As South Africa’s vaccination rollout gathers momentum, Vodacom Bulls coach Jake White is urging rugby fans to “take their shot” at being vaccinated so that Loftus Versfeld can once again be filled with the cheers of its supporters.
And White is using two players from his illustrious coaching career as examples of how taking an opportunity when it comes your way can change your life.
“Percy Montgomery and Gary Teichmann,” says White, as he sits on a leather couch at Loftus. “For me, those two players represent exactly what it means to take your shot when it comes.
“In 1997, I was part of the technical squad for the Springboks when Nick Mallett was the coach. I remember we were in Paris for the tour to Europe in the build-up to the Test against France. Justin Swart was the fullback at that stage. But Justin had pulled a hamstring in a previous Test and they were worried about him being fully fit in time. So, they made the call.
Percy was out shopping, and when he got back to the hotel that Friday evening, he was told, ‘You’re playing tomorrow’. Monty had played one or two Tests by then. But he played in that Test, which the Springboks won 52-10, and he never looked back. Here you have a player who went on to get 100 caps for the Springboks and become a household name. All because he was ready when his moment came, and it came when he least expected it. But then he took that shot.
“And then I think of Gary Teichmann. He played his first Test for the Springboks just after the Rugby World Cup in 1995. Francois Pienaar had moved on, and Gary was given his chance. And he took it, becoming one of the most decorated Springbok captains in history and part of that Mallett team that won a record 17 consecutive Tests. But strangely he never played in a Rugby World Cup. And that for me shows another side of what it means to take your opportunities when they come, because you never know what’s around the corner in this game and you cannot wait for what you think is the right time for you.”
It’s the same message White gives any young player he coaches who is about to get his first big shot.
“The one thing I try and tell a young player is that there is no reason why he can’t be Man of the Match on his debut. If you’re going to take your first shot, then make it a memorable one by becoming Man of the Match.”
As he considers how all of this translates from the rugby field to the general public and the opportunity people now have to “take their shot” and get a vaccination, White tells another story.
“Often before a Vodacom Bulls match we get one of the legends to come in and hand out the jerseys to our players. And the one thing they all say is that they wish they could’ve had just one more game for the Vodacom Bulls – just one more chance to run out there with their teammates. That’s when they look at the current players and tell them to never take what they’re doing for granted, because when it’s over, it’s over. So, my message to the fans is the same. Don’t take this opportunity for granted. Get the vaccination. The sooner you do, the sooner we can start getting fans back to Loftus Versfeld. The team plays better with fans in the stadium. I coach better with fans in the stadium.”
If you’re a Vodacom Bulls fan, coach Jake has certainly made it clear: Don’t take this vaccination opportunity for granted. Take your shot.
Let’s get vaccinated so that we can go Further Together.
Stay safe, Wear a mask, Get Vaccinated.