On Tuesday Springbok Coach Rassie Erasmus gave a press briefing on all matters relating to the Springboks in 2019, notably culminating in the World Cup in Japan later this year. Originally hired in a Director of Rugby role for SA Rugby, Erasmus was quickly drafted in to the head coaching role after a dismal showing by Allister Coetzee.
For some time now, quotas have been in place in the Springbok team. It started making real headlines in 2015 prior to the start of the World Cup in England. In 2015 some Springbok fans were surprised at Cobus Reinach’s exclusion from the Bok team after he had earned ten test caps. He was replaced by uncapped Rudi Paige in what was seen as an attempt to quieten critics by Heyneke Meyer.
Recently Northampton Saints coach, Chris Boyd spoke on the topic of Reinach and when pushed revealed that he thought it unlikely that the player would be included in the World Cup squad due to quotas. Whilst the circumstances this time around are very much different to 2015, since Reinach has never been selected by Rassie, the possibility remains.
When the South African Government announced that by 2019, the Springbok team should comprise of a minimum of 50% players of colour, debates started raging. In such a physical sport it is always a challenge to maintain a full squad as injuries and illness take their toll. Fears were that players would be forced into roles they were not ready for just to appease the requirements and those that put them in place.
Whilst it is very evident the pool of players of colour in South Africa is growing at a healthy rate it will take time for these players to adapt and develop as they are finally given exposure to top level coaching. Rushing them into the national team would be a disservice to them. A prime example of this is Damian Willemse. An extremely promising talent at either fly-half or fullback, rushing him into the full Bok squad in 2018 wouldn’t have aided his long term career. It was thus truly great to see the Springbok coaching staff taking the time to actually coach the player and prepare him for the big stage, whilst limiting his pressure and game time.
However under Coach Rassie Erasmus, things became clearer. It was only in 2018 when he took over the head coaching role that we got some proper insight into the workings of the proposed quota system. In 2018 the Springbok team had a 45% target and in 2019 the target is 50%. However the important clarity we now hold is that this is the average of match day 23’s over the season and not a selection policy to implement per match. This means that of the 31 man squad selected for the World Cup, it is not set in stone that 16 players should be of colour. It is instead going to be observed over the season.
The benefits of structuring the policy in such a way, is that it still allows for growth whilst also permitting the coach to tweak his team as needed, game to game. When injuries occur players don’t need to be rushed into the system but can be brought in over the season and properly prepared for the test arena.
2018 unveiled many talented players such as Aphiwe Dyantyi, Sbu Nkosi and Damian Willemse and you can be sure Rassie will be looking to expand and grow that playing pool during the course of 2019 as well. As the years progress, the talent coming through will negate the need for a quota system. However 2019 is also election year in South Africa and you can be sure there will be a lot of political posturing in this regard to gain favor with voters. Rassie will have to ensure that the 50% is complied with or face stern opposition.
Whilst the quota system does hold a lot of controversy both in South Africa and World Rugby, with Springbok Captain Siya Kolisi also recently speaking out against it. The reality is that it’s here to stay and whoever takes the helm in 2020 should ensure he continues to grow the player pool in order to make his top tier selection an easier task.
Written by: Nicholas Halsey
Image credit: Rugbyworld.com