Williams eyes top Springbok job

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 March, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 March, 2002, 12:00am

Chester Williams, the brightest ray of sunshine in South Africa's rugby rainbow, feels that in three years time he could be in with a shout of being picked as Springbok coach. For now, he is content finding his feet coaching the national sevens team.

In all the excitement and buildup to the start of the Hong Kong Sevens today, Williams failed to remember a watershed that arrived on Wednesday - South Africa celebrating 10 troubled years of racial unity. This week, back in 1992, South Africa rugby emerged from isolation when segregation ended and the whites-only South African Rugby Board (SARB) and the non-racial South African Rugby Union (SARU) which represented the majority of black players, came together to form SARFU.

Former flying winger Williams smiled when reminded of that momentous date in his country's history. 'Yes, I remember it.' He should, too. For he became the talismanic symbol of rugby's dream of being a game for all races when he was a member of the 1995 World Cup-winning team. Ten years down the line, Williams has found a new lease of life after unexpectedly bowing out of the international scene at the relatively tender age of 29.

'I retired two years ago when I was 29. I felt I had enough of rugby. But now I feel it is time to give something back to the game and to the youngsters and that is why I took up coaching,' Williams said.

Five months ago, Williams applied for the position of national sevens coach. And won it hands down. The country's rugby administrators are perhaps grooming him to become the first black to coach the national XV team - known as the Springboks since their 1906 tour to the United Kingdom. 'Yes, I want to be coach of the Springboks. Maybe I have three years to go. But one never knows what might happen,' Williams says.

Williams first appeared in Hong Kong at the 1993 tournament when black and coloured players turning out in the green and gold of South Africa was still a novelty. Today, things have transformed. The 12-strong South African squad this weekend boasts four black or coloured players, including skipper Paul Treu who is making his third consecutive Hong Kong Sevens.

This transformation is largely due to an unofficial quota system in place. Williams supports it. 'The transformation in South African rugby will take time to happen. But things have got to change quickly and sooner. This system gives the black players a chance,' he says candidly.

His captain Treu is quick to remind one that all the black players in the squad are in solely on merit. 'There are political pressures back home but all these players deserve to be here.'

The winds of change, however, are continuing to blow strongly through the velds of South Africa. After Williams became the country's third black player - Errol Tobias and Avril Williams played six and two Tests respectively at the start of the 1980s in a doomed attempt at window-dressing to stave off international isolation - there have been more coming to the fore.

But change is grudgingly slow. There was a hiatus of six years between Williams, the third Springbok, and Breyton Paulse, the fourth. But since the latter's debut in 1999, eight more black players have played Test rugby.

Although the sport remains under pressure from the sports ministry to increase black representation, the Springboks have not fielded an all-white team since June 1999 and all four of South Africa's Super 12 teams this season have started matches with three black players - surpassing the quota of two.

'I can see that just around the corner we will be able to forget about quotas,' SARFU chief executive Mveleli Ncula said recently. 'We must reach a stage where we no longer talk about a player's skin colour and that is not far off. The players we are selecting at Super 12 level are there on merit and I can see the day when we will stop talking about numbers.'

Williams has proved that on the field. His sevens team, second in the IRB Series standings, are going from strength to strength.