Super Rugby

ANALYSIS | No, Jake's spending spree doesn't make him a Jose Mourinho

Jake White (Gallo Images)
Jake White (Gallo Images)
  • Jake White's focus on proven class to kickstart his Bulls reign has led to a perception that, like Spurs manager Jose Mourinho, he's sidelining youth prospects.
  • The reality though is that a focus on short-termism is something that South African rugby needs currently as mediocrity has crept in among most franchises.
  • White clearly knows franchises need to start proving their worth to sceptical Sanzaar partners or make a strong case for inclusion into an expanded PRO14.

There are enough similarities to compare Jake White to Jose Mourinho.

Both men are decorated, serial trophy-winners.

Both are outspoken men who still predominantly back their own judgement.

Both have to field questions over whether their ideas lack adaptability. 

And, since the Bulls have recruited eye-catching senior names, both are perceived to hamper youth development by opting for tried-and-trusted players.

The last point though is rather disingenous as accusing Loftus' new director of rugby of '"shamelessly" focusing on short-termism doesn't take into account just how desperately local franchise rugby needs exactly that at the moment.

To prove the point, it's worth revisiting what Altmann Allers, the Lions' chairman and majority shareholder, said at the franchise's season launch at the start of the year.

"This is going to be a very important season‚ not just for the Lions but all the South African franchises‚" he said at a sprawling Parktown property known as The White House.

"It's time that we as a rugby community in South Africa start looking at Super Rugby and what we want to do with it. Do we just want to be contestants? Do we just want to compete‚ or do we want to win it?"

Allers also said his team was striving for a trophy, which is a bit fanciful given the personnel - particularly the coaching staff - but even if he's not quite practising what he's preaching, the point is eminently valid.

South African rugby, as a whole, hasn't been hunting a Super Rugby trophy for the best part of a decade.

Instead, it's relied on a carefully-crafted Lions team to reach three consecutive finals and the hope that someone else at least makes the semis.

The days of an all-South African final are long gone.

That's down to a variety of factors, most saliently the player and brain drain of the past few seasons.

It has understandably made teams prioritise self-preservation, but perhaps the collective psyche of local rugby has become too defeatist.

It's bred the "At least we have Rassie and the Springboks" mantra.

And it's also cultivated the view that South African rugby should rather exploit its vibrant youth system and build teams from there.

Yet doing that takes time and that invariably leads to more seasons where South Africa competes IN Super Rugby rather than FOR it.

The sense of irony looms large then when some people wonder whether White and the Bulls are spending too much money on their senior squad.

Why would you recruit Nizaam Carr when imposing Tuks stars like Hanru Sirgel and Stephan Smit are in the system?

The World Cup-winning former Springbok coach is actually doing a pretty decent job in balancing that act.

Yes, he's recruited proven class in Gio Aplon, Arno Botha, Marcel van der Merwe and Carr (Duane Vermeulen was signed before White's appointment) that will undeniably cost a substantial amount.

But he's also focused on emerging talent who now need to make the step-up from age-group rugby, men like Walt Steenkamp, Muller Uys, Johan Grobbelaar and Schalk Erasmus.

His commitment to a healthy pipeline is illustrated by Grey College head coach Wessel du Plessis' appointment as head of junior rugby and signing up a host of excellent school-leaving players such as Niel Beukes, Willie Potgieter, Marco Botha and Rynard Mouton.

However, even while unveiling Du Plessis, White noted again that the senior squad remains the jewel in the Bulls' crown.

With the regional Sanzaar marriage creaking and South African rugby starting to flutter eyelashes toward Europe, the need to flex muscles is becoming acute.

The Bulls realise times are too uncertain to merely just continue competing.

Franchises need to start proving their worth to the sceptical (and self-interested) Australasian partners or make a strong case for inclusion into an expanded PRO14.

And White can only do that by investing heavily in a street smart squad.     

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