Nelson Mandela would not approve of Springboks rugby quotas - Siya Kolisi

Siya Kolisi is the Springboks' first black captain. Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Nelson Mandela would not have backed racial quotas for South Africa's national rugby team, Springboks captain Siya Kolisi said over the weekend.

"I don't think he [Mandela] would have supported [quotas], but I don't know him‚" Kolisi, the first black captain of the Springboks, told Kyodo News in Japan after being asked what he thought former president Mandela would have said about transformation targets in South African rugby.

South African rugby, under the directorship of Rassie Erasmus, set a target to ensure that 45 percent of Springboks team selections in 2018 were made up of players of colour. That ratio must rise to 50 percent this year after Erasmus' Test selections last season featured just 38.3 percent players of color.

Erasmus said recently in an interview with SuperSport that he was willing to accept criticism for failing to meet the 45 percent target in 2018 -- he selected 67 black players in his 14 run-on teams -- but he said that he would not "cheapen transformation" by simply picking players to make up the numbers.

Kolisi, in Japan, said "you shouldn't put a number on stuff like that", suggesting that change had to be effected from the grassroots level.

"If you want to talk about [racial] transformation, you have got to start there [in the townships]."

Kolisi, who has said previously that he "grew up with hunger" in the township of Zwide in Port Elizabeth, said that he would not have been able to reach the highest levels of international rugby had he not attended an "English" school on a scholarship.

"Imagine I didn't go to an English school‚" Kolisi said, referring to Grey High in Port Elizabeth, just 15km from Zwide.

"I wouldn't have eaten properly. I wouldn't have grown properly and I wouldn't have had the preparation the other boys did.

"When I went to the English school‚ I had to compete against boys who had been eating six meals a day‚ each and every single day of their lives."

Kolisi said "the talent is there‚ 100 percent" in the Springboks players who featured for South Africa in 2018‚ but he also suggested that transformation targets could affect the mentality of players of colour.

"Representing South Africa is tough because people want results and they want transformation‚" Kolisi, whose Springboks team finished 2018 with a 7-7 win-loss record.

"The talent is there, it's just about nurturing it.

"I wouldn't want to be picked because of my skin colour because that surely wouldn't be good for the team and the guys around you would know.

"It's tough for us as players because when you put a certain amount or number on it [transformation])‚ are you actually there because you're good enough or... even if you are good enough you (a black player) can doubt yourself."

Players were prevented from playing for the Springboks during the Apartheid era, and the whites-only policy eventually led to the national team being barred from international competition.

Progress towards a multiracial team since South Africa were readmitted in 1992 has been slow, with the 1995 and 2007 Rugby World Cup-winning teams having only one - Chester Williams - and two - Bryan Habana and J.P. Pietersen - players of color respectively. And Erasmus, on the Springboks' tour of Europe in November and December 2018, selected only four black starters against England, three against France and four each against Scotland and Wales.

Erasmus, the SA Rugby Director of Rugby and Springboks head coach has defended those selections, saying the transformation number is there "because otherwise you can just find excuses... this is about really transforming, changing the environment and providing equal opportunities".

"It's about providing guys with exposure slowly, and there are a whole host of [black] players who we feel will be ready in the years to come," Erasmus said.

"I'll take the blame if one of my KPIs wasn't achieved [in 2018], but I look at the depth we've created and I believe that when we go to the World Cup there will be the necessary numbers to take to the World Cup.

"I think the transformation goal has been achieved; maybe not the number, but the goal. I'm not going to cheapen transformation because the numbers couldn't be reached."