Quintin van Jaarsveld
Former Springbok mastermind Jake White believes he has the coaching maturity and philosophy to turn the Bulls back into a superpower.
The Pretoria-based Super Rugby side’s new Director of Rugby was speaking with historian Dr. Dean Allen in the final instalment of the weekly video series raising funds for the Chris Burger Petro Jackson Players’ Fund on Thursday evening.
White remarkably rebuilt the Springboks when he took over from Rudolf Straeuli in 2004 and guided them to World Cup glory in France in 2007. He’s now determined to replicate that revival mission and restore the three-time Super Rugby champion Bulls to their former glory.
To do so, the 56-year-old said he will bring the same philosophy that’s served him so well at all levels of his decorated coaching career to Loftus Versfeld, as well as a new level of maturity he gained during his time at Montpellier (from 2014-2017) and Toyota Verblitz (from 2017-2019).
The former schoolmaster, who believes his term as Bulls boss comes at the perfect time, provided interesting insight into his management style. Integral to White’s way of doing things, he explained, is transparency and trust.
“Sometimes I get a bit despondent when I read about speculation that I’m hard on players or that my man-management [style] gets questioned,” said White.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that that perception’s based on the fact that sometimes when you tell a player something he doesn’t want to hear, it comes across as though you’re hard on him.
“The thing I’ve learned as a coach is, rather be honest with a player. When I was a kid, the one thing I didn’t enjoy was when a coach went around the block to tell me something as opposed to just being straight with me.
“I’m very big on the circle – whether you’re management or players – that circle is very precious and there’s an unwritten rule that when you’re in that circle, you’ve got to back each other. You’ve got to back people through the difficult times because it’s easy to back them through the easy times.
“I was criticised for picking [Percy] Montgomery, Os du Randt and John Smit [for the Springboks] and the irony is Os and John are inducted in the Hall of Fame, and I’m sure Monty will be too.
“The reality was, I knew if I backed them through the difficult times, they will back me [replay that faith] in the good times.
“Monty kicked 32 kicks [at goal] in the World Cup and he missed one, and in the World Cup final and semi-final at the Stade de France, he didn’t miss a kick in that stadium.
“I’m big on that [transparency and trust] and I’m not prepared to negotiate on that. Sometimes, I suppose, it’s a strain for players who hear things they don’t want to hear but at the same time, you’ve got to be truthful to yourself and the team and you have to make decisions that are important to win.
“One of the themes I’ve always had as a coach is win means ‘what is needed’ – that’s what it stands for – and what is needed is you have to make those decisions, and when you make those decisions, sometimes they can be uncomfortable.
“I’m very big on relationships, on trusting people I put in those positions and knowing that when the pressure is on, I don’t have to look over my shoulder. When I’m with you, I’m with you and when we’re in, we’re in.
“Whether I’ve coached at Jeppe, Parktown, the SA Under-21s, France or the Springboks, you have to show unity in difficult times.”
Just like he did when he started his term as Springbok coach, White’s been putting building blocks in place for the future of the Bulls franchise, making several significant signings and appointments during rugby’s lingering Covid-19 lockout in South Africa.
White’s lured Springboks Gio Aplon, Travis Ismaiel, Nizaam Carr and Marcel van der Merwe to Loftus, as well as Arno Botha, Walt Steenkamp and Sintu Manjezi.
In addition, he’s showed confidence in the promising prospects Walt Steenkamp‚ Johan Grobbelaar‚ Gerhard Steenekamp‚ Muller Uys, David Kriel and Schalk Erasmus.
Meanwhile, White’s brought in Joey Mongalo and Russell Winter as defence and forwards coaches respectively, as well as Nollis Marais as breakdown specialist and successful Grey College coach Wessel du Plessis as the new head of junior rugby.
eHowzit asked White who’d his dream signing would be in a perfect world without salary caps and existing contracts.
Rather than opting for an international superstar like All Blacks playmaker Beauden Barritt or England captain Owen Farrell, White said, “Schalk Burger, but he’s retired,” jokingly adding, “Who knows, maybe he makes a comeback.”
Over the last two months, some of the biggest names in Springbok history joined Allen in conversation as part of the extraordinary fund-raising efforts that the Players’ Fund are having to venture into as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic in an effort to ensure that they remain available to their 107 recipients.
Limited edition Springbok Supporters’ face masks in celebration of the 25th anniversary of South Africa’s maiden World Cup triumph are still available at Pick n Pay stores nationwide, with all proceeds going to the Players’ Fund.
For more information and to donate to the Players’ Fund, CLICK HERE.