Coach Allister Coetzee is fired. You’re hired. You have a six-year contract.
You have to decide your core group of players to take you to Japan in 2019 and France in 2023; and return to top two or three status in between.
As you begin to pencil the names in, you will need to highlight any of the ones who are ‘white.’ You will need to see if any of those highlighted names can be replaced by a player without that pigment disability.
By 2019, which is almost here, you will need to rock up in Tokyo with the ability to name a game day squad for every match which has no more than 12 white players.
If you don’t, you will lose your job, and cost your sport all government funding, hosting rights for Test matches, and even private sponsor money.
Also, you will know privately the maximum number of white players who will be allowed to be Boks in France in 2023. A good guide is women’s rugby in South Africa (already, only 20 per cent of players in the national squad are allowed to be white).
Thus, by 2023, which really means by 2020 (for purposes of awarding national contracts for white players, building cap numbers, or averting premature choices to depart a la CJ Stander, WP Nel, Josh Strauss, Scott Spedding, or Rory Kockott) the working figure for white players in a 23-man squad is five or six.
Who are those five or six white players you can afford to use, and do they play in a position where, if injured, there are only white replacements, or is there another position in which the second best player is black?
The positions themselves begin to be coded white or black.
This is the way you have to think. It’s not about finding opportunities for deserving black players. You have to be ruthless about denying white players a place on the plane, even if they are the best at their position.
You will need to identify positions where the second or third-best players are black, and that will guide you to eliminate the “right” white players who are the best.
1. Not all ‘non-white’ players are equally black, according to the government. An ‘ethnically’ African black player like Tendai Mtawarira (originally from Zimbabwe) or Raymond Rhule (from Ghana) is preferable over ‘Coloured’ players like Rudy Paige or Elton Jantjies. The clear signal from the government is that by 2023, maximum caps will also start to apply to non-white players who are not ‘black enough.’
2. You are not going to be allowed to get down to 12 white players and then four or five white players by hiding them – typically the largest men, of Dutch and Huguenot heritage – in your pack. The government is even talking about ‘tight forwards’ being subject to ‘no whites need apply’ cap by 2023.
These two points are a problem. (1) ‘Coloured’ South Africans, who live predominantly in the Western and Eastern Cape, have been rugby fans and players for over a century, while black Africans are much newer to the game (for both unfair reasons and also mere reasons of preference for soccer). (2) there are currently no more than a couple of non-white locks playing senior rugby in South Africa, and there are probably ten or more white Saffa locks of Test quality playing at home or abroad (Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Franco Mostert, Ruan Botha, Jean Kleyn, Jason Jenkins, Juandre Kruger, Andries Bekker, Paul Willemse, and Franco van der Merwe).
What do you do?
What is your methodology?
What are the positions in which you can ‘live easiest without any white players’ and still win?
Take for example hookers. South Africa is deep in quality hookers. Malcolm Marx is a phenom, Bismarck du Plessis is still dominant, Schalk Brits is ending a brilliant career for Saracens, and five other hookers play abroad who could vie for national honours. But they are all white.
Meanwhile, Bongi Mbonambi, Chiliboy Ralepelle, and Scarra Ntubeni are all decent hookers, who do not hurt you on the ‘get down to 12 and then five whites’ mandate, even if they are smallish and less dynamic.
Might it not be better to drop the amazingly talented Marx? Maybe it’s better to code the two and 16 jerseys right now as non-white?
If you keep Marx, and you cannot find any black locks of Test quality, you simply have to have black props.
And therefore, flame-haired Steven Kitshoff faces trouble.
If you were writing down five white players to take you through 2023, you’d probably write down: Marx, Kitshoff, Etzebeth, PSDT, and Lood de Jager. You simply cannot waste any of those slots on white backline players.
But Kitshoff might need to be scratched. Because there are black options at loosehead; better than the black tighthead options. Hell, even Ruan ‘Plank’ Dreyer keeps being picked because the only viable black tighthead is the up-and-down (and seldom fully fit) Trevor Nyakane.
But with Frans Malherbe, Coenie Oosthuizen, Wilco Louw or Vincent Koch fit, the gap in quality between elite white tightheads and black tightheads is greater than margin between Kitshoff and the black options (such as Ox Nche and Nyakane, if he plays the loosehead, where he is better).
This is also hard on young Tank du Toit, who might need to join the diaspora and maximise his earnings, rather than hope for one of the few ‘white’ jerseys.
What will you do? Declare both prop positions ‘black?’ Or just the loosehead slot? That way you can stock the loosehead three deep without white players; and Kitshoff can return to France.
What do you do, new Bok coach?
South Africa has always produced large numbers of quality loose forwards, but luckily you will not be as captive to white talent in this area. Yes, Duane Vermeulen, Warren Whiteley, Francois Louw, Jaco Kriel, Marcell Coetzee, Chris Cloete, Heinrich Brussow, Jean-Luc du Preez, Dan du Preez, Michael Rhodes, Don Armand, Jacques du Plessis, Ruan Ackermann, Schalk Burger, Cornell du Preez, Wiann Liebenberg, Rynhardt Elstadt, and Derek Minnie are good, but most of them have solved your problem by joining Stander and Josh Strauss overseas. They can arguably be replaced by the Stormers loosies who are all not white (the fantastically skillful–if not physically large–trio of Siya Kolisi, Nizaam Carr, and Sibu Notshe). Also, Craven Week is showing us quality and very fast black loose forwards; more each year.
So, do you think of your game-day loosies as needing to be two black two white? Or even cap white loosies at one?
Maybe, if you are going to meet likely 2023 caps on white players, you need to only have white locks and a white tighthead, or five of the gameday 13 forwards, and hope you can find an elite black tighthead by 2020.
If there are any white backs who could make their way into the ‘five indispensable whites’ it’s probably Handre Pollard and Jan Serfontein, currently. But realistically, both can be replaced without losing too much.
If Pollard is going to be the only white flyhalf candidate, it might be better to code ten as non-white, too. Potential white backup Pat Lambie is gone, as is Johan Goosen, and local Rob du Preez has not seized even a backup flyhalf spot, yet. We will see if his halfback father can coach him to greatness with the Sharks. But much pressure will come to bear on Rob Senior to allow Curwin Bosch to show what he can do at flyhalf (if he can learn to tackle).
Serfontein was the best Bok back in 2017; maybe he was the good backline player at all. But surely we can find quicker, more agile midfielders in black and Coloured playing ranks. I rate the jackling centre Lukhanyo Am very highly, and super-young Damian Willemse for the Stormers is still growing; he might be an ideal playmaker 12 who can also step and hit hard.
Willemse may also be the best bet for a non-white flyhalf super-athlete who can transform his position, much as black quarterbacks in the NFL added space and time dimensions to gridiron that pocket passers like Dan Marino or Tom Brady never could.
Of course, this means that Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Harold Vorster, EW Viljoen, and Andre Esterhuizen should immediately follow Frans Steyn, Serfontein, Paul Jordaan, Johann Sadie, Danie Poolman, and Robert Ebersohn overseas.
Wing and fullback positions can never be wasted on white players after this year; this is obvious. Plenty of good options exist (but Coetzee hasn’t picked from those options very intelligently); and long-term, this should make the Boks as dangerous an attacking side as the Blitzboks.
There is no substitute for sheer speed, and South Africa should be the fastest sprinting team in rugby. Andries Coetzee should be the Last White Bok Fullback. Warrick Gelant or Bosch or Willemse are all better long-term options right now, and one would think there are a dozen other black candidates.
Oh, and I don’t know your race, new coach, but no more than 40 per cent (or probably five coaches) of your coaching staff can be white, and there is exactly one non-white Super Rugby or Pro14 head coach to choose from.
So, you will need to think of two phases:
Phase One: a max of 12 white players and five white coaches from 2018-2019
Phase Two: a max of five white key players from 2020-2023 (no investment in more than 7-8 white players, to cover injury) and probably only two white coaches.
Who are your five white players to still invest in, top up, and do anything to retain?
Which white tighthead?
Which of Kitshoff, Marx, Etzebeth, Lood, PSDT, Mostert, Botha, Kriel, and Whiteley?