New Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus is literally changing the face of South African rugby, and the early results speak for themselves.
The Boks emerged with a 2-1 test series victory over England in June, three months after Erasmus, a 45-year-old former Bok captain, was hired to replace Allister Coetzee.
Erasmus’ goal was to fulfill a mandate by South Africa’s African National Congress-led government that half the side that will compete in the 2019 World Cup in Japan be black, to at least begin to accurately reflect the nation’s racial composition.
Integration has been slow to come to the Boks, even after the collapse of apartheid 24 years ago, but a record-tying seven black players dressed for their final test against England, a dead-rubber 25-10 loss that followed series-clinching 42-39 and 23-12 victories. In addition, flanker Siya Kolisis had previously been installed as the side’s first black test captain.
“The target is 45 percent this year, measured over the 14-Test season,” Erasmus said of roster composition before the series, “and if I do not reach the mark I have failed to reach one of my key performance indicators.
“If I do not make the 45 percent target, I will be in trouble. We must see it like that. It is what it is and we must work around that.”
The larger goal is to improve the team’s fortunes, and after falling to Wales 22-20 in a friendly in Washington, D.C., on June 2, the Boks came from behind to win their first two tests against England, in Cape Town and Bloemfontein.
That enabled the side to vault from seventh to third in the World Rugby rankings.