Tuesday, October 23, 2007

South Africa's rugby future still in the mix (TELEGRAPH)

In a normal world, Saturday's Rugby World Cup triumph by the Springboks would have marked a beginning as much as the end. Twenty- six of the 32 players who appeared for South Africa in the tournament are young enough to reappear in 2011 and of the other six only two will be older than was England's Phil Vickery at this year's tournament.

By Andy Colquhoun in Cape Town

Players such as Bryan Habana, Fourie du Preez, Jaque Fourie, Frans Steyn, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, JP Pietersen and Ruan Pienaar are young enough to appear at another two world cups and Springbok coach Jake White capped more of the same age that didn't make the squad.

New era: plans are afoot to transform rugby in South Africa

But this is not a normal world, this is South Africa where abnormality was patented and the old anti-apartheid slogan, "no normal sport in an abnormal society" still has a resonance, although the jaundiced would say it has been reversed as "abnormal sport in a normal society".

The simple fact is that no one — not the rugby administrators, not the politicians, and least of all the coaching professionals — has a clear idea of what the first Springbok team of 2008, to play Wales in a two-test series in June, will look like.

"This team can definitely get a lot better but at the moment we're unsure of the future in South African Rugby," admitted scrum-half Fourie du Preez within two hours of the final whistle on Saturday.

"Who is going to coach the Boks?" he asked. "All of our contracts expire at the end of the year and we've had no clarity on that yet, and a few guys are heading overseas, so it's an uncertain time.

"We hope the World Cup performance will help keep cool heads in SA Rugby so we can build from the performance." The definition of a "cool head" depends where you stand on the political and, bluntly, on the racial spectrum.

Top End

No one at the top end of South African rugby opposes the concept of transformation but coaching professionals — most of whom are white — would prefer to see organic growth where the ultimate criterion for the inclusion of new black players remains merit — the same rule that applies to whites.

It's just that the organic growth has been painfully slow: Chester Williams broke new ground as the solitary black star of the 1995 World Cup winners yet, 12 years later, the shop window of transformation featured only two black players, Habana and Pietersen.

This snapshot is, in many ways, misleading. Rugby has had a succession of powerful black presidents since 1998 and there are many black players earning a decent living as professional rugby players in South African domestic rugby.

But South African rugby can't avoid the damning fact that in the 15 years since rugby's separate race bodies were unified in 1992 the vision of a racially representative Springbok team appears little closer.

In the wake of Saturday's final sports minister Makhenkesi Stofile — who attended the match with South Africa president Thabo Mbeki — issued a statement congratulating the team but pointing a new way forward.

"This victory should herald a new era — an era in which we all embrace change and tackle the challenges still being faced by our rugby and sport in general," he said.

But his new era is not one of steady-as-she-goes Springbok world domination. It is of a more aggressively transforming team, even if mid-year 'scare stories' of a Springbok XV featuring 10 black players as early as next June were always wide of the mark.

The task of balancing the South African imperative of transformation — a requirement enshrined in workplace legislation — while maintaining a winning team is red-ringed on the to-do list for rugby's top professional administrator, Jonathan Stones.

Fourie du Preez: "If I could send a message to SARU, I would ask them not to change the set-up too much," he said. "Get the best coach they can and allow him to put structures in place to keep the bulk of the team that won the World Cup in the system. I don't want to criticise anyone, but the boys have put their hands up and they deserve to be able to have some input in the future."
For the next page of the Daily Telegraph article, go here.

NVDL: The question is, do we care more about rugby (the sport), or the politics behind it? Because the politics is about a quota system, the sport is about skill, how to move the ball around the field, how to play with the fastest and most powerful tribe of men overcoming strong opponents. If you don't chose these players on merit in this game, you can forget about winning, and if you forget about winning, might as well forget about playing.

No comments: