Race storm engulfs Springboks and Heyneke Meyer

SOUTH Africa coach Heyneke Meyer has denied claims that he favours white players in his team selections after criticism from former Springboks coach Peter de Villiers and a leading trade union body.

Heyneke Meyer: Race row. Picture: Getty
Heyneke Meyer: Race row. Picture: Getty
Heyneke Meyer: Race row. Picture: Getty

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.

De Villiers, the first black Springboks coach, 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.

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“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 Harbana, Zane Kirchner, Trevor Nyakane and Lwazi Mvovo – in the XV.

“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.

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Meanwhile, Australia had to fight a boardroom battle to avoid facing Wales in Cardiff during the group stage of the World Cup in October, it has emerged.

Although England are the official hosts, several games will be staged at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, including Wales’ games against Fiji and Uruguay.

Wales, keen to face the Wallabies in Cardiff, made a commercial case for the Australia game to be played there instead of the match between France and Ireland, citing ticket sales and accommodation.

However, John O’Neill, the former chief executive of the Australian RFU and a World Cup board member, successfully fought against it. He said: “The point I made was: there was only one host, England.

“So there should only be one team who should enjoy home advantage.

“If the hosting rights had been spread, the argument disappears, but the Millennium Stadium was just included as another stadium.

“I didn’t think it was fair to have home-ground advantage going with it. The principle was to ensure that all visiting teams were treated equally.”

Australia’s case was also supported by Peter Boyle, the former president of the Irish RFU who sits on the council of World Rugby.

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“I certainly raised it,” he said. “Was it fair for Wales to host that game? When Wales were allowed to participate in England’s hosting, it was raised as an issue that they wouldn’t be given an advantage.”

The match could be critical, with Group A already branded the “Group of Death” as it includes England, Wales and Australia, with only two quarter-final places on offer.

Wales and Australia will now meet at Twickenham on Saturday 10 October.