Jake White is not down about the South African experience in this season’s Vodacom Super 14. He’s delighted because the oldies are showing the desire to make a change.
White told Keo.co.za that he always expects young players to go the extra mile in a competition like the Super 14. When the older brigade can make a difference, then you know you’ve got something going for you.
“I am not taking away anything from a younger player, who does well, but history has proved time and again that it is easier to make an impression in the first year, but a lot harder to sustain it in years two through to 10. So far this season I’ve been encouraged by the older guys. And they’ve showed the value of experience in this competition.”
It has further convinced White that his squad identification, for the most, is spot on and that it would take an extraordinary young talent to break into his squad 18 months out from the 2007 World Cup.
“When I took over as Bok coach I picked a very young squad that should reach its apex at the World Cup 2007. That’s when the cycle of that squad should be at its most potent. The key is to introduce in a subtle way that by 2008 a lot has changed but you don’t even notice it. That is why we have put an emphasis on 30-odd players for the last two seasons. We’re still not where the All Blacks are, in that they can pick two different teams and be equally effective, but we’ve made advances in the last two years,” said White.
“I have been very impressed with the older brigade at the Sharks. Johan Ackermann and Albert van den Berg have made it easier for a talent like Johan Muller to come through. AJ Venter has been very good this season, which has allowed Ruan Pienaar to slot in at No 9 between him and the All Black veteran Tony Brown. JP Pietersen has had the benefit of playing with experience around him. And John Smit’s impact has been immediate with the Sharks.
“The Cats have struggled as a team, but individually there have been good performances. Again it is the older players who are standing tallest, when you think of Wikus van Heerden and Klein-Jan Tromp, in particular. The Bulls have played and succeeded where expected, while the Cheetahs have proved a determined and successful outfit. The biggest disappointment has been the Stormers, but they do have four weeks on the road that they can turn into a challenge. They have the players to do so.
“In short, I am not discouraged. I think this Super 14 has highlighted the value of older players and consistency in selection.”
White, in recent seasons, has been under pressure to pick any youngster who has enjoyed one decent season. He has resisted on each occasion and for the most has been vindicated.
A year ago the country’s media and couch critics were urging him to select Morne Steyn and Willem de Waal. Now neither can make their respective Super 14 run-on XVs.
A year ago Smit’s shares were questioned, but in the interim no hooker has shown himself to be of similar pedigree when you take all aspects of hooker player.
And so it goes on. No flyhalf has impressed more than Jaco van der Westhuyzen and Andre Pretorius did for the Boks last year and few youngsters have made enough of a challenge to oust the senior national squad players.
Realistically, Ruan Pienaar has been the strongest of the challengers, but do you pick him ahead of Fourie du Preez, Ricky Januarie or Bolla Conradie — the three preferred halfbacks of the last two seasons.
The Ndungane twins have had their moments on the wing, but do you select them ahead of a Jaque Fourie, Bryan Habana or Breyton Paulse? These are some of the questions that White will answer with his first squad selection. The answer, though, would seem obvious. You won’t take them ahead of what he already has.
So far the competition has affirmed White’s national selections, when perhaps he would have hoped for a few more individual displays that questioned them.