Jake White will escape the axe on Wednesday. But it is an opportunity missed. He should be gone.
The Springboks’ end of year tour was not developmental at all. Francois Steyn was the exception to a conservative tour selection rule.
Jake White has excused two defeats out of three on the basis of inexperience and development, but it is nonsense. The Bok coach contributed to the Ireland defeat with bizarre selections, by playing players out of position and because the team he put on the park was not good enough to cope with a settled and skilled Irish team that is currently second only to the All Blacks.
If the same Bok team that relied on four drop goals to beat a dismal England side had played Ireland at Lansdowne Road last weekend the Irish would still have come away with victory, if not by a record 17 point margin.
Rapport’s JJ Harsme quite rightly pointed out that only three first choice Springboks were rested for the end of year tour in Victor Matfield, Os du Randt and Fourie du Preez. The other Bok names White rattles off at every press conference were injured and unavailable during the Tri Nations or dropped because of poor form during the Tri Nations.
Steyn was the success story of the tour and credit to the selectors for picking him and playing him. The lesson there was what a player can do if given consistent exposure. But equally, White and the selectors have to be condemned for not entrusting more youngsters with international game time.
Consider Steyn’s tour to Jaco Pretorius, JP Pietersen, Hilton Lobberts, Bevin Fortuin and Chiliboy Ralepelle. White played a struggling and out of form Bryan Habana in all three tests. We all know how good Habana can be, but what we did not get from this tour was whether Pietersen could be a test winger or whether Pretorius, a natural outside centre, had the potential to develop into a test winger. The Lions midfielder looked more than competent in his debut against Ireland, but we never got another glimpse of him.
Ralepelle’s nine seconds in the second test against England was also disgraceful. If he is so good, then bloody well play him. Bulls captain Gary Botha surely must have felt he’d wasted another month of his life walking around with tackle bags. And what of Pietersen. He went on tour for a month Down Under and lumped tackle bags around. He then came off and was sent back to the Sharks.
When Percy Montgomery fluffed his lines in the Pretoria test and Jaque Fourie looked uncomfortable in the Rustenburg test as a fullback, Pietersen was deemed good enough to make his test debut against the Wallabies. He played okay, did nothing wrong and the Boks won 24-16. He left here as the man in possession of the jersey and never got a minute on tour. Yet the Bok coach rambles on about long-term plans and development. What a load of bollocks.
There is nothing developmental about 37 year-old Johan Ackermann and there is nothing inexperienced about Ricky Januarie, who has been playing test rugby since 2004. White tried to flog off Januarie as one of the young ones who’d made it on tour. So too Johann Muller. Here’s a guy with a season of test rugby behind him and three seasons of Super 14. Hardly a new kid on the block. Flying over Gerrie Britz and Wikus van Heerden was also not about development. And asking De Wet Barry and Selborne Boome, among others, to join the team for a meaningless match against a Club XV of yesterday’s international heroes is again not in keeping with development principles. Where are the younger players in that group?
What was most disappointing, if not unexpected after the second test win against England, was White’s refusal to acknowledge Kabamba Floors’ impact at Twickenham. White said he could not make an assessment, but immediately praised the efforts of Danie Rossouw and Juan Smith. Floors was a selection forced on White, who did not want to pick the player because he has always believed him to be too short and not heavy enough. The player embarrassed White with his performance, but his reward was minimal. It was another sad indictment of the thinking that has suffocated the evolution of a team that prospered in 2004, but has shuffled along ever since.
Of the team that beat England, where would White improve it for the World Cup? If you look at how he has picked his teams in the last three years he would bring in Os du Randt at loosehead, Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha at locks and if he does play again Schalk Burger at flank. The only change to the backline would be the return of Jaque Fourie, with Breyton Paulse and Akona Ndungane vying for one spot, as they did in the Tri Nations.
So the ‘full strength’ team that plays in the World Cup would not look radically different. The PR spin was that White took a bunch of youngsters to the Ireland and England and that makes defeat acceptable. Yes he did take youngsters, but he only played one of them – and that one happened to be his star.
White will hang onto his job on the emotion of beating a second-rate England team.
And while it was fantastic to leave Twickenham for the first time in 10 years with the Boks having won, seeing this England team lose was a bit like watching a 40 year-old Mike Tyson getting hammered. The Boks beat the worst England team in 10 years, who just happen to be wearing the crown of World Cup holders. White told the media how huge the test had been and how significant the win was because the Boks had just beaten the world champions. Technically they had, but the reality is very different.
What he did not mention was that a Pumas team considered not good enough to play in the Tri Nations had also beaten the world champions at Twickenham. This Pumas team had got together on the Tuesday, had two practise runs and battered England; the same England that had lost by a record 21 points to New Zealand; the same England that had lost at home to Ireland, been hammered 30-6 by France in Paris and humiliated by the Wallabies in Australia; the same England team whose only success in their last nine tests had come against White’s Boks.
And that’s why White should be given his marching orders. He won’t be told to go today and the President’s Council will be swayed by his constant reference to the last game as a measure of how much the team developed on tour.
But when the first defeat comes next year, we’ll be back to where we were a week ago and then it will be too late to make the change.
The President’s Council has the chance today to make the right decision for the right reasons – and that would mean saying goodbye to Jake and consigning his 59 percent win record to history. They won’t. Sadly.