Jake White's success with the Brumbies and Sharks shows that Saru should have stuck with him as Springbok coach after the 2007 World Cup, writes MARK KEOHANE.
Coaching does make a difference. Sharks director of rugby Jake White is the difference in this season’s challenge.
The man the South African Rugby Union hierarchy refused to reappoint after coaching the Springboks to the 2007 World Cup, has emphatically embarrassed those in the administration who made a decision that was never based on rugby.
The Stormers, Bulls, Lions and Cheetahs, in 16 starts in Australia and New Zealand this season did not win a game. White’s Sharks in 2014 lost just once in four overseas Super Rugby games.
The Sharks, with three league matches remaining, have led the competition through all 13 rounds. White’s influence was immediate in a competition that cannot be compared to the Currie Cup, which the Sharks won in 2013.
White, when he was not reappointed Bok coach, was rightly bitter. He had won the 2007 World Cup and he previously had won the U21 World Cup. He had also won a Tri-Nations in 2004 in his first season as national coach.
White had identified a new generation of South African player to the Springboks, invested in youth and been emphatic in how he believed the Boks could win the World Cup.
The rugby aspect of his coaching didn’t matter because of agendas and White left South Africa – unwanted – for the Brumbies in Australia.
His rugby intellectual capital was deemed not significant enough to keep him in the country. Australia, by way of the Brumbies, quickly invested in White’s pedigree and White transformed the Brumbies from basement dwellers to 2013 Super Rugby finalists. The Brumbies lost away to New Zealand’s Chiefs in the final but his impact on the quality of the Brumbies was indisputable.
White had restored integrity to Brumbies rugby, improved the quality of the team and the fortunes of individuals who were capped for the Wallabies.
Many in South Africa refuse to acknowledge the influence of White in the 2007 win. White’s conflict with the game’s administration was deemed more significant than his rugby intellect, his results and the ultimate international prize of World Cup glory.
There was no effort made to invest in White after the 2007 World Cup success and it was disgusting how many within the game’s suited and elected lot were quick to discard White's value to South Africa. He was bitter when he left South Africa – and understandably so.
His success with the Brumbies was another indication of his quality as a coach. The Australian Rugby Union asked White to apply for the Wallabies job, post the Robbie Deans era, on a promise he was to be appointed. Pressure to appoint an Australian meant White was lied to and he quit Australian rugby because of the betrayal.
The Sharks appointed him coach and White has again shown just why he should never have been allowed to leave the country.
He said the Sharks had a squad good enough to win the competition and that the expectation of the franchsie had to be a top-four placing.
White, as with the Boks and the Brumbies, refused to allow for boardroom interference in his rugby philosophy and selection.
It is what makes him so successful, yet also so unpopular. White is not liked within South Africa’s rugby administration because he refused to be influenced on those rugby-related matters by elected officials.
He was done a dirty by the game’s administration and yet they have never fronted what was an agenda-based decision.
White is one rugby coach who makes it clear he is the boss. The players are his investment but the tail does not wag the dog. And he has always been outspoken that South African rugby succeeds in spite of and not because of the administration.
He has always backed himself on results and again has shown his value to the game in this country.
His efforts with the Brumbies were massive and he has been equally influential in transforming the Sharks approach and results.
White has proven an exceptional coach, regardless of which team he has coached. It is time the South African rugby administration, especially those elected officials who put the boot into him on matters unrelated to rugby, embraced White’s contribution to South African rugby.
White is controversial because he is prepared to be a coach, who wants to be judged on results. He refuses to be muzzled in the media to appease the insecurities and illusions of those who administer the game and he has always been prepared to make the big calls on player selections.
White builds a team around his player strength but never denies the weaknesses that may exist. He is pragmatic and simple is his approach but technically among the best in the world.
White is a rugby coach whose record and achievements makes him among the best in the world, but previously in South Africa he was judged on everything but his rugby coaching pedigree.
White was not wanted in South African rugby despite winning the World Cup.
The Sharks' 2014 season has only emphasised the shocking nature of that decision.
White has always been the business in South African rugby, unlike those in the administration who shafted him.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images