There are two African countries playing in the Rugby World Cup. One is a powerhouse of the world, the other a minnow; neither is likely to win.
South Africa and Namibia carry the continent’s hopes when the tournament begins in England on September 19. The best Namibia can hope for is a headline-grabbing upset. South Africa are expected to win every time they play. That’s where the problem lies; they haven’t won an official match this year. Narrow defeats to arch-enemies Australia and New Zealand were followed by a first loss to Argentina.
The embarrassment of this result was coupled with fury from the rugby-mad South African public. Just weeks before the World Cup starts, there were calls for the coach, Heyneke Meyer, to be sacked. It also reignited the debate on quotas. Labor union, Cosatu, former Springbok coach, Peter de Villiers, and journalists joined the uproar over the lack of black players in the national team.
A lack of transformation has always been a criticism the sport endures in South Africa. Although there have been high-profile black players in the green-and-gold jersey, such as World Cup winners Bryan Habana and Chester Williams, they are still too few. Critics say a country with a black majority should reflect this in its rugby team.
Meyer denies any racial bias in his selections, claiming players are chosen on merit. The only way to silence his critics, perhaps, is to win a record third title for South Africa.
Former Springbok player, Jan Boland Coetzee, is not giving up on a South Africa that is given little chance.
“In modern times, any team can beat any other team on any day; it just depends on the team. But you need to put yourself in the way of luck. Luck won’t come to you. You prepare properly and you play properly, and you can change your game-plan while playing,” he says.
Fans are praying he is right.