In keeping with a career that has divided opinion since he first picked up a whistle, former Springbok coach Jake White’s announcement as the Bulls’ director of rugby this week has triggered a debate on whether he’s the right guy for them or not.
Typical of a man who’s coached as many teams as he has, White – whose coaching origins can be traced back to his old school, Jeppe High School for Boys in Johannesburg – was scrambling to establish a connection with the Loftus faithful by telling a Pretoria radio station that he’d actually grown up in the Hatfield neighbourhood for a certain period of his life.
The short answer to whether he is the right man for the Bulls at this juncture is yes.
But, as ever with the 2007 Rugby World Cup-winning coach, the devil is in the detail.
While the Bulls like the idea of being a dynasty, the truth is they haven’t seen a title since they won the 2010 Super Rugby competition.
This is a situation exacerbated by the fact that they appear to have lost their way since then, seemingly striking out in a new direction every two to three years.
Over the past decade, the nearest thing they’ve had to a coach superior to Heyneke Meyer was John Mitchell, whose enterprising overhaul of the traditional way the Bulls have always played was curtailed by Eddie Jones giving him an opportunity to win last year’s World Cup by hiring him as an assistant on England’s team.
No disrespect to the genial incumbent, Pote Human, but it has been quite tough to work out what his coaching philosophy is since he was appointed as the last man standing early last year on the three-man short list that also featured Deon Davids and Victor Matfield.
Last year’s approach felt as if it was a continuation of Mitchell’s ball-in-hand work with a significant amount of kicking, while this year’s efforts have the feel of the Springboks’ work en route to winning last year’s World Cup, except without the winning quality, of course.
This begs the question: What is Human’s actual coaching philosophy if the past two seasons have been so different in approach for the Bulls?With White coming in, one thing that won’t happen is the Bulls being conflicted about what style of rugby they are going to play.
Where Human’s career has always been accompanied by the faint whiff of career assistant coach, despite his shared 2006 Currie Cup title with a Cheetahs team coached by one Rassie Erasmus, White has never had such problems.
Thanks to a singular approach that can also be abrasive, White has accumulated a steady stream of detractors, but one thing he can’t be accused of is not making an impact when he comes in as a coach.
From the Springboks to Montpellier, via the Brumbies and the Sharks, White has a reputation for turning underperforming teams into competitive sides.
The catch, as is the long answer to whether he is ultimately suited to the Bulls, is that the rugby can be on the turgid side, the emphasis being on practicality rather than playing with elan.
White has also had the unseemly habit of publicly touting for better jobs while he was still employed elsewhere in the past, which has obviously not endeared him to those paying his wages while he looks for greener pastures.
As a result, White on average lasts for about two years in a job, which is not an ideal period to be able to build anything.
For the umpteenth time since 2010, the Bulls are again looking to rebuild.
The catch is that they need to win while they do so.
So, as a man with a reputation for getting results quickly, White is the right man for Bulls – for now.
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