South Africa must put an end to quotas if the Springboks are to avoid losing their status as a top-tier rugby nation, according to former England and British & Irish Lions centre Jeremy Guscott.
In a feature for The Rugby Paper, Guscott labelled South Africa’s decision to implement quotas as a “mistake”.
“In some ways I feel sorry for the South Africans,” he wrote. “They have to get rid of quotas and pick people on ability. That includes picking them from overseas if they want to compete at the highest level again. Otherwise, nothing will change.”
Under Allister Coetzee, the 2016 Boks produced the worst single-season record in team history, including milestone losses against Ireland, Argentina, Italy and Wales, and they followed that up in 2017 with the biggest loss, a 57-0 drubbing against the All Blacks in Albany, and their heaviest defeat against Ireland (38-3).
South Africa completed a four-Test tour of Europe in November with a 24-22 reverse against Wales.
“Ever since South Africa adopted a quota system for national team selection it was always going to throw up tough challenges in terms of getting their best team on the field,” Guscott noted. “Those difficulties were highlighted this autumn when the Springboks were overwhelmed by Ireland and then lost to Wales.
“South African rugby has enormous depth, but the reality is that their best players are not playing for the Springboks.
“With 350 top South African players in Europe and Japan the Springboks no longer have the luxury of picking their third choice – these days it’s more like having to make do with their twentieth choice.
“Imagine what having just their (English Premiership) contingent of Vincent Koch, Michael Rhodes, Willie Le Roux, Nizaam Carr, Juan de Jongh, Ashley Johnson, Cobus Reinach, Nic Groom, Demetri Catrakilis, Francois Louw, Ruan Ackermann and Faf de Klerk would do for them, let alone those South Africans in the Top 14 and PRO14.
“You have to be bright and intelligent to survive in pro sport, and the political interference that seems to come with the territory in South African rugby does not help.”
The 65-Test England centre also highlighted Coetzee’s dubious selections as a catalyst for the Boks’ poor results.
“There are still some great stories in South African rugby, and one of them involves Siya Kolisi. Kolisi is there on merit, and when Eben Etzebeth was replaced during the game against Wales he was promoted to captain. The good news is that Kolisi is using his high profile to help black and coloured youngsters to do what he has done, and is a great role model. What is also important is that he has been backing up his position with strong performances on the pitch.
“The other side of the coin is that you have to ask questions about some of the other selection decisions made by head coach Coetzee. For instance, what was he doing taking off flyhalf Handre Pollard in Cardiff and bringing on an inconsistent player like Elton Jantjies?
“Coetzee has to make good selection decisions… because a former great rugby nation is hanging on by its fingernails to Tier One status.”