Jake White has won a World Cup and he will be critical to another South African victory in 2015, writes MARK KEOHANE.
White has already told Pat Lambie that the Sharks No 10 jersey is his for the season. White has also told Frans Steyn that the No 12 jersey is his in 2014.
White selected Steyn, then a teenager, for the Springboks in 2006. He started him on the wing, moved him to fullback and always said the player, once he matured, would play most of his career at No 12.
Steyn’s natural size is his strength and weakness. His conditioning will always determine just how much of his ability is realised in a season. Steyn, struggling with match fitness and injury, is never an imposing presence. Steyn, backed by a coach and in shape, is one of the best in the global game.
Lambie has never done it consistently at No 10 for the Springboks and never dominated a Super Rugby campaign.
White told me he had been impressed with Lambie’s natural game and his attitude, but he felt the player had never been properly coached at No 10.
This was not a criticism of Meyer because the reality is a player is managed, more than coached, at national level. It is more a reflection on Lambie playing 15, 12 and 10 for the Sharks over two seasons and never settling into one position.
White is relishing the challenge to coach Lambie to be a world-class 10 – and if he succeeds the greatest beneficiary would be Meyer and his Springboks.
White felt Lambie had never been properly coached at No 10
The foreigner view is that while the Boks currently are a very good side, they need a dimension at No 10 to be a great side. Morné Steyn is a good player but White believes Lambie can be a very good player and with the right coaching and greater confidence could develop into an exceptional player. He also believes Lambie (at No 10) and Steyn (at No 12) axis could add a dimension to the Springboks, especially in providing depth to the squad.
White met with Meyer in Durban on Monday. It was the first time two have spoken in person since White’s return to South Africa.
There is a history between the two from when White coached the Boks and Meyer coached the Bulls. Some would call it a rivalry. Some would say two men with egos. Whatever the history/rivalry, the two men are invaluable to the strength of South African rugby.
White has the capacity to deliver a first Super Rugby title to Durban and Meyer is building a squad capable of adding to the World Cups won by Kitch Christie in 1995 and White in 2007.
Meyer has had little hesitation in investing in a core of players who won White the World Cup. The young men of 2007 are now the veterans of 2014.
Meyer has also built a next-generation squad around those players. The situation is healthy at present, but it will be even healthier because of White’s presence at the Sharks. He knows the complications of being a Bok coach when it comes to dealing with the South African provinces and Super Rugby regions. He knows how regional and provincial coaches made his life so difficult as a Bok coach.
White has the capacity to deliver a first Super Rugby title to Durban and Meyer is building a squad capable of adding to the World Cups won by Kitch Christie in 1995 and White in 2007
White has matured on so many levels because of his Australian coaching experience at the Brumbies. Meyer is also a more matured coach than the one White encountered as the mentor of the Bulls.
The two men, in their head coaching roles at the Sharks and Boks respectively, hold the key to the success of the Boks. White will provide in excess of 10 players to Meyer’s squad. Significantly he looks after Lambie and Steyn and he looks after the conditioning of those players.
The criticism of the Sharks players was always a perceived lack of conditioning. The Bok coaching staff, under Meyer, felt the Sharks players were second to players from other regions in areas of match conditioning and general fitness. This will never happen under White, whose teams historically have always been among the most conditioned.
There will be those who build up the rivalry between Meyer and White but they do both men a disservice. The two, playing very different roles, are a duo with the rugby passion and intellect to make South African rugby the best and to finally challenge the consistent dominance of the All Blacks.
White may not be coaching the Springboks but in the next two seasons he has a role to play, through the Sharks, that is every bit as important to the Springboks as that of the national coach
Here’s to talking about White and Meyer as a partnership and not as a rivalry.
Here’s to a stronger South African rugby through a stronger White-Meyer relationship.
Here’s to the Sharks and the Springboks because if the Sharks are on fire in Super Rugby, the Springboks already start the international season with an advantage.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images