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In December 2014, the South African Rugby Union General Council approved a five-year roadmap in the lead up to the 2019 World Cup, called the Strategic Transformation Plan.
The most high-profile target of the plan was to field a Springbok team that is 50 per cent black by 2019.
Allister Coetzee was appointed coach in 2016, but was sacked this month on the back of poor results and having largely failed at transformation.
He was given four full seasons before the World Cup to give good black players exposure to Test match rugby. With effective planning, he should have been able to achieve the target with a competitive team.
Let’s look at the South African team that concluded last year’s Rugby Championship:
15. Andries Coetzee, 14. Dillyn Leyds, 13. Jesse Kriel, 12. Jan Serfontein, 11. Courtnall Skosan, 10. Elton Jantjies, 9. Ross Cronjé, 8. Francois Louw, 7. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6. Siya Kolisi, 5. Lood de Jager, 4. Eben Etzebeth, 3. Ruan Dreyer, 2. Malcolm Marx, 1. Steven Kitshoff
Subs: 16. Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17. Trevor Nyakane, 18. Wilco Louw, 19. Franco Mostert, 20. Jean-Luc du Preez, 21. Rudy Paige, 22. Handré Pollard, 23. Damian de Allende.
This team had only 30 per cent black players, and a number of mediocre white players. He shunned black players such as Lukanhyo Am (13), Makazole Mapimpi (14), S’bu Nkosi (11), Nizaam Carr (8), and Warrick Gelant (15), who all had strong Super Rugby campaigns. Surely these guys would have been no worse than those selected?
Furthermore, the Junior Springbok team that made the semi-final of the 2017 Junior World Cup had 11 black players in the starting 15.
Damian Willemse can play 10, 12 and 15 and reminds me of Tim Horan. Curwin Bosch can run, pass and kick, and play 10 or 15. No.9 Embrose Papier reads the game well and has a crisp pass – this year he’s been picked ahead of Rudi Paige in the Bulls Super Rugby squad. No.8 Juarno Augustus is a beast that can play 7 and should get game time for the Stormers. Salmaan Moerat is a typical South African lock.
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These players can improve, but the right approach would have been to work with them and the regional franchises to develop their game in the lead-up to the World Cup. I seem to remember Jake White doing something similar with Bryan Habana, Jaque Fourie, Jean De Villiers, Fourie Du Preez and Shalk Burger, and that turned out ok.
After Coetzee’s axing, Rassie Erasmus was appointed director of rugby – although there’s talk he will have a dual role, doubling as coach, until the World Cup.
But, as a result of Coetzee wasting two years, Erasmus has little time to produce a balanced and competitive team that’s half black players.
However, he was reportedly planning well before his official announcement. Recently he’s been spending time with the regional franchises, visiting South African players in the UK, and watching England play at Twickenham. He’s a meticulous planner, and he brings tactical acumen combined with a clear vision of how to play the game. I’m sure he’s aware of these transformation targets and what he needs to do to achieve them.
The following squad achieves the 50 per cent target and is packed with talent, even if they have aspects to work on.
Who would you pick, fellow arm-chair coaches? Can you achieve the 50 per cent target?
15. Warrick Gelant – Good in attack, but must work on his aerial and kicking game.
14. Makazole Mapimpi – Probably the best finisher in South Africa but must work on his defence.
13. Lukanhyo Am – Needs Test match experience.
12. Jan Serfontein – Was excellent last year and brings experience to the backline.
11. Sbu Nkosi – Has speed, physicality, defence, and apparently he’s incredibly focused on improving his game.
10. Curwin Bosch – Lots of potential and with time his reading of the game will improve, but must work on his defence.
9. Embrose Papier – Has played with Bosch from junior level and also needs game time, but must work on his kicking game.
8. Nizaam Carr – Athletic and physical.
7. Jean-Luc du Preez – Athletic and physical.
6. Siya Kolisi – He would be the captain of this new Springbok era.
5. Lood de Jager – Physical and mobile.
4. Eben Etzebeth – Physical and mobile.
3. Vincent Koch – Experienced tight head.
2. Malcolm Marx – First name on the team sheet.
1. Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira – Brings experience and wasn’t as bad as people think last year.
16. Bongi Mbonambi / Scarra Ntubeni – I’d leave Marx on for as long as possible, but these two would combine with the Stormers locks if they came on.
17. Steven Kitshoff – Brings anger and mobility off the bench.
18. Trevor Nyakane – Needs more time at tight head.
19. Franco Mostert – Mobility off the bench.
20. Pieter-Steph du Toit – Covers lock and flank.
21. Jaco Kriel – Mobility off the bench.
22. Damian Willemse – Covers inside back positions.
23. Jesse Kriel – Covers outside back positions.