Kolisi, black Boks break 'quota' shackles

Lloyd Burnard
Lloyd Burnard

Cape Town - There are still two matches to go in the series, but regardless of what happens in Bloemfontein and Cape Town, Saturday, June 9, 2018 will be a day forever etched into the long, proud history of South African rugby. 

The magnitude of what happened at Ellis Park this past weekend can never be understated as a black man led the Boks out for the first time at the spiritual home of South African sport. 

In 1995, when Francois Pienaar lifted the Webb Ellis trophy alongside the father of the nation, Siya Kolisi was four-years-old. 

This Saturday - Youth Day in South Africa - he will turn 27. 

It has taken 23 years, but the Bok team that took to the field on Saturday looked more South African than any that had come before it.  

Young, talented and inexperienced black players were given an opportunity, and they took it. 

At 24-3 down, they were 'Quota Boks'. 60 minutes later, they were heroes.

This was not a normal Test match. This was a piece of history. 

The players - black and white - on that field reminded us that, when we get things right, South Africans are capable of anything. 

The performances of Duane Vermeulen, Willie le Roux, Sbu Nkosi and Faf de Klerk were exceptional, but everybody played their part and one of the greatest comebacks in Bok history was down to a collective effort. 

None of Kolisi, Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Tendai Mtawarira or Bongi Mbonambi could be labelled as anything other than deserving Boks who were part of something special on Saturday. 

Every single one delivered, and they silenced that corner of the country that all too often rears its ugly head in times like these. 

Together, those men showed what is possible when black players are given real opportunities. 

"I feel like this is our sport too now," were the words of a man I shared a conversation with in the minutes following the final whistle. 

Make no mistake, this meant an awful lot to black South Africans. 

The Tweet of respected rugby writer Sim Xabanisa gave its own perspective.

What a transformed Bok team can do for rugby in this country cannot be measured, because we have never had a truly transformed Bok team. 

It is easy to say that this was just one match, but for 85% of the South African population, Saturday represented progress. 

There is still a long way to go, and the way the Boks started in the first 20 minutes on Saturday will be of concern to anyone who follows this team. But the feeling of this being the beginning of a new era of Springbok rugby was unmissable.

You can spin it whichever way you want to, but rugby has been a white-dominated sport in a democratic South Africa. 

Now, over two decades later, times are changing. 

Transformation is no longer coming ... it is here. Government knows it, SA Rugby knows it, Rassie Erasmus knows it, the players know it and, by now, the fans can see it too.

There was something magical unfolding on Saturday, and it was almost like a divine intervention commanded the Boks to win even when that seemed impossible. 

Obviously, that was not the case. Instead, the Boks won because they wanted it desperately, they performed like men possessed and they executed under pressure. 

Hopefully, that performance will extinguish any archaic arguments left suggesting that results and transformation cannot be achieved at the same time. 

Erasmus had spoken in the build-up to the match about being brave in his team selections, even if that meant losing. He has taken the plunge and shown faith in black players where no other coach has succeeded. 

Allister Coetzee had the chance to make Kolisi his captain, but he did not. He also had the chance to transform the make-up of this team, but he failed there too. 

Erasmus may have been 'brave' in selecting his side for Saturday, but the performances that followed will make such selections easy in the future. 

And if words like 'quotas', 'transformation' and 'targets' still give you shivers, then this fact should calm you down: The best Bok performance of recent times came from the blackest Bok team of all time. 

See, you were freaking out for nothing.

Lloyd Burnard is a journalist at Sport24 and the former Sports Editor of The Witness newspaper ...

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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