White’s return not such a good idea
AT a time when reputable coaches have been exchanging knowing looks and distancing themselves from being involved with the Springboks, Jake White has steadfastly pronounced his interest to anyone within earshot.
The money may not be the same (it certainly wouldn’t be what Montpellier are paying him) and the resources are not quite what they used to be, but the former Bok coach is adamant that he wants back in with the same SA Rugby people who did not renew his contract, despite his World Cup win in 2007.
It is not like the post is vacant at the moment, but if recent developments are anything to go by, Allister Coetzee’s hold on the position could be a tenuous one if France are not dispatched convincingly in June.
Given last year’s four wins out of 12 games, it is safe to say that, even with the addition of would-be saviours Brendan Venter and Franco Smith, that kind of result cannot be guaranteed.
This is where White comes in. His departure from Montpellier will happen in June, and he would kill for a place at rugby’s top table again – and the Bok job is just the kind of work he likes to take on.
Looking at his track record, it is hard to disagree that he has the requisite skills for a rescue act. He has done an ambulance job everywhere he has been: think Boks in 2004, the Brumbies, the Sharks and now Montpellier.
White’s strengths in those situations are his ability to spark confidence within the players, come up with a coherent plan to rebuild a team, and the ability to put the right team together simply because he is a great selector.
But like all rescue acts, substance triumphed style to the point where the rugby appeared joyless – not only for the public but the for players as well – which is reportedly why Montpellier will be replacing White with Scotland coach Vern Cotter.
This has to be the first reason it would not be such a great idea for White to return to the Bok fold. As muddled as SA Rugby’s thinking can appear, it is right in wanting its main brand to play the kind of rugby that will bring not only wins, but supporters and sponsors back.
The second reason is White’s track record for “making friends and influencing people”. It takes a lot to have nobody interested in renewing your contract after winning a World Cup.
And the problem is that this is something that has persisted over the years – his departures from the Brumbies and the Sharks were hardly amicable. White seems to thrive in environments where there is constantly more than just a little conflict. Unfortunately, with South Africa experiencing a player and coach drain, what the country needs is a collaborative environment, as opposed to a fractious one.
Even the one position he could be perfect for – director of rugby, where his international contacts and ability to strategise a turnaround would be key – would be difficult for him as his imposing personality would probably lead to his interfering with the day-to-day running of the Bok team.
What SA Rugby would miss in not roping White in, however, is his softened stance to transformation. When he returned to coach the Sharks in 2013, the likes of S’bura Sithole and Tera Mtembu were given real opportunities to flourish.
Given that the SA Super Rugby teams all resolutely stuck to their “right” to pick 30% black match-day squads last weekend, this would be a big miss.
One can see where White is coming from in wanting to coach the Boks again – their current situation is nothing short of the aftermath of Kamp Staaldraad in 2004. But there comes a time in life when going back to lost loves is not the answer.
Besides, SA Rugby can only afford so many sideshows.