Editors Note


Volume 6, Week 18

Editors Note

Brilliant!      This is one of the most difficult columns to write in 6 years of the roller coaster ride that is now part and parcel of being a Springbok supporter. The last defeat is a bitter pill to swallow, simply because there was genuine expectation of a change. Yet, the Springboks on the day were not smart enough, not strong enough and certainly not fast enough.

Where do we start in analyzing the latest defeat, or rather the last 5 defeats? Best methodology is top down. Like many other pundits, this Jake White supporter has lost confidence in the coach’s ability and simply cannot see him make a radical difference to the current malaise. Where did it all go wrong Mr White?

As a long term supporter of this column suggests the following should be dubbed:   Schalk, lies and videotapes…

Let’s start at the beginning. Jake spent many a pent up hour/ week / month / year in a small office at SARFU / SARU and that organization being what it is, it was probably a very large small office… apologies digressing – anyway he was pent up with a computer, video tapes for Africa and armed with an outsider’s confidence but an insider’s knowledge. He knew the next generation of players and he spent countless hours plotting and analyzing how to beat the best in the world. More importantly, he formulated a game plan how to achieve this.

The powers that be did the right thing and appointed Jake out of a few candidates to the top job when it was clear Mr Straeuli could no longer continue. Jake immediately made an impact in selection and his forthright eloquent manner. He was not into BS and said it as he saw it. This quality coupled with a good sense of humour made him an instant hit with the media; he was quotable and brutally honest. Also, he knew his stuff and he won matches.

Jake’s selections gave the players confidence after the shambles of his predecessor, i.e. he was enlightened and he produced well thought out and researched plans to beat the All Blacks and the Wallabies. First the Irish came over and the Springboks beat arguably the best team in Europe who included one of the best players in the world. Jake selected transformation players and he was always honest that he had a duty to be sensitive to the political situation in the country, regardless. The players were fit and they were not contracted, so everything to play for.

The victories in 2004 announced yet another ‘new era’ in Springbok rugby but the truth be told, the All Blacks were probably at their worst in the last two decades and the Wallabies although at their peak after a narrow RWC final defeat, was still weak in South Africa. Remember, there were no away victories but a brilliant showing against the All Blacks at Ellis Park and the Wallabies in Durban. Voila, Tri Nation champions! A big defeat against England showed some shortcomings mostly in the tactical awareness of the team i.e. their inability to adapt to the conditions, and the opposing team’s tactics. Simply, naivety.

What made White successful in 2004 was a revolutionary (even though all things in rugby’s been done before and only re-hashed or regurgitated with a different name) defensive system with great application and Schalk Burger emerged as the best player in the world in 2004 (Richie hardly played at all). The players were new, impressionable and motivated coupled with the right type of experience.

The usual contracts issues created problems in 2005 but a Tri Nation winning team had bargaining power. The All Blacks became much better, with a new captain, a coach who selected well and a fair dose of luck. White rode the wave and the second year was better, a brilliant performance against NZ and a victory abroad against the Wallabies. Great things were expected for 2006. BUT, the end of year tour changed things. Injuries appeared and yet again the inability to adapt to foreign conditions.

2006 and by now the major playing nations had changed tactics and approach to the game, the Wallabies hired a new coach and Henry was fast becoming the messiah he never really was in Wales. The expanded Super 14 diluted squads and probably caused more fatigue and injuries than the Super 12 years before. Jake White’s plans were now conservative and his selection based on memory rather than merit. In short the rugby world changed, but did Jake? His grandiose plan is based on, defence wins World Cups. On the evidence of the last 5 matches, afraid not.

Jake White does not have his own specialist analyzing ability anymore, huh? Well as head coach, he needs an analyst, he needs the type of person he once was. Somebody (other countries have plenty) to pour over zillions of hours of videotapes or DVD's now and analyze the latest and greatest while assisting to formulate counters. He needs a manager and a host of support staff similar to what is available to all the other world powers. He is forced to do a lot himself. Therefore the coach is making do with what he knows best and unfortunately it did not quite pan out the way he planned. Injuries, a brilliant coach like Henry and the inevitable new broom of Connolly undid his careful planning (of a few years ago - not a long time but eons in international rugby). Now there is no time whatsoever to innovate and move on… it is a firefighting role under more pressure than a fire hose.

In Jake’s defence, SARU has not made his job easy or provided the structure from where to work like example the NZRFU and the RFU, who spend a lot of money on the national team and have no other agendas. The run of injuries are horrific but it is bad contingency planning and he should have made more use of the squad system to elevate undoubted talent.

But at the same time, White’s current mutterings in the media and at press conferences are not the old confident Jake, he is trying good old BS to convince everybody. From injuries, to transformation, to bringing through young players, to Solly and Luke – there is too much contradiction with past statements. People don’t bother and don’t remember if you are winning, but lose 5 in a row? Sorry, memories suddenly become like elephants and misquotes can only carry you that far.

History has proved that Springbok coaches do not survive to coach a 3rd year and if they do, it is pretty much guaranteed an annus horribilis. SARU suggest the likes of the previous coaches to help out and advise Jake but maybe only Mallett will have any sense to sell, the others are damaged goods. Jake White, dear readers probably needs more advice like a hole in the head. But he will get it everywhere, loads of it, for free. So here goes my 10 cents.

What Jake needs is a change of mind, relax and no stress, he is in such deep sh*t already he may just as well tell the guys to go out there and play as they see fit. That is what is required, because the coach’s game plans are stale and not aimed at winning a game; more like containing or protecting a score. For him to make a difference, he needs to equip them to think on the field, it will not happen in a week mind, and get a captain, scrumhalf and flyhalf who is wiling to call the shots, identify when change is required and implement. Basically empower the very players he has so much confidence in. As he likes to say, the systems are there - so bloody well use them.

So, if this column can offer any final advice at all it is, “Jake, let the boys play – stuff kicking unless it’s a ‘pass’ a la Jerry Collins and retain every scrap of possession, and attack. Oh yes and good luck, loads of it. You will need it." Enjoy the game, if you can.



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