Bok XV: Allister flirts with transformation flak

Rudy Paige (Gallo Images)
Rudy Paige (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - There’s a fair bit to be grateful for in the latest Springbok match-day 23 revealed on Wednesday, I suppose.

READ: Boks well prepared for tough Wales encounter

But if this happens to be Allister Coetzee’s last Test as head coach, he may be remembered - among other things in a choppy tenure - for going down with a tardy commitment to transformation in his starting XV, particularly, to play Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.

Like it or not, it is a perennial hot potato in the South African sporting landscape, and “Toetie” has slumped to a dangerous new low statistically by revealing only three players of colour to begin the season-ending clash at the Principality Stadium.

That’s a stark 20 percent ... a long way off the grand vision, by 2019, of a 50-50 scenario in the team (although “team” is open to loose interpretation given the addition of eight substitutes to an international match-day brew).

Of course one his bankers in that department is usually the long-serving loosehead prop Tendai Mtawarira, ruled out by a groin injury (Steven Kitshoff far from undeservedly earns another rare start), and the return of first-choice hooker Malcolm Marx - one of the few truly shining lights of 2017 - for Bongi Mbonambi was always likely to aggravate the transformation quandary for this fixture.

But that’s also where the coach has not boxed especially clever in balancing the books, as it were: he is likely to cop it from many observers, especially those with spirited political hats, for the complete omission in Cardiff of Rudy Paige.

The luckless little scrumhalf, remember, was one of the characters at the centre of similar controversy in the dying days of Heyneke Meyer’s - still much more win-heavy - period as national coach in late 2015.

Meyer tended to earn raspberries whenever he only named three players of colour in a Bok XV and, a full two years on, that figure seems even less palatable in terms of the stated 2019 objectives.

One fillip at No 9 is Coetzee, to his credit, giving the possible opportunity for a maiden Test cap to the third scrumhalf in the tour party, Louis Schreuder, as substitute understudy to Ross Cronje.

But the Lions player has not exactly been in cracking form on this venture so far, and Paige did bring just a hint of superior vitality when he appeared off the splinters in the 35-6 defeat of Italy last weekend with 25 minutes to go.

Rather than Paige being ripped emphatically from the Bok book, if you like, for this Saturday, there would have been fairly widespread public and pundit approval for the Bulls man starting against the Welsh.

It would have gone a long way, you suspect, to keeping more strident transformation hawks at the door: is it just possible that Coetzee, desperately seeking a third victory in succession and his crown seemingly about to fall off, has thrown caution almost disrespectfully to the wind on that score?

In his defence, six of the eight reserves named for Cardiff tick the necessary transformation box, taking overall representation to nine out of the 23 for the day, which looks a little better for the bigger-picture drive.

Hearteningly, there is a hugely deserved first start for Warrick Gelant, even if it is at wing rather than his more customary fullback, and the Lukhanyo Am fan club will be partially appeased at last by his appearance for the first time amidst the 23 - some game-time for the Sharks midfielder in Cardiff would be of widespread interest if it occurs.

But the demographic make-up of the bench will also increase the perception in some circles that black players remain generally too peripheral in the Bok environment.

Coetzee is playing with fire, at a time when no lack of observers are ready to light the farewell “Blitz” beneath him anyway ...



15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Hallam Amos, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Cory Hill, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Rob Evans

Substitutes: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Wyn Jones, 18. Rhodri Jones, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Owen Watkin

South Africa

15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Warrick Gelant, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff

Substitutes: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Oupa Mohoje 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Lukhanyo Am

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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