White-hot farewell to Jake
South Africa’s captain, John Smit, has urged his team to give their World Cup-winning coach, Jake White, a rousing send-off at the Millennium Stadium this weekend as the Springboks prepare to say goodbye to the man who masterminded their triumphant campaign in France.
Saturday’s match against Wales will be White’s 52nd and final Test since he took charge in 2003. South Africa achieved a 65% success rate while he was at the helm.
“This game will be a celebration of what Jake has given to South Africa for the past four years,” said Smit, whose own international future remains cloaked in uncertainty following his decision to spend the next two seasons with Clermont Auvergne.
White’s successor still has to be announced, with Heyneke Meyer and Allister Coetzee regarded as the two leading candidates.
Smit is anxious for South Africa not to suffer the same World Cup hangover as England did in the wake of their 2003 triumph.
“The sooner we forget about the World Cup the sooner we’ll be able to look forward to the challenges ahead,” said the 29-year-old captain, reluctant to concede that his move to Europe spells the end of his own 75-cap Test career. “I’d like to be part of the future, but selection is not something you are owed.”
Despite the absence of a dozen leading players from the Boks’ financially motivated short tour—which concludes with a fixture against the Barbarians at Twickenham on Saturday week—White has named 14 World Cup squad members in his final starting XV.
The exception is athletic Natal Sharks number eight Ryan Kankowski, who wins his first cap after impressing in the Super 14.
With experienced names such as Percy Montgomery, Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez, Butch James and Os du Randt all missing, there is a starting place for the versatile Ruan Pienaar at fullback behind a rejigged half-back pairing of Ricky Januarie and Andre Pretorius.
There is one further new cap, the promising 22-year-old prop Heinke van der Merwe, on the bench.
The 43-year-old White does not look unduly downcast in the build-up to his farewell. Few jobs in sport, including managing the England football team, are more pressured than coaching the Springboks and White achieved his long-term goal of World Cup glory.
“I know this is the swansong for me but I’m not unhappy about it,” he said. “I’m really content with where we are as a group and it’s great for me that my last Test is in a massive stadium in a rugby country like Wales.”
Meanwhile, Lawrence Dallaglio and Mike Catt have escaped punishment for comments made in their post-World Cup books. The Rugby Football Union (RFU) is still reviewing its future stance on the players’ autobiographies, but neither Dallaglio nor Catt will be disciplined for their critical views of England’s initial World Cup misadventures under the head coach, Brian Ashton.
The RFU management board registered its “extreme disappointment” that the two players went public, but the union says it has taken into account the “widespread criticism” the pair subsequently received.