Mark Keohane, on IOL, lauds Jake White for restoring law and order to South Africa’s domestic rugby landscape with a championship-winning Bulls.
White, at the height of his international powers as the Springboks 2007 World Cup-winning coach, could not stand the Bulls as a province or a region. It had nothing to do with the Bulls players, the history of the Bulls or the players and everything to do with resentment towards Bulls coach Heyneke Meyer.
White didn’t trust a lot of the Bulls players, who were disciples of Meyer, but it didn’t stop him from selecting several of the best Bulls players to turn his Springboks into World Cup winners.
He always appreciated the quality of these players, among them the brilliant Fourie du Preez, Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, Danie Rossouw and Bryan Habana.
But there was no love lost between White and Meyer, and the feeling back then was mutual from both sides. The two coaches simply could not combine their provincial, regional and national talents for the good of South African rugby and over time both left South Africa to pursue overseas coaching opportunities.
If time heals rifts, then time also matures and the great irony for White is that his ticket back into South African rugby – and the South African rugby public’s consciousness has been through taking charge of the Bulls.
White, once he had removed the Meyer chip from his shoulder, could fully embrace relocation to the Bulls and the Bulls players could respond to White’s qualities of a coach without having any baggage associated with the past two decades.
When White was appointed a year ago, I wrote on these pages ‘no more White lies’ and urged White to look to the present to shape his future and to put his focus on the field and not in the boardroom.
White’s tenure with the Boks was cut short because of his naivety and inability to negotiate the war zone that has always been SA Rugby’s corridor politics. White alienated and isolated and it cost him dearly in South African rugby.
However, in the past six months, White has turned the Bulls from hapless to hopeful and from chumps to champs. Credit to him for keeping his eye on the ball, his eye on the players and his eyes on the rugby. The result has been a Bulls team that is once again restoring law and order to the South African rugby landscape and being true to the rich and successful provincial and regional history of the Bulls.
White’s rugby philosophy has always aligned with the natural DNA of Bulls rugby; an investment in a physically imposing pack of forwards, a strong kicking game from numbers 9 & 10 and fitness.
Those elements remain non-negotiable to White and his powerful Bulls, but to brand White’s Bulls boorish would be a distortion of what he and his players have achieved in Super Rugby Unlocked and the Currie Cup.
They have been outstanding, played with rugby intelligence and extravagance and have consistently been the best team in South Africa since White’s first match in charge.