South Africa’s white-dominated Rugby World Cup team has not been rattled by complaints about its racial makeup, a key coach said two days before their opening match.
“It does not upset the team. Each player knows he is there because he is the best, because he deserves it,” Pieter de Villiers, the former French international prop who is now the Springboks scrum coach, told AFP.
A South African activist group tried to get a court to confiscate the Springboks’ passports so they could not travel to England because of their racial makeup.
The COSATU union said five black Springboks had made a racial discrimination complaint to the organisation.
There are just three black players in the team to start against Japan on Saturday and nine in all in the 31-man squad.
But head coach Heyneke Meyer has strongly denied that he takes colour into consideration when choosing his teams.
“Heyneke has chosen more coloured players than any other coach,” said 43-year-old de Villiers, who won 68 caps.
The South African Rugby Union and the government set a target of at least seven black players in each Springbok matchday 23 with at least five on the field throughout a match. Meyer failed to meet these goals in the four World Cup warm-ups with only two black starters in the stunning home defeat by Argentina.
“We are not going to lose time thinking about that now,” said de Villiers.
“South Africa has a past, yes. But the past no longer interests us. We want to change the future not get stuck in the past,” he said.
“What can we do to unite this country that is mad about rugby.
“We have a heavy past to deal with. Rugby is making an effort.”
De Villiers said Meyer had called him into the South African coaching team because of his 14 seasons with crack Paris side Stade Francais.
“Bringing in this experience of Northern Hemisphere rugby is what tempted Heyneke Meyer.
“France has a more natural, more intuitive, more Latin style. The Southern Hemisphere’s Anglo-Saxon teams are more structured.
“There is no good, no bad, it is the mix of the two that brings something strong.”
South Africa are the favourites to top Pool B with opposition coming from Japan, Scotland, Samoa and United States.
If they win Pool B they will play the second team in Pool A, the toughest in the tournament including hosts England, Australia, Wales and Fiji.
“It will be a final. Whether we play Wales, England or Australia, these are all teams who could easily be champions.”