Handing World Cup-winning coach Jake White the director of rugby position would be the best appointment made by Saru in 2008.
White made himself available for the job this week, a job that at present doesn’t exist. The president’s council will meet on Friday to discuss the creation of the position among other issues. They would do well to welcome White back into the South African rugby fold.
That White would even consider coming back into a system that clearly didn’t want him after the World Cup is remarkable. What it does confirm is that White is still committed to South African rugby. He is willing to walk back into the chaos, but more importantly he is willing to help the very team he led to intenational glory 10 months ago get back on track.
For the Springboks, there is nothing but pride to be won at Ellis Park this Saturday. Peter de Villiers’s game plan has been criticised not only by the media, but by Eddie Jones, another coach who won the World Cup with South Africa in 2007 as a technical adviser.
Some people may wonder why Jones deserves to be heard or why White would add value to a Bok team that is clearly headed in a new direction. It would be arrogant to dismiss the experience of this pair at the highest level. Jones coached Australia for four years before linking up with the Boks ahead of the 2007 World Cup. White took the Bok job in 2004 and finished his tenure with a Tri-Nations and world title.
Prior to this season, the incumbent Bok management had zero coaching experience at Test level. Had White been in the mix at an earlier stage, the Bok coaching trio of De Villiers, Gary Gold and Dick Muir would have benefitted. Be it through an informal chat or intensive technical discussion, these men would have had access to White’s insights on how certain teams function on the Test stage.
The old adage follows that you’re judged by the company you keep. White surrounded himself with quality assistants during his four years, and was clearly not afraid to seek outside help. This is not to undermine Gold and Muir as De Villiers’s deputies, but the three-man Bok coaching staff cannot compare to White’s entourage of 2007. More was definitely more.
With the exit of White, the Boks also lost their sports psychologist, their visual coach and an experienced techinical adviser. Henning Gericke, Sherylle Calder and Jones all earned their medals in France, so if they weren’t willing to continue under a new coach, why didn’t Saru replace them? It goes back to the question of why you need to divert from a winning formula at all.
White also used Rassie Erasmus as a technical adviser in 2007 before Erasmus joined the Stormers. White had Gert Smal as his forwards coach, but brought Erasmus in as a breakdown specialist. White also consulted Balie Swart for the Bok scrums, and on defence he wasn’t scared to ask Gold for a helping hand.
It was encouraging to see Sharks coach John Plumtree down at the Boks training last week helping with the technique at the breakdown. But it was disappointing that Plumtree’s involvement was limited to a few minutes. By including Plumtree, De Villiers was suggesting the Boks could use some help in certain areas. It’s such an important area of the game, so why not hire another staff member that specialises at the breakdown? The Aussies have two forward coaches in Michael Foley and Jim Williams, the former specialising in set-pieces and the latter at the breakdown. In a professional age it would seem prudent to cover your bases rather than spread yourself too thin.
White was wise enough to acknowledge where he needed help, and although he will be required to make other changes at the lower levels if he wins this director of rugby position, the coaching roles of the national team may have to be redefined.
Most big sides have a kicking coach, and given the importance of tactical kicking under the ELVs, it would appear as vital a job as that of a breakdown specialist. Although he has not worked with the new laws, this is something White and the Bok coaches would have to reassess if he did come on board.
There’s been a call for more structure in De Villiers’s game plan. White is unlikely to prevent De Villiers from pursuing with his desired pattern of play, but he may bring in the outside help needed for adequate Test match preparation.
By Jon Cardinelli