South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer has denied claims he favours white players in his team selections, after criticism from former Springboks coach Peter de Villiers and a leading trade union.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) called for Meyer to be sacked earlier this week, branding him “racist” in his selections after saying it had received complaints from several players.
The first black Springboks coach Peter de Villiers, who led the team from 2008 to 2011, wrote a column for timeslive.co.za criticising Meyer’s decision to drop Cornal Hendricks and play Jesse Kriel out of position last weekend to accommodate Jean de Villiers on his return from injury.
“That decision took the country back to the late Eighties, when blacks supported the opposing team because of apartheid,” De Villiers said.
Meyer on Wednesday named his team to face Argentina in Buenos Aires on Saturday, with four black players – Bryan Habana, Zane Kirchner, Trevor Nyakane and Lwazi Mvovo – in the 15.
“I don’t look at colour, I look at the best players,” Meyer said in comments reported by The Times.
“I’m totally committed to transformation and I have a great relationship with my players. A lot of them came to me and said, ‘Coach, it’s not true what’s in the papers.’
“We’re all South Africans and we’re all there to do the best for our country. We have to back each other in this country as players. The most important thing for me is to keep my integrity.”
South Africa have suffered four successive defeats, beaten 37-25 by Argentina at home last weekend. Two black players, Habana and Tendai Mtawarira, started that match with three more on the bench.
In a lengthy statement on Monday, COSATU highlighted what it called the “privileged position of white players” and singled out the example of Jean de Villiers, who had been sidelined since November 2014 after suffering a dislocated kneecap and multiple ruptured ligaments while playing against Wales.
“Any other player anywhere else in the world would have to play himself back into the team after such a long absence, yet he gets to just walk back into the team, when he is clearly not the form player,” the statement said.
South Africa have been drawn in Pool B for the upcoming World Cup, and will face Scotland, Samoa, Japan, and the United States.