THE silver lining to the thunderous Cumulonimbus entrenched over Springbok rugby is that we now have absolute finality on certain issues.
We know with utter certainty that the Springbok management team, en masse, will be sacked after this week’s match against Wales in Cardiff, which will mercifully bring down the curtain on the Annus Horribilis of this country’s 125-year rugby history.
Even if Allister Coetzee pulls a whole warren of rabbits out of his hat and scrambles a win at the Millennium Stadium, he is gone, gone gone …
That much was evident in a statement that came out from Saru president Mark Alexander almost before the corks had been popped on the Franciacorta champagne at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, home of illustrious soccer team Fiorentina.
In what amounted to a sentence of execution, Alexander said, just an hour after the 20-18 calamity: “The whole of South African rugby is extremely disappointed with this year’s Springbok results and deeply worrying performances. Questions will be asked and we will look at the interventions that need to be taken.”
Who will take over? Who wants it and is Alexander strong enough to stand up to sports minister Fikile Mbalula and tell him to butt out of rugby and let Saru run its own show (notably regarding the appointment of the coach and the coaching staff)?
While an obvious candidate is Lions coach Johan Ackermann, do not be surprised if Jake White makes a dramatic return to the position he was forced to vacate after winning the World Cup in 2007. White’s pedigree and repeated acknowledgment that he wants to coach the Boks again suggest he could be the leading front-runner.
White currently coaches leading French club Montpellier and has made it clear over the years since he won the World Cup with the Boks (2007) that he wants to again coach at international level.
It is why he ended his successful tenure at the Brumbies in Australia when it became evident that the Australian Rugby Union would not again appoint a foreigner after the ultimate failure of their former head coach, Robbie Deans, the New Zealander.
After Deans was sacked, White seemed to be in line for the Wallabies job but former Wallabies prop and Queensland coach Ewen McKenzie was preferred.
White has never made it secret that he wants to reclaim the job he never wanted to leave (only Saru know why they forced him out after he won the World Cup).
Ackermann would make a fine Springbok coach but it is known he wants to continue to hone his skills at provincial level before being a candidate for the international stage. It makes sense.
White is available, he is passionate about the Springboks, he understands the South African rugby scenario better than anybody, he has a “rhino hide” and he would be the perfect ambulance job with the World Cup in Japan in 2019 not that far off.
Of course there will be calls that a return to White would mean a retention of conservative South African rugby, a criticism of White when he was coach of the Sharks in 2014, but the Sharks led the Super Rugby log for most of that year and, let us be honest, SA rugby is in panic mode and fans want wins more than anything else.
It would be churlish of Saru to not give White the job. He has rescued the Boks before, famously, when in 2004 he built a team from the ruins of the 2003 Rugby World Cup campaign. In 2007 John Smit was holding aloft the Webb Ellis Cup against all expectations.
If anybody can turn Springbok rugby around in three years before the next World Cup, it is White. Yes, he is not an exponent of Barbarians-style rugby but he gets results!
Who else can? Ackermann? Yes. But he is possibly not ready and why ruin what could be a fine future career by rushing him into the job?
Forget about the business of a foreign coach such as Robbie Deans taking the job. For one thing, Saru probably cannot afford his services and, secondly, no Kiwi would take a job that is seen by all rugby coaches in the world as the most difficult of them all.
The hard-nosed, no-nonsense White is perfect for this situation. He is the man to rebuild the Boks. He has long been a critic of the Springbok coaching policy of picking foreign-based players and will bring back foreign-based stars such as the Du Plessis brothers and Francois Steyn.
White famously said in 2012: “Saru’s decision to allow the selection of overseas-based players will come back and bite them on their backsides. They are making a rod for their own backs and it will seriously hurt the Springboks because it will undermine the Currie Cup, never mind Super Rugby, the platforms that build the Boks.”
Currently, 350 South African players earn their living in Europe or Japan. Imagine if most of them were still based in South Africa and bolstering our teams …?
Do not be surprised when, after Coetzee is fired later this month, that White is re-appointed as coach of the Springboks.
By Mike Greenaway
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