THE South African Rugby Union (SARU) is to introduce a racial quota system in its domestic competition next year to encourage more black players to emerge through the ranks.
Teams in the Vodacom Cup will have to name seven black players in their 22-man squad, five of whom must be among the starters and two of whom must be forwards.
SARU president Oregan Hoskins said: “This decision to introduce measurable targets underlines SARU’s commitment to transformation.
“The Vodacom Cup is a critical step on the development pathway in professional rugby, but it had moved away from its primary purpose of presenting opportunities for young emerging players, particularly black players. The intended outcome is an increased pool of black talent from which Currie Cup and Super Rugby coaches can select and – in due course – more options for the Springbok coach.”
The Vodacom Cup features the country’s 14 provincial unions and takes place in the first half of the year, at the same time as the Super Rugby competition.
Racial quotas in South African sport have become less contentious in recent years but previously made for heated debate.
There has never been an official quota system in South African rugby, although it has been commonly accepted that Springbok squads would contain at least three black players.
The 30-man Springbok squad for their first two matches of the Rugby Championship features nine black players. Their first match is against Argentina in Soweto on Saturday.
Scrum-half Fourie du Preez has returned for the Springboks after a two-year absence as coach Heyneke Meyer named him on the bench for the Rugby Championship Test against Argentina.
Japan-based Du Preez, a 2007 World Cup winner, will have the chance of a first appearance for the national team since the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, after which he left South African rugby for Suntory Sungoliath.
Meyer said: “I felt it was the right thing to do for the team to ease Fourie back. He’ll definitely get game time going forward.”
Du Preez is joined by France-based prop Gurthro Steenkamp, who also was back as one of the replacements for the game at FNB Stadium in Soweto.
Meyer has picked an unusually high seven foreign-based players in his 23 for the Boks’ championship opener with five in the starting 15 – an acceptance of the growing number of top Springboks leaving to play for big-paying clubs overseas.
Du Preez, now 31 and with 62 Test appearances, and Steenkamp are two of four changes to the matchday 23 from South Africa’s last Test, a 56-23 win over Samoa in June. Meyer said he had opted for continuity after South Africa won their last six Tests, while re-introducing the experience of Du Preez and Steenkamp.
Racing Metro’s Juandre Kruger also comes in at lock for Flip van der Merwe, who drops to the bench, and Duane Vermeulen has recovered from injury to return at No 8 for his first Test of the season.
Stand-off Morne Steyn and record try-scoring wing Bryan Habana keep their starting places despite recently joining French clubs Stade Francais and Toulon respectively. South Africa’s backline, with Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar at scrum-half and captain Jean de Villiers at inside centre, is unchanged from the Samoa victory. Bath flanker Francois Louw is the other foreign-based player in the 15.
South Africa’s last game against the Pumas was a 16-16 draw in Mendoza in last year’s Rugby Championship.
“I think it was clear last year that the Argentinians are not in the Rugby Championship to make up the numbers, which means we will have to be focused on doing the little things right,” Meyer said. “They’ve been together for a few weeks now and will be a tough opponent on Saturday.”