Saturday’s Super 15 game between the Stormers and the Brumbies was a case of the old master against the student. I’m referring to the head coaches of the two teams. Shortly after his appointment as Bok mentor in 2004, Jake White had to select two assistant coaches. He opted to go with the experienced Gert Small as forwards coach. He then had to get someone who not only ticked the colour box (to keep SARU happy) but also someone who had enough credentials as a coach. In step Alistair Coetzee, he was coaching EP in the Currie Cup first division at the time.
Remember this was 2004 and a “black” rugby coaches in South Africa was very hard to find. Coetzee was the perfect match for White. He was not out spoken like Chester Williams, who was the only other option available to White. But Coetzee also had enough rugby credibility to keep the rugby fraternity happy.
Heyneke Meyer took a much bolder step last year when he chose Ricardo Laubsher as his assistant. At the time of his appointment Laubsher was the water boy of the Tukkies Varsity Cup team. I hear all he does at Springbok training sessions is to pack out markers and do warm up drills with the backline. But I’m sure not Laubsher or his bank manager is complaining about that.
Back toe Coetzee and White. In 2004 they made a dream start to their international coaching careers. The Springboks won the Tri Nations for the first time since 1998, Schalk Burger was voted World Rugby player of the year and SA Rugby was on top of the World.
In 2007 everyone knew White and SA rugby were going to part ways. But first there was the small matter of the Rugby World Cup.
Jake showed his true colours towards Coetzee shortly befor the World Cup when he appointed his good friend Eddie Jones as Backline consultant, leaving Coetzee to do what Ricardo Laubsher is currently doing for the Springbok backline.
White was full of praise for Jones’s contribution, saying “The Springbok backline has never played this well together.” What a slap in Coetzee’s face.
But Coetzee stayed, knowing if the Springboks won the World Cup, he would have achieved something very few people in world rugby have achieved.
Then it happened. The Boks won the Rugby World Cup. Jake White did what only Kitch Christie had done before him. ”Bill” was coming back to South Africa and the Boks would be World Champions for the next four years.
As everyone expected, Jake and SARU parted ways at the end of 2007. So did his two assistants. Small opted to go to Europe where he transformed the Irish forward pack into world beaters. Coetzee accepted an assistant role with the Stormers under new coach Rassie Erasmus.
Coetzee quickly made friends with the big boys at WP Rugby, Tobie Titus and Thelo Wakefield and soon he was tasked with taking charge of the Currie cup team. Erasmus was quickly being sidelined... A season later Coetzee was appointed head coach while Erasmus had to take on the Director of Rugby role.
In 2010 Coetzee guided the Stormers to their first Super Rugby final. He was credited with finally making the Stormers a contender in the competition. But everyone knew it was a result of the foundation Erasmus had laid the previous three seasons. In 2011 Erasmus was finally given the boot and Coetzee was now the main man in charge.
The Stormers have been playing some amazing rugby under him and won the Currie Cup last year. If he keeps going at this rate, he could take over from HM in 2015.
After winning the World Cup, Jake wrote a book, a very bad one…. He started various business ventures and that all turned into nothing. He also jumped on the band wagon every time Pieter De Villiers’s job was on the line, saying he is willing to save the Springboks. But Jake knew SARU wanted nothing to do with him and just did it to stay in the media headlines.
In 2012 White finally got back to do what he is good at. Coaching Rugby. He packed his bags and moved down under to take charge of the Brumbies Super Rugby team. White had a good debut season with the Canberra outfit and was unlucky not to make the play-off games.
They were the form in the early stages of the 2013 tournament. In the week running up to the game against the Stormers White took the confident approach and told the media “We are going to beat the Stormers.” While Coetzee took the underdog tag and said “The Brumbies are the favourites.”
Saturday’s game between the Stormers and the Brumbies was one of the best in the tournament this year. Both teams were physical, defended well and both teams were not afraid to run with the ball. The Cape side was the better team on the day and deserved to win. The former assistant outwitted his former boss.
The Brumbies and the Stormers will always be a tough match. The two teams play the same brand of rugby. White has done great things with the Brumbies like Coetzee has done with the Stormers. I’m sure his time as an assistant to White helped him to develop into the coach he is today.
Can you imagine where Ricardo Laubsher will be in five years’ time?