National coaches are supposed to make players dream of making the impossible seem possible. Jake White, as has become his custom of late, took this week to crush the Bok dreams of those playing in the Currie Cup final.
White also told the sponsors ABSA that their competition was worth nothing when it came to Springbok selection. White did not directly say this to the sponsor, but he took a pop at the quality of rugby played in the Currie Cup and told the media he had learned nothing new. All the Currie Cup had shown him, he said, was how poor the defence was.
Funny how I didn’t hear Graham Henry dishing it out to New Zealand’s provincial teams after last weekend’s Air New Zealand Cup quarter-finals. North Harbour conceded 50 points, Canterbury let in five tries against Wellington and Auckland scored 46 points. Every fit All Black played in those matches, so we must assume that the only thing White learned from those matches is that New Zealand’s defence has suddenly become shoddy.
White’s bleak outlook on the latter stages of the Currie Cup should not be shared by the rugby public. When the Top 6 in this country have played each other this season, the intensity has been up there with the best of them. The Cheetahs side playing in the Currie Cup final is not much different to the Cheetahs S14 side White raved about earlier in the season. The Cheetahs side that beat the Wellington Hurricanes is very similar to that which plays the domestic final. Why put value in the win against the Hurricanes, but not in the win against the Sharks? And this a Sharks team that whipped the Blues and a good few other Aussie and Kiwi teams during the S14.
The argument from White that he learned nothing from this year’s Currie Cup, especially in the last month, has no substance. But it does show you what a closed shop the Bok selection has become in the three years that White’s Boks have won just 60 percent of their games and less than 40 percent against the word’s top five.
It also shows you where the Bok coach’s headspace is – and it is in the same place where it was during the awful away leg of the Tri Nations. White does not see the value of the youngsters in the Currie Cup. He also did not see the value of Pierre Spies in New Zealand. It took injuries to Juan Smith and Joe van Niekerk to get Spies selected for the last two tests at home. Now Spies is a test match certainty on form.
Why can’t that be applicable to several other form players in this year’s Currie Cup?
White says that he knows the formula needed to beat England at Twickenham and it requires going with the tried and tested; the experienced players who have been there and done it for him before. Here’s the news flash Jake: Since taking over as Bok coach in 2004 your tried and tested have never done it overseas when it mattered. Your tried and tested in the last three years have lost to Ireland in Dublin, lost to England at Twickenham and lost to France in Paris. Your tried and tested have lost to the All Blacks in New Zealand three times and they’ve lost four out of five to the Wallabies in Australia. The only away win was a three pointer in Perth when the Aussies coughed up the ball after 15 phases and Bryan Habana sprinted 80 metres to score the match winning try.
If one win out of 11 against England, France, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia is the recipe for success then we at least know what to expect in November.
The oldies White believes in do not warrant selection on form or on historical away match achievement. They’ve done nothing.
This tour represented an ideal opportunity for White to go for broke and play England with youngsters, who don’t know failure and don’t fear failure. Once again White has turned an opportunity into a burden. The post-match press conference can already be written for the England test.
It will read something like this: “You must understand that England’s players are younger than ours and that they were match conditioned. Our guys have been in French lessons and at the gym for the last eight weeks and you just cannot simulate taking a tackle from an English player. You really have to be playing and our guys just haven’t had enough game time of late … It was a case of men against boys.”
And when White is questioned about the lack of adventure from the Boks he will bemoan poor decision-making amon the odd youngster new to international rugby. He will talk about the learning experience and remind people that he is missing Schalk Burger, Bakkies Botha and Marius Joubert (unless he decides to take them on tour to provide moral support).
And when he is reminded that he selected players who have never done it before away from the comfort of their grandpas, mothers, sisters and brothers, he will tell the media that ‘hindsight is an exact science’ and ‘that there is no manual that tells you how to do these things’.
And that’s where he will have no defence because there is a manual about what not to do. He has written the manual in the last 18 months. Hindsight is also not necesary here because you don’t need hindsight to know that the players who won you one out of 11 big away internationals are not going to win you three out of three next month.
You also don’t need hindsight to know that many of those Currie Cup players from tomorrow’s final, who won’t be at Twickenham next month, should be at Twickenham.
Where you can’t fault White is in his consistency. He has consistently got it wrong in the last 18 months and not even hindsight has managed to change that.
Many of the Bulls and Cheetahs players in the final will never play for the Boks while White is coach. Spare a thought for these unlucky buggers, but drink a toast to their efforts ahead of the domestic final. White may think there is no value in the big occasion in Bloemfontein, but a sell-out crowd and millions of television viewers across the globe think differently. And thank god they do.