Eight players of colour were selected, and concerns have been raised about injuries carried by several squad members.
Chester Williams, former Springbok wing, questioned how many of the eight black players “are actually going to play? A guy like Rudy Paige should also have been exposed to Test rugby, because if a player gets injured he will be expected to come into the side in a World Cup quarter-final against Australia and perform. It’s a bit unfair”.
Williams said his biggest concern was “that there are a lot of players who have been injured. I think it’s a bit of risk taking players like Coenie Oosthuizen, Fourie du Preez and even Jean de Villiers because they haven’t played a lot of rugby over the last few months. How sharp will they actually be?”
At the announcement of the squad in Durban last night, Bok coach Heyneke Meyer said every fibre of the 31 players picked to win the Rugby World Cup was straining to reach the expectations of every South African.
He said the players embraced the “incredible responsibility” that a Webb Ellis Cup triumph would mean to all South Africans.
“You cannot talk about attempting to win a World Cup without mentioning the name of the greatest South African, Nelson Mandela, and nobody needs reminding of how his message of nation-building was emphasised by our victories in 1995 and 2007.”
Meanwhile, the Transformation and Anti-racism Rugby Committee (TARC), a national coalition of black rugby clubs and supporters, has called on South Africans to boycott the Springboks at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
The organisation criticised Meyer for selecting a World Cup squad which they say remains largely and unashamedly white to represent a country that is largely black, 21 years into democracy: “How can we be asked to support a team that clearly represents the interests of a small group of people?”
“We must revert to the past where the majority of South Africans supported the opposition team when the Springboks played. We call on South Africans to wear the jersey of any opposing team and send a clear message to SA Rugby that the path of exclusion rather than unity, that has been taken by SA Rugby, does not represent our ideals and future,” said the TARC secretary Asad Bhorat.
“Black people, who are in the majority in this country, would like to know how this team represents South Africa and how it captures the dreams of all those children in our townships who will, clearly under this regime, never have an opportunity to fulfil the dream of representing their country as rugby players.
“How does coach Heyneke Meyer choose his team along racial lines, only including the minimum number of players of colour because of political pressure, when so many players of colour would make the squad on merit?
“Examples include Elton Jantjies, Teboho Mohoje, Scarra Ntubeni and Lionel Mapoe.”
Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula said earlier this month: “Full transformation in rugby is not going to emerge overnight because we are going to the World Cup… I have (previously) addressed the transformation issues and I have gone a long way in doing so. We need a winning team that is black and white going to the World Cup.”
Mbalula, who attended a boxing match last night, was not available to comment on the squad, his spokesman said.
Karl Cloete, deputy secretary-general of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa), laid the blame for the low percentage of black players in the squad at the door of sponsors, sports administrators and the minister of sport.
Cloete said it was “a sad day in South African sporting history that only eight black players out of a final team of 31 that will represent the country at the upcoming Rugby World Cup.”
Former Bok Captain Corne Krige said last night it was a good squad, but “there are a couple of surprises – it’s a surprise that Rudy Paige is there in Cobus Reinach’s place, and also that Heinrich Brussow and Marcell Coetzee aren’t there”.
“But it’s understandable that Heyneke had to look at a certain quota. I believe that Siya Kolisi should have got a chance a long time ago and I’m looking forward to seeing him play at the World Cup.”
Cassiem Jabaar, the former Saru scrumhalf, said he was unhappy with the squad. “There was a demand for 30 percent black representation, and the squad doesn’t reflect it.
“Certain players who performed this season were not recognised. Elton Jantjies didn’t make it, and they brought in players who play overseas, who don’t play for our public. They are not bringing youngsters through the set-up,” said Jabaar.
Bok Captain Jean de Villiers said last night his team had been given the best possible preparation for the global showpiece, having suffered disappointment on the field, sweated buckets in a bid to be the fittest team in England (an often stated aim of Meyer), and then having avenged the loss to the Pumas away before returning to Durban for more heavy training.
“We are as best prepared as possible, we have had the trials and tribulations that you don’t always want but sometimes are necessary if you want to be battle ready for the greatest challenge in rugby,” said the 34-year-old De Villiers, himself nursing a broken jaw suffered in his comeback to Test rugby after almost a year convalescing from a knee ligament injury.
De Villiers implored the country to back the squad.
“We could not have trained harder, we are very confident we have done everything possible to give us as a good a chance as any other leading country to win this tournament,” the 107-cap veteran said.
“We ask the country to get behind us,” said De Villiers.
Prominent businessman and former ANC Western Cape chairman Chris Nissen took a swipe at both sides in the fallout over the squad selection.
Nissen, a longtime advocate of transformation in sport, said there were notions that needed to be debunked. “We must never make rugby as if it belongs to Afrikaners, because one merely has to go back into the history of the sport then we will find that some of the most brilliant players who displayed their grit, skill and talent on the field were in fact black players.
“It is unacceptable to think any sports champion has got an ethnic genetic ability, because sport is sport and anyone can excel in any sport,” Nissen said.
Jean de Villiers (captain), Willem Alberts, Schalk Brits, Schalk Burger, Damian de Allende, Lood de Jager, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Fourie du Preez, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Bryan Habana, Zane Kirchner, Siya Kolisi, Jesse Kriel, Pat Lambie, Willie le Roux, Francois Louw, Frans Malherbe, Victor Matfield (vice-captain), Tendai Mtawarira, Lwazi Mvovo, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Rudy Paige, Ruan Pienaar, JP Pietersen, Handre Pollard, Morne Steyn, Adriaan Strauss, Duane Vermeulen - Weekend Agus
Original source: Mixed reaction to Meyer’s Boks