JOHANNESBURG, September 10- The racial composition of the Springboks was a heated issue among South Africans before the squad announcement for the Rugby World Cup, which kicks off in England next week.
After giving blacks limited opportunities during recent defeats by Australia and New Zealand, coach Heyneke Meyer stirred a storm of protest by picking 13 white starters against Argentina in another warm-up match.
National trade union body Cosatu claimed five unnamed black Springboks had complained to the organisation of racial discrimination.
Meyer issued a denial, saying “I do not look at colour — I look at the best players. I have a great relationship with my players.”
Little-known group the Agency for a New Agenda (ANA) went to court this month, wanting the Springboks to surrender their passports, which would prevent them competing at the World Cup.
The case was dropped, but the judge criticised the tortoise-like pace of rugby racial reform and committed the court to probe the matter further, saying it was a “national interest” issue.
Particularly upsetting for those opposed to what they consider a too-white national rugby team was the dropping of black winger Conrad Hendricks to accomodate white full-back Jesse Kriel against Argentina.
A common complaint against Meyer is that he chooses whites in positions where they do not usually play rather than pick a black who regularly fills the role.
White scrum-half Francois Hougaard admitted several season ago that he was embarrassed to be given the No. 11 national team shirt when black Lwazi Mvovo was excelling as a winger.
Race has long been an emotive issue with whites believing black players weaken their beloved two-time world champions Springboks and blacks angry at “snow white” teams representing a country whose population is 90 percent black.
Meyer included nine blacks in his 31-man World Cup squad, but others like centre Lionel Mapoe, who sparkled for the Lions during the 2015 Super Rugby season, must have been disappointed not to make it.
“You only see black players when they shoot adverts,” former Bulls winger John Mametsa told Johannesburg daily The New Age.
“This discrimination will not end anytime soon. What is happening is depressing and unfair to black players. The Springboks are still stuck in the past.
“Why does it take a white player one bad year to be dropped, but only one bad match for a black to be dropped?.
“Black players who do well do not get opportunities. I do not think Meyer is 100 percent honest regarding the reasons.”
Columnist and former Springboks official Mark Keohane does not believe former Bulls coach Meyer acts out of racism, malice or disregard for the merits of black players.
“When in doubt, like so many (Springbok coaches) before him, he has found comfort with what he knows — white rugby players.
“It is not right and it is not wrong, but in the context of South African rugby, it is not acceptable,” Keohane wrote in Business Day.
Rugby author and columnist Liz McGregor noted that there had been no comment from South African Rugby Union (SARU) president Oregan Hoskins, a black, nor chief executive Jurie Roux.
SARU and the South African government set a target for 2015 of at least seven black players in each Springbok matchday 23 with at least five on the field throughout a match.
Meyer failed to meet these goals in the four World Cup warm-ups with only two black starters in the stunning home defeat by Argentina.
A week later, Meyer doubled the number of black starters to four and South Africa won convincingly in Buenos Aries with Mvovo scoring a brilliant try.
Plans have been published for 50 percent black representation in the 2019 Springboks World Cup team.
The reluctance of many whites to accept black players into what they consider to be their sport runs deep.
Instructed to pick at least nine blacks in 22-strong squads for a schools inter-provincial tournament this year, virtually all the predominantly white coaches chose exactly nine.
South Africa play Japan on Saturday week in their opening Pool B match and also face Samoa, Scotland and the United States in the league phase of the global rugby showcase.