Jake White has transformed the Bulls from chumps to champs – and in the process the 2007 Rugby World Cup-winning coach has reminded all South Africans of his ability to be as good a selector as he is a coach. The game in this country is healthier for his return from Japan.
White, on his appointment as Springboks coach in 2004, named a very different Springboks squad to the one that had crashed out to New Zealand in the quarter-finals of the 2003 World Cup in Australia.
White and I had worked together in the Springboks management under Harry Viljoen in 2000 and 2001. White, post the 2003 World Cup squad announcement, told me that he wouldn’t pick half the squad that was travelling to the World Cup.
‘Maybe as little as 10 of those players would make a national squad if I was the Springboks coach, maybe 15, but not more. There’s a better under 21 side than senior side,’ he said in reference to the under 21 side he had coached to a World Championship win in 2002.
White, in 2004, was appointed Springboks coach after the shambles of the Springboks in 2003. His first national squad of 30, to play two Tests against Ireland in South Africa, contained just 12 players from the 2003 World Cup squad.
Among them was Schalk Burger, a 21 year-old loose-forward with a disregard for his own body, his own health and a regard for any contact situation. Burger would destroy Ireland at the breakdown and be named World Rugby’s Player of the Year in 2004. White also picked another kid, scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, with another kid, scrumhalf Ricky Januarie. White would also lure 1995 World Cup winner Os du Randt out of retirement and persuade fullback Percy Montgomery to return to South Africa from a lucrative contract with Newport in Wales.
White’s Springboks, in 2004, hammered the All Blacks 40-26 at Ellis Park, in 2005 won the Tri Nations and in 2007 won the World Cup. Du Randt, Montgomery, Burger and Du Preez were all superstars at the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
White, the coach, can coach, but White the selector knows how to select.
He did it when taking the Brumbies from basement dwellers to a few minutes away from winning Super Rugby. He took the Sharks from no hopers to semi-finalists, he won Montpellier’s first European title and won them qualification to Europe’s premier competition, the Heineken Cup. He then went to Japan and won trophies.
He upset administrators along the way. He was as offside off the field as he was onside as a coach and it could be argued he betrayed himself with the South African public as much as he committed himself to South African rugby.
He was and remains a controversial individual. For some Jake White can’t do wrong. For others he has only done wrong.
Whatever the perception or the view, there is no denying that he can coach.
He gets results and he gets results because of an incredible knowledge of the game and a gift to identify strengths and weaknesses in a system and what is needed to turn things around. White is among an elite group of international coaches who understands what it takes to make a very good rugby player.
White’s biggest strength is his selection. He knows players.
He has done it time and again, in the northern and southern hemisphere and in the world’s most challenging competitions.
Respect for what he has achieved with rugby teams. Respect for what he has done and is doing with the Bulls.
White has had unconditional support from the Bulls leadership; President Willem Strauss and CEO Edgar Rathbone, and the financial investment of Johann Rupert and Patrice Motsepe is a great comfort to any coach.
But White, given the same R60 million player budget as the other South African franchises that make up the top four, has shown how to sell, buy and just dispense. His player investments get immediate reward, but never at the expense of a legacy programme that speaks to the youth and the years beyond winning in season one.
It is incredible what he has achieved within a year with the Bulls. He invested in veterans like Morne Steyn, Gio Aplon, Cornal Hendricks and Duane Vermeulen, but wasn’t afraid to pick 20 and 21 year-olds and start them in the biggest matches of their career.
White has always recognised the value of a good oldie; equally the most gifted schoolboys.
Never forget he picked Frans Steyn to play for the Springboks less than a year after his matric final exams.
White has won Super Rugby Unlocked and the Currie Cup with the Bulls and don’t bet against him making it three from three in the Rainbow Cup SA.
The Bulls, in the three months before White’s arrival, had won eight matches in 16 in 2019 and one from six in 2020. That’s seven from 22!
SA Rugby Magazine’s Juandre Joubert detailed White’s Bulls tenure.
Bulls Record under Jake White:
Played: 19, Won: 14, Lost: 4, No Result: 1
SR Unlocked: (Champions)
Currie Cup: (Champions)
Won: 5 (Including semi and final)
No Result: 1 (Covid cancellation)
Louritz VAN DER SCHYFF,
- Johan Goosen and Marcel Coetzee will be joining at the end of the season.
Louis VAN DER WESTHUIZEN
Marcel vd Merwe (Was also brought in by Jake)
Ivan Van Zyl and Marco van Staden is leaving at the end of the season.
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