MARK KEOHANE writes Jake White based the Springboks’ 2007 World Cup campaign on fitness, defence and counter attack. He is doing the same with the Brumbies and being as successful.
The Brumbies, unbeaten in Super Rugby this season, play the Sharks in Durban and victory would give them a tournament record sixth successive away win.
White, when he turned around the fortunes of the Springboks, failed to compromise on two aspects: Fitness and Defence.
White, in 2004, said a fit team that defended well, would win more games than it lost. A fit team backed their defensive structure and also backed each other’s individual ability. A fit team made better mental decisions. A fit team immediately created a culture of excellence because if there was no compromise on fitness then there would be no short cuts elsewhere.
White also believed a fit team that backed itself to defend learned the value of playing without the ball and fitness and conditioning had a lot to do with the work rate of players off the ball.
White has also preached the importance of basics and has said that the same principles apply to a professional international team as they do to a schools team.
‘Fit players also naturally enjoy the 80 minutes more and if a player feels he is stronger, faster and better conditioned than his opposition he doesn’t doubt other aspects of his game.’
White, when asked to turn around the flagging fortunes of the Brumbies, immediately focused on getting the conditioning right. He picked a combination of no name youngsters and was strategic in which veterans he involved. White believes in honouring legends of the game, specific to which team he is coaching.
In his time with the Boks he sought out Percy Montgomery (playing in Wales) and Os du Randt (retired), refreshed their desire to play Test rugby and empowered them with huge responsibility. Both players were colossal for the Boks in the 2007 World Cup.
He has done the same with the Brumbies. Stephen Larkham and George Gregan are on his coaching staff. George Smith is back in Super Rugby on a short term plan and the outstanding former NRL coach Brian Smith is the defensive guru White he entrusted to turn the Brumbies from babes to giants.
‘We use defence to strangle teams and turn the ball over,’ White told the local Canberra Times newspaper. ‘We see defence as an opportunity to attack. We’ve got some really quick players out wide, so if we turn the ball over and send the ball out wide, there’s no reason why we can’t tear teams to pieces.’
That quote could be from 2007 when White was talking about Boks.
White has trusted his gut instincts, backed the strength of tradition and instilled a culture that the aim is not to be a good Brumbies player but to be remembered as a great one.
Few gave him any chance of succeeding so quickly with the Brumbies.
last year they missed the play-offs by one league point after a shock last round home defeat to the Blues. This year they are unbeaten and the dominant Australian side in the competition.
The Sharks will be their toughest challenge to date, but what can’t be disputed is the impact White is making with the Brumbies. Neither can his formula be disputed.