Rugby World Cup 2019, South Africa (Country), Rugby, Springbok Rugby, Springboks (Rugby), Peter De Villiers, Tri-Nations, Sanzaar, Bledisloe Cup, New Zealand Rugby Team, All Blacks, Rassie Erasmus, Checkers, Sport Quotas, Player Quotas, Racial Quotas, Six Nations

Rugby World Cup 2019, South Africa (Country)

Cake and politics: On rugby quotas and the World Cup

The Rugby Championship, the World Cup, and Springbok politics in South Africa

19.8.2019

The Springboks have won the Rugby Championship. But mostly that victory serves as a declaration of intent. They— like New Zealand and Australia and at least a handful of the Northern Hemisphere teams — intend to go to Japan to win.

The Rugby Championship, the World Cup, and Springbok politics in South Africa

Nineteen have come from Sanzaar, thirteen from Six Nations countries. There has never been a Cup when fewer than two southern hemisphere nations qualified for the semis. There has never been a year when more than two European countries qualified for the semis. In 1999 all three of the then-Sanzar nations qualified for the semis; in 2011 all four Rugby Championship teams qualified for the four semifinal spots. Three of the four Rugby Championship nations (and all three Tri-Nations participants) have won at least two World Cups. None of this takes into account head-to-head matches between the Southern Hemisphere teams and their Northern Hemisphere counterparts, where the Southern Hemisphere has been even more dominant. (South Africa, for example, is 96-36-3 against the Six Nations teams since their return from isolation and has a comfortably-to-overwhelmingly winning record against all six.) To say the Southern Hemisphere tournament is better with fewer teams is not merely uncontroversial. It’s silly to even consider the question.

Let there be no mistake — all four countries wanted to win the Championship. But 2019 will not be assessed, especially for New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa, based on who won The Rugby Championship. And since no team has ever won the Championship/Tri-Nations and also the World Cup, it is even more clear that the focus for the Championship was on how events will play out in Japan, not how they have played out across the Sanzaar landscape in July and August. That said, when the final whistle blew, the South Africans were dancing and singing on the trophy presentation stage. Winning that title this year did not mean everything. It does not follow that it meant nothing.

Initially Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus effectively created two Springbok squads. One group faced off against Australia. It would be unfair (and frankly ridiculous) to call that squad a B-side, as some tried to do in the week leading up to the contest. After all, any Springbok side with Beast Mtawarira, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Elton Jantjies, Jesse Kriel, Francois Louw, and Peter-Steph du Toit in it is no B-side, and some of the younger and less experienced players seemed ready to make a leap forward. And while the Boks blooded three new caps in starters Herschel Jantjies and Rynhardt Elstadt, with Lizo Gqoboka earning his first cap off the bench, well, there have been plenty of great Springbok A-teams with debutantes in the lineup. And Herschel Jantjies has proven to be nothing shy of a revelation in his first two matches in green and gold and certainly has sealed his trip to Japan.

The two teams will meet up in the second match of the World Cup in Japan where the two giants of world rugby are in the same pool and neither wanted to yield psychological advantage to the other. South Africa had perhaps more to prove as the country‘s national team continues to recover from the depths they hit in 2016-2017. Thus, the draw in Wellington was a positive result for the Springboks but served merely as an appetizer to the September 21st meeting in Yokohama, with neither team gaining any sort of advantage, concrete or intangible, at the Cake Tin last week.

For going on 30 years now white accusers have levied the charge of “quotas,” of “politics” every time black players are chosen, whenever a black coach is hired (or considered). Yet these accusers are often far more politically driven than those they accuse. Springbok rugby — rugby in the country generally — has been accused of falling short on “transformation,” the effort to make the sport representative of the population. And rightfully so — the Springboks and the green-and-gold, a long contested symbol long embodied white supremacy and Afrikaner nationalism.

So-called coloured and African rugby federations survived and sometimes thrived during apartheid. Facing similar pressures to the national setup the elite rugby playing schools are recruiting black students from a young age and in some circles with an eye toward cultivating rugby talent, though these schools remain stubbornly and disproportionately white.

The Springboks have won the Rugby Championship. But mostly that victory serves as a declaration of intent. They— like New Zealand and Australia and at least a handful of the Northern Hemisphere teams — intend to go to Japan to win. And after the last month one can easily imagine Siya Kolisi, the first black Springbok captain who hails from the black rugby heartland of the Eastern Cape, holding the Webb Ellis trophy aloft. That, at least, is something.

Read more: Mail & Guardian

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