Mains: Quotas killing the Boks
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The South Africa Rugby Union's 'quota contract' with the government is going end any hope of the Springboks remaining competitive in the Test arena.
This ominous warning comes from former All Black coach Laurie Mains.
Mains said the 'quota system' is outdated and that 15 years - since his departure from South Africa at the end of 2001 - has been long enough to address the issue of transformation.
He felt that the '50 percent black players' target (quotas) placed before new Bok coach Allister Coetzee - part of the 'transformation contract' signed between SARU and the government - will make South Africa's national team and Super Rugby farnchises less competitive.
Mains, with a four-year stint as coach of the Golden Lions (Currie Cup) and Cats (Super Rugby) teams, has first-hand experience of South Africa's complex political sporting landscape - a time when he took the Cats (a merged franchise comprising players from the Free State Cheetahs and Golden Lions) to the Super 12 semifinals in 2000 and 2001.
"When I coached over there I could see the reason for it [a quota system]," Mains told foxsports.com.au.
"It was a genuine attempt to create opportunities for the black and coloured players and I respected that, because there hadn't been big numbers of them.
"But heavens above, that's 15 years ago.
"And the reality now is that they've had plenty of time to develop.
"The ones that are playing at the top level now are getting the advantage of what happened in the late 1990s, early 2000s, when they first brought in this system at Currie Cup level.
"It no longer needs to be there, it should now revert back to the best players get selected because all of the players in South Africa in the last 15-18 years have had opportunity to develop.
"It should go back to straight merit selection and then we would have a world power in South Africa again.
"You can't go on forever favouring the position of one colour against another.
"While I supported the original decision for the quota system, it's had long enough now for it to all even out, which it has, and it should be straight-out merit selection now."
The Springboks were knocked out of the 2015 World Cup by New Zealand in the semifinals and are ranked third in the world after beating Ireland 2-1 in a home Test series in June.
But while the Lions - who have reached the Super Rugby semifinals and finished second on the tournament standings this year - are beacon of hope, there were worrying signs in the Super Rugby quarterfinals.
The Sharks were obliterated 41-0 by the Hurricanes in Wellington and the Stormers were humbled 60-21 by the Chiefs in Cape Town.
Mains foresaw more troubled waters in the Rugby Championship and beyond.
"For my money they're gone, with racially selecting teams, they're not going to cut it," Mains told the Australian news metwork.
"With the quota system they have, I think the days of them being top competitors are over.
"I would have to say New Zealand looks odds-on to take out the championship because of the depth.
"You could select two All Blacks teams when you see the quality of the players that don't make it.
"This is all being developed at Super level and when these players go into All Blacks camp, that environment just takes them to another level as well.
"When it comes to set-play, you wouldn't say that the New Zealand teams are way ahead of Australia or South Africa.
"So then it comes down to general play which boils down to skill and fitness."
In 2001, Coetzee became the first black coach of a South African provincial side and upon his appointment as Springboks boss he embraced transformation and the quota system.
"Transformation is not an issue for me," Coetzee said.
"As national coach you have to understand our unique situation in South Africa.
"I firmly believe that uniqueness can make us stronger.
"Across the colour spectrum, players are performing at the moment and every black player that I select will be on merit."