Mark Keohane, writing for IOL Sport, says that Jake White needs to have changed his ways to be a part of the changed South African rugby landscape.
When I say changed, I am not referring to White’s rugby knowledge. Neither is the reference to White’s coaching. I am talking about White’s personality and character traits that have left a trail of destruction in the past decade.
I have no doubt White will have an immediate impact with the Bulls when it comes to their on-field performance. White has a history of being able to clean up an on-field mess.
Equally, South Africa’s 2007 World Cup-winning coach has a history in making as big an off-field mess during his on-field clean-ups.
White may have been employed by the Bulls but he will be expected to align his thinking with what best serves the Springboks.
White will have to put his pride in his pocket and acknowledge that Rassie Erasmus is the National Director of Rugby in South Africa and that he has a responsibility to Erasmus, similar to the one he has to his new employer, the Bulls Rugby Union.
The Bulls have appointed White until after the 2023 World Cup and I sincerely hope it is a more secure White in charge of the Bulls than the insecure character, for whom winning a World Cup still wasn’t enough for any form of internal validation.
White, when coaching in South Africa, Australia and France, divided more than he ruled. He alienated himself from those World Cup-winning Springboks of 2007, and very few speak to him or have an interest in speaking to him.
The core of the 2007 squad played under Peter de Villiers at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand. White constantly undermined the coach and playing squad in the media and as an analyst on New Zealand television said he had bet on the Boks to not make it past the World Cup quarter-finals. He nailed his World Cup-winning captain John Smit as being too fat to play hooker and not good enough to play prop in 2011. He also took aim at other players, team selections and strategies.
He came across as bitter and the feeling from within the squad was that their former coach had betrayed them.
White, by then, had taken up residence as the Brumbies coach. Again, as is his strength and custom, he took a team that was a basement dweller and turned them into a Super Rugby finalist within two seasons. Yet, he further distanced himself from those players who had won him a World Cup by stating Australian rugby players were more intelligent than those South African players he had coached. He didn’t stop there when applying for the Wallabies coaching job and saying that it had always been a dream of his to coach Australia. The betrayal had turned to a sell-out of South African rugby.
White, in hastily leaving the Brumbies, smoked the peace pipe with Smit, who was now the CEO of the Sharks. He returned to South Africa as Sharks coach and took them to a Super Rugby semi-final, but his confrontations with players, the administration and South African Rugby’s National Executive members were ongoing. He left the Sharks after one year.
Montpellier followed and it was groundhog day. He won a European Challenge, alienated himself from the local players, supporters and administration because of an overseas bias in his team selections and his contract was not extended beyond two years. White had picked more Du Plessis’ in his match day squad (four of them) than French-born players (three of them). The French players said the only thing that improved for them during White’s tenure was their ability to speak English.
It also didn’t help that White approached the RFU for the England job on the day Montpellier played Harlequins in London, and that his team took a whipping that night.
Japan, for the past few seasons, has provided White with an escape. However, there will be no such luxury from his Pretoria base.
It is no secret that White does not like Erasmus and the latter’s World Cup success would have killed off another piece of White’s soul.
White, in 2020, has to be bigger than his ego when it comes to supporting Erasmus. White’s greatest challenge is not in uniting the Bulls; it will be in not attempting to divide the Springboks.