Jake White’s refusal to entertain any opinion other than his own is what will sink him.
Whether White gets fired on November 29 or stumbles through another season of denial, the root of the rot starts with the coach himself.
The man who told the South African public that he would coach the Springboks for free has constantly been at war with his employees. First it was the issue of a contract, then the issue of transformation and now the issue of preparing for a World Cup.
White has looked everywhere for justification about poor performance. He has offered too many excuses to list, but rarely has he actually looked at himself, his selections, his game strategy and his coaching staff.
I don’t for one moment believe the President’s Council is qualified to make a rugby judgement on White, but they may argue that four wins in 11 this year and an overall win percentage of 58 in three years is enough to show him the door.
What was disturbing about White’s latest press conference was listening to what he has learned on his third successive trip north with the Springboks. A year ago he told the media that he had picked Meyer Bosman because that was the type of flyhalf South Africa needed to win in the northern hemisphere. This year he left Bosman behind and told the media that, in hindsight, it was a mistake.
He said he favoured Andre Pretorius because the Lions flyhalf had done well in Rustenburg. But it was a bit like betting on a hard court specialist or clay court specialist to win on the grass of Wimbledon. It made no sense and did not need a third successive tour to show up the madness of such a selection.
White has taken an SA under 21 side to the UK, an SA ‘A’ side to the UK and three Bok tours to the UK in the last five years. He has been a member of Nick Mallett’s Boks to the UK in 1997 and 1998. He was a member of Harry Viljoen’s Bok team to the UK in 2000. How many more tours does the Bok coach need to undertake to know what kind of player and what kind of style of play is needed in the UK?
There were those who commended White for admitting he had got it wrong by ignoring a specialist open-sider when naming the tour squad a month ago. Others said it smacked of incompetence from White and his selectors. They did the same thing and expected a different result, which translates to the height of stupidity.
White, in his 36 tests, has picked 14 different loose-forwards and played most of these 14 in 6, 7 and 8 positions. It tells of a coach who just doesn’t know. He also can’t use transformation as an excuse. The Bok coach has averaged three players of colour in his starting XV over the course of three years. On seven occasions he has picked more than three players of colour to start a test. On 10 occasions he has picked two or less players of colour to start a test.
White’s failures have not been because of so-called quota selections.
The Bok coach had to eat humble pie in picking Kabamba Floors, just three weeks after saying the player did not fit into his plans. Earlier this year he said he could not fly in Luke Watson and play him ahead of Solly Tyibilika because there wasn’t enough time for Watson to learn the systems. Now Floors is deemed qualified to absorb it all in the space of two days.
It is more of the irrational. When asked why Bosman was not flown in as a replacement for Butch James and played ahead of an out of sorts Andre Pretorius, White said it would be a slap in the face for Pretorius.
But the coach had no problem flying in Gerrie Brits and Floors and letting them leapfrog Hilton Lobberts, who has been on the tour from day one. Again, there was no consistency in the argument.
It has been the story of White’s last 18 months. White, post Rudolf Straeuli, offered so much. Yet he never delivered on the promise and when he held SA Rugby to ransom on three occasions it was three too many.
Too often the only phone calls White wanted to make were to Eddie Jones and Clive Woodward. Jones, for all his technical acumen, won one out of 15 tests away from home with the Wallabies and was an international coaching flop. Woodward, when White jumped on his back, was busy scripting a new book of how to lose, following the disgrace of the Lions tour Down Under.
White had quality South African coaches and quality people to call upon; people who had his and Springbok rugby’s best at heart. He refused to do so. He listened to no one and only indulged in his own opinion.
The coach will blame everyone, but in his quiet moment he needs only to look at himself.
What he has sown in the last 18 months, he now reaps.