By the time Jake White was appointed Springbok coach South African rugby was in such a mess with recent controversies of ‘Kamp Staaldraad’ and the shocking behaviour of the Springboks in their Twickenham annihilation at the hands of England by 53-3 in November 2002.
Jake White brought to the Springboks good discipline, a defensive structure, belief, direction and almost immediately, success . A remarkable turnaround considering where the Springboks had been leading up to and including the 2003 RWC then once Jake had taken over they won the Tri-Nations in 2004, Jake’s first year in charge.
Once South Africa had bounced back into the top four teams in world rugby the suprise victories dried up as the other big name teams were treating SA with a new found respect. Jake White had intially worked wonders with Bok rugby when it was in disarray but as his second and third year in charge played out it was obvious that Jake was struggling to advance the Bok game to a higher level.
What was wrong? Jake based his gameplan on a sound defence along with good discipline while keeping risk low. A power pack was selected to dominate set-pieces and with big men carrying the ball into the opposition defence over and over again thus bludgeoning their way over the line. The Kiwi’s had worked out if you win the individual collisions then you stop the Boks dead in their tracks and with a good scavenging openside flanker possesion can be turned over. Turnover ball is fantastic to attack off of as the defence is now disorganised as only a second previous they were on attack. The Aussies held onto possesion and tried to speed the game up and move the Bok pack from side to side tiring out the big Bok pack. Once they were tired the holes started opening in the defence. So the answer to the question, What was wrong? Is that the attack was too simple and one dimensional and relied on physical domination. The attack lacked creativity, enthusiasm, adventure and endeavour.
Jake to his credit recognised this shortcoming and he then roped in Eddie Jones into the Bok coaching set-up as technical advisor in an attempt to give the Boks a better attacking edge.
The commitment to Eddie Jones’s influence was not there and SA almost embarrissingly came unstuck against Fiji in the 2007 RWC in the quarter-final. JP Pietersen saving SA from blushes with a last gasp tackle before John Smit (the Bok captain) took charge of the situation and reverted back to full blown Domkrag rugby. SA beating Fiji in the quarter-finals then Argentina in the semis before facing England in the final.
For SA during the 2007 RWC the stars seemed to align in their favour. England stopped Australia’s progress by scrumming them off the park in the quarters, France once again took care of New Zealand in another quarter-final then England who always seem to have a psycological edge over the French got rid of them in the semis. For any team entering a RWC and not having to face Australia, France or New Zealand they would feel their luck is in.
South Africa, who had smashed the English in the pool stages 36-0, now were facing the same English team in the final. SA deserved to win the final but the victory was far harder than their runaway victory in the pool stages. It was brilliant as a South African that the Springboks were once again crowned world champions but I couldn’t help but feel we were lucky not to play the All Blacks especially. We hadn’t won a Tri-Nations since the Springboks surprised everyone in Jake White’s first year in charge. The rules of that time seemed to favour the defensive teams which worked against the likes of France, Australia and New Zealand known for their attacking rugby and worked for, the defensive teams like South Africa and England.
SARU never renewed Jake’s contract after the 2007 RWC and he was replaced as Springbok coach by Pieter de Villiers. Jake seemed like he was after the vacant England job but England were not interested they had already had their fair share of coaches that played 10 man rugby.
Jake ended up at the Brumbies and once again Jake brought in the cornerstones of his rugby ethos, defence and discipline, to quickly transform the Brumbies into a team realistically competing for the Superugby title. Jake was working with former Wallaby Stephen Larkham in the coaching set-up. He seemed to be having great success with the Brumbies but Jake never really wanted to be there and then signed for the Sharks. Once again he got the Sharks into the play-offs but the lack of any attacking ability was exposed and the Sharks seemed toothless and never looked like making the final.
Rumours of players being upset that Jake was talking to them as if they were school boys and he being the headmaster began emerging. Jake left the Sharks and went to Montpellier.
Francois Steyn, Bismarck du Plessis and his brother Jannie followed him there along with former Bulls Pierre Spies, Paul Willemse and Jacques du Plessis and former Stormer Demetri Catrakillis. I find it laughable that when Jake White abondons South African rugby for the lure of the Euro in France and takes so many players with him but still gets held in such high regard in South Africa while John Mitchell fought so hard against the Lions administration to become more professional and put systems in place that are still benefitting the Lions, we recently saw both the Lions u-21 and u-19 win their Currie Cup finals, got dealt with so badly as Oregan Hoskins (former SARU president) and Kevin de Klerk (Lions President) did with him.
On the 23rd of October 2016 I watched Jake White’s Montpellier totally dominate the game against Leinster, a side known for running rugby. The huge Montpellier pack dominated the possesion with countless pick and goes with every forward playing toward the ball on attack. The play hardly went wider than the inside centre. Nemani Nadolo scored one out wide but really it was a solo effort from the enormous wing and he scored another later after quick thinking from the big Fijian he collected an intercept to dive over. The tries were hardly well worked tries from a team effort.
The Montpellier defence was a trademark of what Jake White does well, it was organised and the big men monstered the Leinster ball carriers but ultimately Montpellier couldn’t score four tries for the bonus point and let Leinster back in as the enormous pack tired and Isa Nacewa found a way over the whitewash giving Leinster a valuable away point.
Jake obviously loves rugby and his life is being a rugby coach but he is an out and out Domkrag coach and his limited gameplan will never dominate although the core values that Jake always instills in whatever team he coaches ensures they will always be competitive.