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Rugby: Transformation is the solution – not the problem – for the Springboks

Murray Ingram is the co-founder of Connect Sports Academy, the SA Sport Industrys 2016 Development Programme of the Year.

True transformation will solve the country’s rugby woes, not hinder it as Derick Hougaard and Brian Moore seem to think.

Thank the heavens, the nightmare is over and it has been replaced by the Blitzboks. Last weekend the Boks wrapped up a horrific year. They were whitewashed (and no, I’m not talking about the team photo) and they managed to lose to Italy (yes, Italy!) for the first time ever.

In the aftermath, there have been the predictable shouts for the coach to be sacked and once again transformation and quotas seem to be taking a lot of the flak. This is despite the fact that there were never more than four players of colour in the starting team.

Let’s get things straight first up: I never thought Allister Coetzee was the right man for the job. I thought I’d give him a chance to prove me wrong, but my reservations proved to be correct. He is too embedded in the conservative rugby establishment that controls the game in this country.

Let the irony of this not be lost. To many, Coetzee is seen as a “quota” selection. Personally, I think he’s a typical South African coach. Tactically, he’s a physicality first, win the collisions, and play the percentages type of guy.

But that style of rugby doesn’t really work any more. Don’t get me wrong, having a strong defensive system and a solid tactical kicking game is essential for any successful rugby team. But these days, you need much more than that.

You need pragmatism but you also need to be able to score tries. All of your 23 players need to have excellent handling skills as well as good breakdown and contact microskills.

Anybody who watched the second Test between Ireland and New Zealand will understand. Every minute of that game was enthralling. It had the physicality you expect from a Test match, but it also had much more. The thing that struck me most was the attitude of the players. They weren’t playing with the fear of losing. They were almost entirely positive and ultimately pretty damn brave in their decision making. Contrast this with the way the Springboks have been playing for the last few years and the picture becomes quite clear.

This kind of logic doesn’t sit well with the traditional South African rugby supporter. We couldn’t possibly be falling behind simply because of our tactical approach. It has to be something else. And that’s where transformation comes in.

Ex-player Derick Hougaard recently Tweeted: “Unfortunately now we are feeling the snowball effect of transformation and government interference!!! Everything needs to change!!”

Yes, he really did use that many exclamation marks.

This seems to be a common theme – how dare they try and take our game away from us and then proceed to ruin it. Sorry to rain on your parade, Derick, but this is pretty poor logic.

Another tweet from Hougaard reads, “If you have a kwota system at school level saying 50/50 you are discriminating against a possible 50% of kids!! – and this sums it up perfectly.” (sic)

Is he afraid that white kids will one day have their opportunities limited just like black kids have for the last couple of hundred years? Hougaard seems to think that quotas will inevitably lead to “reverse discrimination”.

As someone who has spent the last two years in the development trenches, I assure you this is absurd thinking.

When it comes to resources and opportunities there is still such an enormous gap between the haves and have-nots in this country. But people like Hougaard, who grew up in an elite rugby environment, will never understand that. Because due to things like spatial apartheid, they’ve never had their confirmation bias challenged.

And then there is ex-England hooker Brian Moore. On commentary duty during Wales against South Africa last week, he said something along the lines of: “The difficulty SA rugby is facing is converting non-white South Africans to a game that is not traditionally theirs.”

Tell me, Mr Moore, which white South African bent your ear with this less than accurate version of our rugby history?

Like cricket, considered to be “traditionally a white man’s game” by some deluded fools, there’s a rich history of rugby in many communities of colour in this country. And there would’ve been so much more to celebrate if the apartheid regime hadn’t deliberately obstructed so many career paths in the game.

Kids of colour want to play. But the problem is lack of facilities, boots, balls and all the other resources needed to take part in the game. Not to mention inadequate nutrition and the lack of gym facilities.

And as you bellow: “Oh, but this is government’s fault!”, consider this: while government is certainly an obstacle, they are not the solution. We need to consider high-performance career paths and that is the mandate of the South African Rugby Union (SARU), their affiliate unions, their corporate sponsors and, yes, the government that administers the field that they operate in.

For 20 years there has been no real effort to transform the game in this country. And quotas at the highest level have been nothing more than a convenient distraction for those elites who wish to keep the game to themselves.

It’s no use going around and around in circles for the next 20 years. If we want to dominate the game again at some point in our future, we have to make a genuine attempt to create elite player pathways for all members of our society. Until we do so, expect more shock losses to the likes of Italy and Japan. DM

Murray Ingram is the co-founder of Connect Sports Academy, the SA Sport Industry’s 2016 Development Programme of the Year.


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