CAPE TOWN – Jake White did a brilliant job in turning the Springboks from the jokers of World Rugby in 2003 to the World Champions in 2007.
He did a brilliant job in turning around the fortunes of the Brumbies … from 14th in Super Rugby to an ankle tap away from winning the title two years later in Hamilton, New Zealand. He restored pride at the Sharks in one season as they lost away to the Crusaders in the Super Rugby semi-final and he won Montpellier their first European title.
His time at the Boks was his longest in any of those jobs. He saw out his four-year contract.
White, technically among the best coaches, lost favour with his respective employers, the rugby public and the media. It wasn’t because of team performance but because of not quite getting when to talk and when to ‘Shut the F*** Up’.
He lost the support of his players, in South Africa, in Australia and in France.
A few have always stayed loyal to one thing, which is that Jake White can coach and that he has the capacity to turn what appears to be gravel into gold.
When White was appointed, I wrote that it was the Bulls’ best appointment and that White would succeed. I also wrote ‘no more White Lies’ and urged White to do his talking through performance.
He has done just this in the past two months. His Bulls team are comfortably playing the most complete rugby in South Africa’s domestic Super Rugby Unlocked competition, which also doubles as the Currie Cup. If you are a punter, put your cash down now on White’s Bulls to win both competitions.
What I have enjoyed most is the evolution of White as a coach. He has been predictable in that he has never wavered from a winning recipe, which is a big pack and the most conditioned squad of players. Good on him, why would you?
What has changed is White’s mindset when it comes to back play.
White has always preached that rugby is a sport in which you don’t have consistent success without a potent and dominant set piece. He has always believed that you play off 9 or 10 and that one of the two has to have a strong line and field position kicking game.
The difference now is White has been liberated when it comes to the type of back that can dazzle and not just bulldoze. White has invested in outside backs who all have a strong Sevens background. He has given them the licence to play to their strengths, but within the framework provided by flyhalf Morne Steyn’s incomparable appreciation of which areas to play the game in.
Steyn has been a master at controlling matches this season. His pack has done the job and his outside backs have excelled with the front foot ball. But Steyn knows when to kick, pass and take the tackle.
White will never be everything to everyone and in the past 10 years he has done himself harm with his lack of filter in liberally condemning those players who won him the 2007 World Cup and those who employed him to coach the Springboks.
What pleases me the most is that White has reminded even his most ardent critics in South Africa that he knows how to coach a professional rugby team. And that has to be good news for the Springboks.