suited to a different gameplan than what South Africa normally plays. Johan Ackermann plays a gameplan that suits a player like Elton Jantjies, that is why he chooses Jantjies and more recently Jaco van der Walt ahead of Domkrag flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff.
Similarly scrumhalf Ricky Januarie never fitted into the Springbok setup as he was more like Aaron Smith or Will Genia than he was like Fourie du Preez or Ruan Pienaar. He was quick to clear and did very little tactical kicking instead leaving that to flyhalf Morne Steyn who has very limited tactical ability. When he had a spell at the Ospreys in Wales they wanted to get him to stay for longer as he fitted in so well with their gameplan instead Januarie returned to the Stormers in a bid to continue his Springbok career. He was part of a Springbok team to beat the All Blacks in New Zealand and scored a brilliant solo try that sealed the victory in Dunedin in 2008 yet on comments pages on different rugby sites SA supporters say he was ‘kak’. Januarie has been a valued member of the La Rochelle squad in France for several seasons now.
I remember watching the Lions playing one night in the Super 14 back in 2007, I think it was against the Waratahs. Heinke van der Merwe was all the talk as this exciting young tighthead prop but unfortunately Van der Merwe pulled out at the last minute because he was ill. The young man that came in, in Van der Merwe’s place was very impressive. That young man was Brian Mujati.
Mujati was so impressive that the Lions told him that they wanted to build a team around him boosting his ego no end. When Mujati went to see someone in the office he inadvertantly caught a glimpse of other players contracts that had been left on the secretary’s desk. He saw that all these players were being payed far more than him even though he had been told how important he was. Feeling like he had been conned Mujati left the Lions and signed for the Stormers.
Mujati had two things going for him when he got selected for the Springboks, one was that he was a very good tighthead prop and the other was that he was black which would make the Springboks look good for reaching transformation targets. Ironically Mujati was not created by the South African school system but the Zimbabwean schooling system.
Mujati was inspired to play rugby by seeing Lawrence Sephaka playing for the Springboks. He thought to himself there is a place for fat black guys in this sport.Sephaka was never considered to be there on merit but this example shows that it ultimately assisted transformation.
On the day of Brian Mujati’s Springbok debut verses Wales an article appeared in all the local papers about a white farmer in Zimbabwe who had been forced off his land which was part of Robert Mugabe’s strategy of remaining in power. The guy that had replaced this white farmer on his farm was none other than Brian Mujati’s father.
Why did this article emerge on the day Mujati made his Springbok debut? Could there be a worse crime to commit by a black man when the vast majority of Springbok supporters are Afrikaans and a matter like this is so close to their hearts?
The Springboks struggled to victory against Wales and afterwards the majority of experts pointed the finger of blame at the rookie tighthead prop. I remember the game, Mujati wasn’t that bad but he wasn’t that good either but considering how he had been stitched up just before running out for the Springboks he didn’t do badly.
Mujati and his father had been estranged for a long time even before his father took this man’s farm but no-one wanted to know about that. Mujati, after playing for the Springboks 12 times, soon moved to England and spent quite a few very successful seasons playing for Northampton Saints where for a long time he was regarded as the best tighthead playing in Europe but never got a call again from the Springboks.He currently plays for Sale Sharks.
Why was that article released on the day of his debut? Is that the actions of a press that want transformation to happen? In a Test at Twickenham a point in that game where players had come on off the bench, the Springbok front-row consisted of ‘Beast’ Tendai Mtawarira, Chilliboy Ralepelle and Brian Mujati. If ever there was an advertisement for the success of transformation in rugby that was it. How come that never lasted longer than the last 20 minutes of that game?
All this whinging about Quota selections destroying SA rugby is way off the mark. Domkrag rugby and an administration that have sat on their arses doing nothing to better the game are to blame. The majority of quota selections have been made on the wing so much so that when Ruan Combrink was selected to play wing for the Springboks everyone noted that a white guy had been selected on the wing.
Influential positions are still reserved for white guys except at the Lions where the flyhalf is Elton Jantjies and they don’t play Domkrag rugby. Jantjies will probably do more for transformation than some black guy stuck out on the wing. Jantjies playing in the influential decision making role at flyhalf.
The last 25-30 years is a time where SARU had committed itself to an agreement to be proactive in transforming rugby so that instead of it representing the minority white population of South Africa, it becomes more representative of the whole of South Africa’s population. Have they been successful with transformation? Not that successful. Have they been committed to transformation? No.
In my opinion transformation is seen by most whites as a negative but I feel if you increase the player pool by expanding the game into all the races in South Africa it will increase the chances of finding better players, it is a simple numbers game. Added to this viewership will increase bringing more money to the sport. Apartheid is long gone and we should accept reality and forge a new identity in the sport as currently the job being done is destroying the lagacy of the Springboks.