Keo, in his News24 column, writes that redemption will come in the attitude of the Boks on Saturday and not because of any statistical data the team management brings to the next press conference.
White’s obsession with statistics could lead to him being central to the most dramatic of statistics. It is possible, given the Boks’ schedule for the rest of the year, that the Bok coach could lose his next eight Tests.
The Boks play the All Blacks three more times, the Aussies twice and then travel to Dublin and London, where they lost under White when the Boks were Tri-Nations champs.
If this worst-case scenario should unfold (and we all have had our knees stapled to the ground in prayer that this is not the case) then White’s winning percentage will drop below 60%, which would put him in a class of mediocrity as far as Bok coaches go.
And if this ever did happen (and pray it won’t South Africans), then White would be fired and he would depart with the Boks ranked seventh in the world.
That’s the cruelty of statistics. They never stay the same. A month ago White was being hailed for taking the Boks from sixth in the world to number two. In a few months time he could be crucified for taking them from sixth to seventh.
A month ago White’s communications machine put out – as a milestone – a statement reflecting the following: “If the Boks beat France at Newlands, Jake White will become the second most successful Springbok coach of all time with a 71.43% winning record”.
Talk of putting the cart in front of the horse. If ever a coach wanted to rile the rugby gods or tempt fate, that was it. Kitch Christie, with a home World Cup win and 14 successive Test wins, will always be remembered as the most successful coach statistically.
But his record has to be put in context. He never took a team to France. He never took a team on tour to New Zealand and Australia. He was only in the job for a year and he did the most brilliant of ambulance jobs. His circumstances were different to any other who has coached the Boks.
Nick Mallett, with three years in the job, which included three Tri-Nations and one World Cup, is the measurement of a coach whose record could leave no questions as to who his teams played against, where or when. There were three big cycles in those three years.
Mallett ended with a 71% win record in his first tenure as Bok coach. I say first because don’t bet against him having a second.
So I found White’s ‘point 43 of a percentage’ amusing. What I found even more amusing was the fact that South Africa had not yet beaten France. What the press statement didn’t say was that if the Boks lost then White’s winning percentage would be 68% and if they lost to Australia it would drop even more and if they lost to New Zealand… and so on and so on.
With Uruguay and the like in the mix any statistic is inflated. The measurement of any Bok coach is how he fares against the top four. And anything over 50% is acceptable because of the closeness in competition and the amount of away games played.
White, to date, has won seven from 16, with his away record one from eight. That’s the statistic that White and his communications team should have been putting forward if they wanted to use statistics to make a point of perceived success. White’s predecessor won two from 12 against the big boys and never won on the road.
So White definitely has made improvement. He also broke the duck against the All Blacks. Don’t forget the Boks had lost eight in succession. White has won two from four and with a bit of luck could have won all four.
Statistics, as Jake has found out in the last month, are easily manipulated if presented in isolation.
There has to be context to every statistic and the significant one now is the heartbeat of Jake White’s Bok team.
Saturday’s Test against the All Blacks is not about how many Test caps the squad has, White’s winning percentage as Bok coach, how many black players are in the match 22 or the All Blacks 20-match unbeaten home run.
The only statistic will be the one that no one can measure – and that’s the heartbeat and size of every Bok player’s ticker.
Saturday is an opportunity not for victory but for redemption. Those who played in Brisbane and get to play again in Wellington have to show the South African public that they’ve got a heart. They have to show they have fight in them.
In Brisbane the Boks were condemned for how they lost. They waved the white flag. In Wellington the meek must transform and the only flag these bulls must recognise is the red one the All Blacks will be waving at them.
Show us some heart Bokke. That’s all we want. A victory would be like the lotto. You buy a ticket hoping for victory but never expecting it.
We hope for a win, but when it comes to effort, we damn right demand it as a rugby public.