QUOTAS will formally be reintroduced into South African rugby, for the first time since they were officially done away with nine years ago, during the 2014 Vodacom Cup competition.
The South African Rugby Union (Saru) made the announcement following a quarterly meeting of the executive committee on Monday. The proposal was taken to the provincial unions on Tuesday and they have agreed.
Each of the 14 participating unions will be required to pick a minimum of seven black players, two of whom must be forwards, in their match-day squads.
The numbers were determined in line with Saru’s global transformation strategy and having reviewed historical levels of black representation in the competition.
"This decision to introduce measurable targets underlines Saru’s commitment to transformation," said Saru president Oregan Hoskins. "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.
"All the 14 provinces recognised that fact and that we needed to address it as a strategic objective at our Transformation Indaba last year. That and other decisions were shared with the Department of Sports and Recreation as well as the parliamentary portfolio committee.
"This is rugby’s tangible step on delivering on that pledge. 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."
It is questionable, though, how much value the Vodacom Cup will have for real transformation.
It is true that most Super Rugby players took their first steps in provincial rugby at Vodacom Cup level, but it is also a competition that is low on the list of priorities.
It is a decision unintentionally made for window-dressing rather than a real attempt to find and nurture top black talent.
Does it also give unions the freedom to field all-white teams at Super Rugby and Currie Cup level if they meet their Vodacom Cup obligations? The new quota system would have been better implemented at provincial under-21 level, where the real stars of tomorrow are groomed. Provinces place a much higher value on their under-21 ranks, and if seven black players were included in each of those squads the acceleration of quality black players to the top might be faster.
Another potential problem with the new quota system is that it is a "measurable target" rather than a regulation.
What will happen to teams that will not or cannot fill the quota?
Saru CEO Jurie Roux said that no sanctions had been specified should a province fail to select the required numbers of black players. He said that question, and other operational matters around the policy, would be addressed by Saru’s games and policy committee in due course.