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SOWETO, South Africa / Gauteng (AFP) – Race quotas will return to South African rugby next season in a bid to produce more top-level black players, the national body announced Wednesday.
A South African Rugby Union (SARU) statement said seven players in each 22-man Vodacom Cup squad must be black, including at least two forwards.
And at least five of the black players must be in the starting line-up with the others on the bench.
The Vodacom Cup is a national second-tier provincial competition played at the same time as the leading five South African sides compete for the Super 15 title.
There has been government, media and public concern for some time about the small number of black players in Super Rugby and for the national team.
Rugby was considered a "white sport" in Apartheid South Africa but there has been a growing number of black players in recent years, although football remains more popular with the majority of the population.
The Springboks side named Wednesday to play Argentina contains three black players -- wings Bjorn Basson and Bryan Habana and Zimbabwe-born prop Tendai Mtawarira.
A further two -- loosehead prop Gurthro Steenkamp and flank Siya Kolisi -- are among the eight replacements for the Rugby Championship opener in Soweto Saturday.
It has been particularly embarrassing for South African rugby officials when European opponents like England and France contain more black players in Test line-ups.
South African rugby first introduced race quotas in 1999, apart from the Springboks and Super 15 teams, but they were dropped five years later without a noticeable rise in black stars.
"The Vodacom Cup is a critical step on the development pathway in professional rugby," SARU president Oregan Hoskins said.
"But it had moved away from its primary purpose of presenting opportunities for emerging players, particularly black players.
"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 Springboks coach."
SARU chief executive Jurie Roux said a decision would be made later regarding sanctions for Vodacom Cup teams who do not abide by the quota ruling.