South African rugby is in a totally different state to when White last held a prominent role in the country.
REPORTS in recent weeks have linked Jake White with the Bulls director of rugby job but the former Springbok World Cup-winning coach might not be the shining white knight the organisation is hoping for.
Afrikaans newspaper Rapport revealed two weeks ago that White had met with Blue Bulls Company chief executive Alfons Meyer with regards to White joining in the super head coach role of director of rugby.
Although South African Super Rugby franchises have lacked the kind of gravitas that a person of White’s background and experience carries, his arrival might not guarantee success, especially in the short term.
The contractual terms will be the difference between White staying long term and rebuilding the Bulls dynasty or the Pretoria organisation left with an Eddie Jones situation that the Stormers faced in 2015.
In case you missed it, Jones was signed, sealed and revealed to the media as the new Stormers boss after the 2015 Rugby World Cup, only to make a sharp U-turn and sign to become England boss.
Jones and White are more than just good buddies, they have similar shrewdness and cut-throat business manner when it comes to jobs. It’s not personal but they are always in the hunt for the next best gig.
White is a showman and has brought show time stardust to pretty much every role he’s assumed. He’s a reporter’s dream because, most of the time, he crumples up the script and speaks off the cuff.
His teams usually perform at a high standard, too.
In 2014 White went to Durban to take up his only South African franchise job as Sharks director of rugby. Under his tutelage, the Sharks were defensively astute, physically imposing and daring in attack.
They made the Super Rugby semi-finals on the back of the stingiest defence in the regular season but came unstuck against the Crusaders in Christchurch (to be fair the Crusaders have never lost a home knockout game in Christchurch in 25 years of the competition).
It seemed a match made in heaven. White got a blank canvas at Kings Park to do pretty much all he wanted. Pat Lambie, who specialised as a No 10 that year before getting injured, played some of his best rugby. The same could be said for S’bu Sithole (Springbok call-up) and Lwazi Mvovo, who were “promoted” to highbrow backline positions of outside centre and full-back, respectively, from the wing.
He had at his disposal the Du Plessis brothers, Jannie and Bismarck, still at their peak, Beast Mtawarira, Frans Steyn, Willem Alberts and Pieter-Steph du Toit – a dream team of talent – but that still couldn’t keep him longer than a year.
The itch to leave
Once White gets the itch to leave he finds it difficult not to scratch. It was the same the year before when he took the Brumbies to the 2013 final, where they lost to the Chiefs in Hamilton, only to ditch a wonderful project prematurely.
His three-year stay at French club Montpellier was his longest stint since the four years he spent coaching the Springboks to 2007 Rugby World Cup success.
That said, White’s want to take flight might not even be the biggest hindrance to his success probabilities at Loftus. South African rugby is in a totally different state to when White last held a prominent role in the country.
The contracting model has changed so dramatically that the Bulls not only cut 100 youth contracts over the past 12 months or so but they can no longer legitimately claim to be the most attractive destination for young talent anymore.
It would mean undertaking a massive rebuilding project and trying to turn a team not guaranteed to even make the play-offs, should Super Rugby resume this year, into title contenders.
Moreover, the plethora of rugby “Hall of Famers” will no longer be at White’s disposal. There are no Du Plessis brothers, Beasts, Steyns or Lambies in Pretoria, only a matured Morné Steyn, and a bunch of youngsters still finding their feet at this level.
Duane Vermeulen’s return in June might provide some semblance of order but the supporting acts will have to raise their game.
The role is said to be a little hands-off the field of play, with head coach Pote Human reportedly staying on in his role. It’s difficult to picture White sitting in a lofty office all day long while Human does the fun stuff on the field down below.
The Bulls will hope that sparks fly and the honeymoon lasts a long time in this forced marriage if the White acquisition is to bear fruit.
If he loses the patience to see the job through, and complete a full four-year cycle, complete with its troughs and ridges, then White will be quick to show himself out.