On Saturday afternoon, the Springboks will boast seven black African players in their starting line-up for the first Test against England at Ellis Park.
There are three ways one can look at this.
Scenario one: You bemoan that this development simply took far too long in the 26 years since rugby’s unification.
Scenario two: You squawk like a parrot and cry “window-dressing!”
Scenario three: You celebrate that these seven players are truly the best in their positions currently in South African rugby.
Indeed, the thorny issue of transformation has become so polarised that we actually at times don’t give the relevant players the credit they deserve.
We complain that rookies like the debutant wingers, S’bu Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi, are being thrown to the wolves at the expense of more “reliable” options.
Or we choose to ignore that Beast Mtawarira has had an outstanding campaign for the Sharks in this year’s Super Rugby because he hasn’t been roaring so much in the last two years and is turning a very “old” 33.
But some sober thinking and a look at some stats reveal otherwise.
Let’s start with Lukhanyo Am.
The Sharks midfielder has been superb.
He’s in the top 10 for tackles that led to turnovers, he’s poached possession at the breakdown, he’s made 105 tackles to date, 14 of them dominant.
For good measure, he’s run superb lines and his five tries are the most for a South African centre.
Mtawarira has been all over the park again in Super Rugby and carried with ball 316 metres.
He’s made 163 tackles and only missed 9 – not bad for an “old” man and, as always, remained one of the best scrummagers in the tournament.
Nkosi has made 69 tackles, five of them dominant, he’s had four linebreaks and still managed to score 3 tries, even though people feel he hasn’t been as exciting this year.
Yet scoring tries isn’t what a winger is about at international level.
Dyantyi has taken Super Rugby by storm, scoring four tries, breaking 10 tackles and breaking the line 6 times and completing 53 tackles.
Trevor Nyakane (if he starts) has become John Mitchell’s go-to No 3 at the Bulls … and remember the Bulls select teams based on stats.
And if you want to counter these selections, please show me better options in those positions…