South Africa pick 12 black players for Ireland rugby series
CAPE TOWN – New South Africa coach Allister Coetzee included 12 black players on Saturday in a 31-man squad that includes nine uncapped players for a three-Test home series against Ireland during June.
New Springboks coach Allister Coetzee gives a press conference following his appointment on April 12, 2016 in Johannesburg
Sports minister Fikile Mbalula last month barred South African Rugby (SAR) from bidding for or hosting international tournaments because of discontent with racial transformation in the sport.
Mbalula had told the national body that 50 percent of the Springboks squad that goes to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan must be black.
South African rugby has traditionally been dominated by whites, who compose only nine percent of the population. Blacks were barred from representing their country during the apartheid era.
Heyneke Meyer, whose four-year contract as national coach was not renewed last December, stubbornly refused to give most black rugby stars in the republic a chance.
His first choice team at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England, where South Africa came third, consisted of 12 whites and three blacks.
Meyer, who became a hugely divisive national figure in the final year of his reign, also ignored Golden Lions players whereas the new coach picked seven of the Johannesburg outfit.
As much as attention was on who Coetzee would name at Newlands stadium in Cape Town for his first series, there was also widespread public and media interest in the racial mix.
Coetzee proved the best ‘transformer’ in South African rugby when he coached leading local Super Rugby franchise Western Stormers for six seasons, regularly fielding a near 50-50 racial combination.
Some of the blacks he chose to face Ireland have worn the national green and gold colours before, including props Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira and Trevor Nyakane, and winger JP Pietersen.
Four are uncapped — Sharks fly-half Garth April and Western Stormers hookers Bongi Mbonambi and Scarra Ntubeni, as well as loose forward Sikhumbuzo Notshe.
“The announcement of the squad is a highlight of my career and a result of a lot of hard work and a huge amount of planning since my appointment,” Coetzee said.
“Selection was based on rewarding form and exposing young and upcoming local players to the Springboks, which is why priority was given to locally based players.”
Only three of the squad — uncapped Bordeaux prop Steven Kitshoff, Toulon No.8 Duane Vermeulen and Bath flanker Francois Louw — play abroad.
The other newcomers are winger Ruan Combrinck, scrum-halves Faf de Klerk and Nic Groom, and flanker Jaco Kriel.
“We have experienced players still available for selection, but we just felt that the time was right to look at the new generation,” added Coetzee.
Vermeulen and Louw are among the media favourites to succeed retired Jean de Villiers as Springboks skipper with an announcement expected soon.
South Africa play Ireland in Cape Town (June 11), Johannesburg (June 18) and Port Elizabeth (June 25).
Forwards (17): Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Scarra Ntubeni (all Western Stormers), Jaco Kriel, Julian Redelinghuys, Warren Whiteley (all Golden Lions), Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss (both Northern Bulls), Lood de Jager (Central Cheetahs), Steven Kitshoff (Bordeaux/FRA), Francois Louw (Bath/ENG), Tendai Mtawarira (Coastal Sharks), Duane Vermeulen (Toulon/FRA)
Backs (14): Garth April, Patrick Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo, JP Pietersen, Wille le Roux (all Sharks), Ruan Combrinck, Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe (all Lions), Jesse Kriel, Rudy Paige, Jan Serfontein (all Bulls), Damian de Allende, Nic Groom (both Stormers),
Coach: Allister Coetzee