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Peter Neill
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White or De Villiers?

04 August 2009, 07:55  - Peter Neill

Who's the best - Jake White or Peter De Villiers? It's time to settle this argument once and for all. To help put things into perspective, maybe the real comparison should not be between Jake White and Peter De Villiers, but rather between Rudolph Straeuli and both Peter De Villiers and Jake White?

We all know that White was better than Straeuli but for me it would go without saying that I would also choose PDV as national coach over Rudolph Straeuli any day of the week and twice on match days.

But to those PDV fans who fail to understand why so many people are still stuck on Jake White and find it hard to move on, please believe me when I say, it's NOT because Peter is black and Jake is White - excuse the pun!

Instead it's ALL about the timing of SARU's decision to fire Jake White, especially after the way White had turned us from being World Chumps into World Champs in four years. For those of you who still believe that JW was not fired, but was actually a racist who left of his own accord, you really are a bunch of easily misguided individuals and obviously you haven't bothered to either listen carefully or to try to understand the man.

The same however can be said of those who simply choose to dismiss Peter De Villiers and give him no credit for anything good that has happened to this team. If the team plays badly it's De Villier's fault. If the team plays well it's only because of White, the players and the assistant coaches.

The fact of the matter is that the team is continuing to win AND improve under De Villiers and one has to wonder where we would be now if Rudolph Straeuli had taken the reins again after White, instead of De Villiers? Don't laugh - nothing could surprise me anymore in rugby with SARU.

Furthermore, it's difficult to speculate how far White could have gone with this team. Take Graham Henry and the All Blacks as an example - sometimes a change is as good as a holiday - and right now the All Blacks are in serious need of a change of coach, even though Henry previously guided the All Blacks through a golden era in New Zealand's rugby history.
Now think about this - had SARU decided to appoint Peter De Villiers after Straeuli instead of Jake White, things could have been very different. I have no doubt that De Villiers would have done better than Straeuli, and who knows, maybe just as well as Jake White? Maybe by now, we would all be singing Peter De Villiers praises instead?

The reality is that De Villiers was always on a hiding to nothing because of SARU (as was JW) and maybe it's us as fans that need to take the lead, and stop blaming De Villiers for SARU's incompetence? Yaya.I hear all the Heyneke Meyer fans chirping now, but let's be brutally honest for once. If Heyneke Meyer had achieved the same level of success as De Villiers has at this point, since taking over from White, we would all be satisfied. Right?

But instead it is about race and that's simply because of SARU's poor leadership. They needed a reason to fire JW and chose to make it about race - period! And because of this, poor Peter De Villiers ends up on the receiving end of all our frustrations as fans.

So for me this debate is more about Straeuli and SARU and the timing of White's departure, simply because the period preceding White's appointment was such a shocker that almost anything and anybody could have done better. In fact I can't remember a time when Springbok rugby was at such a low, and the future looked so hopeless.

That's not to say that Jake didn't make mistakes or lose games once he was appointed, and quite frankly the same can now be said of Peter De Villiers. I would suggest to all of Jake's followers not to underestimate De Villiers because of your resentment against SARU. He may not have Jake's ability to communicate and his style may lack the guile, but he is not to be underestimated and his results have proved that so far, and no one can question his passion.

Like Jake, this man thinks outside the box and hasn't been scared to try new plays or players, and in most cases when it hasn't worked he has corrected the problem quickly, so you would be foolish only to credit the players and not the coach for our recent results.

Yes I admit that he has put his foot in his mouth a few times, but remember that English is not the man's first language and to judge him as dumb because of this is silly. Look at Bafana Bafana's Brazilian coach, Carlos Parreira and ask yourself how dumb does he sound?
Furthermore, remember how White fired up the Irish in a press conference by telling them that not one of their team would make his starting 15 - a team that included Brian O'Driscoll - how stupid was that?

Anyway, the mark of a good leader is to be able to empower those around him and to adapt and to say that Peter has not done this is naïve and not impartial. Just like Jake did with Eddie Jones, Peter has empowered his support coaches and even the players. In fact I honestly would like to see Peter De Villiers and Jake White working together in future (White could handle the press) and maybe Peter could also hire the likes of Eddie Jones and Robbie Deans as consultants.

Of course the cynics would then say that it's not Peter, it's only Eddie and Robbie that are making the difference, but they would be 100% wrong, as ultimately it's this kind of "out of the box" mentality and leadership that separates the good leaders from the great.

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