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Q&A: Jake White

2006-09-11 12:27

Cape Town - Springbok coach Jake White reveals his personal heroes, tackles the transformation debate and wades into the Luke Watson saga.

1. Did you play any rugby and if so, at what level and in what position?

I started playing at the age of six at prep school. I played A-side and First XV rugby up until matric. I played mostly as a flank but as I was short and chubby I got moved to hooker. I played Under-20 and First XV for my club and varsity. The highest level I ever achieved was getting to Transvaal Under-20 trials and getting invited to Craven Week trials for Primary Schools.

2. What made you take up teaching as a profession?

The most important thing for me was the sport. I loved my Physical Education teachers at school. They were good to me. I loved sport and I thought it would be a nice way to do a job where you get paid to coach sports like cricket and rugby.

3. Where did you teach and for how long?

I taught for 10 years at Jeppe High which was also the school that I attended.

4. When did you develop your interest in coaching?

I actually started coaching in 1982 at Parktown Boys High. I coached their First XV and produced quite a few provincial rugby players. That's when I first realised that I actually quite enjoyed it and maybe because I could never play at that level it was nice to coach players (at that level).

5. When did you first realise that the Springbok coaching job was a possibility?

I studied rugby and did all the coaching courses and got distinctions for every level from level one to level four. I also learnt a lot from other school masters that we played against. That helped me in the long run about coaching at a higher level.

6. What makes a good rugby coach and how would you describe your coaching style?

You have to understand the subject that you teaching. It's no different to teaching a subject like science or biology. And also what's important at this level is that you have to understand how to work with people. The relationship between players and understanding the dynamics of the team helped me.

7. Which person inspires you the most?

From a rugby point of view it would be Kitch Christie. Not because he won the World Cup, but because he was an English speaking guy who never played for South Africa and ended up coaching the most successful rugby team that we ever had. Outside of rugby my icon is Nelson Mandela. I've had the privilege of meeting him and if I look at what he has done it's an unbelievable experience to see how humble he is.

8. You have been in charge of the Springboks for just over two and a half years now. If there was anything you could have done differently during this period, what would it be and why?

I would like to believe that everything that I've done to date is because I really believed that's the way it should have been done. Looking back, hindsight is an exact science. I would have changed a couple of things. Maybe I could have communicated better.

9. Did you anticipate the amount of pressure that goes with the job of being the national coach?

I always knew it would be a pressurised job. I coached with Nick Mallett with Harry Viljoen and with Rudolph Straeuli and I've seen it all happen before. In a country like this it's a very difficult job, but I think the one thing that you have to do is to be true to yourself.

10. What is the one most important thing that you have learnt since you've become the coach?

You have to stick to what you believe in. It's a difficult enough job without having to change your mind every week.

11. Your contract expires at the end of next year's World Cup. Before the Tri-Nations series you asked for an extension until 2009. Would you still want to continue as the national coach should the Boks win the World Cup or not? And what would you do besides coaching?

My request for an extension to my contract was to ensure that there is long term plan in place. It is not about making sure I'm okay. It's not about Jake. It's about are the players staying or are they going. They would also want to know where they stand at the end of the World Cup. I'd like to believe that if we win it then I can hand it over to someone else. You can always help the next coach. I would always like to stay in rugby. I have been involved in rugby since I was six years old. At this point in time I don't have any other plans. All I'm focussed on now is making sure that we win the World Cup.

12. Do you think the South African rugby public is too fickle in their support of the Springboks?

Yes, I think sometimes we are our own worst enemies. We expect that we should win every single week. I don't think that that means that you shouldn't believe that you can. The reality of international sport is that not everyone wins every weekend. We have to understand that. We love to follow teams that are successful. Look what the 1995 World Cup did for us as a nation. And because of that we are passionate about winning.

13. Do you think the public is influenced by the media or are they knowledgeable enough to recognise a poor Springbok performance when they see one?

I am sure they can recognise a poor performance when they see one. The media is the only medium they have between the team and themselves and the media is a very powerful tool. And that is why the image of the game, the team and everyone should be shown correctly. It's important for both the team and for the country.

14. You have been accused of being too preoccupied with statistics and size. As a result, players like Luke Watson and Schalk Brits appear unlikely to ever make a Springbok side while you are in charge. Your thoughts?

Well, at least I picked Ricky Januarie, Andre Pretorius, Brent Russell and Wynand Olivier.

15. International stars, including Richie McCaw, Jerry Collins, Phil Waugh and George Smit all regard the exclusion of Luke Watson from the Bok set-up as a mystery. Will you ever select him while you are the Bok coach?

You can never say never. The reality is I know what I have in the players currently in the squad. He has done really well for Province especially as a leader. I will always consider him but at this point in time there are other players that I rate higher than him. But that doesn't mean he will never be picked. He will just have to keep playing and maybe one day there will be an opportunity for him to play.

16. Do you have personal issues with him?

I have no personal issue with anybody. The reality is there is a job to be done. I have to pick the best possible team and I can't let any personal agendas ever come between players and coaches. There is a saying in the team: Your own ambitions should never be put ahead of the national team.

17. You have done a great job since you took over as Bok coach and have put the pride back into the Bok jersey. But lately things haven't gone your way. What in your opinion have been the causes for the slump in form?

We've had significant injuries to significant players. Players like Bakkies Botha, Juan Smith, Gurthro Steenkamp, CJ van der Linde, Danie Rossouw, Joe van Niekerk, Bryan Habana and Ashwin Willemse have all been struggling with injury.

Andre Pretorius, Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie have just returned from injury. We had a very difficult draw with five weeks away from home. The extended Tri-Nations and Super 14 tournaments and with the threat of relegation hanging over the players' heads... if you add it all up it's been a difficult season.

18. Do you think transformation has been successful over the last 10 years and if not, what is hampering its progress?

I don't know about all 10 years, but I like to think that I can feel very proud about transformation during my tenure. JP Pietersen was the 22nd black Springbok I have picked in 33 Test matches. From my point of view I am very happy with the players that are coming through. We are not living in a perfect society and there will always be obstacles and hopefully everyone can appreciate how difficult it is in a country like this to get it right.

19. Why do think so many South Africans still support opposing sides rather than the Springboks?

People are still reluctant to give up what happened in the past. There will always be people that will hang onto the past.

20. What is your ultimate vision for South African rugby and the role it has to play in developing our nation?

The ultimate is one day getting a team that is acceptable to everybody in the nation. The president himself said the other day that it is a national game and that it must be seen to be supported by the whole nation. The day that happens, I have no doubt in my mind that we will be the best team in the world.