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16 Oct 2007 16:04
Jake White has a lot to thank England for as South Africa coach and he may be eternally grateful by the end of Saturday’s World Cup final at the Stade de France.
Twickenham, across the English Channel from France, marked the moment 11 months ago when White’s Springbok side beat England 25-14 to ensure they remained together for the World Cup campaign.
Now the Johannesburg-born 43-year-old is on the verge of steering the Springboks to the title, barring an England upset in the tournament’s finale.
White, part of the backroom staff when South Africa won the World Cup in 1995, took charge of the Springboks in 2004 when they were at a very low ebb following a poor 2003 tournament in Australia.
He was way down the list of candidates, having never been at the helm of a senior team before, but once chosen he made a fine start with victory in the Tri-Nations in 2004.
He was voted International Rugby Board coach of the year and the Springboks were voted the team of the year—they followed this up with second place in the 2005 Tri-nations.
During a rocky 2006 that included a run of five successive defeats against top nations and a 49-0 drubbing by Australia in Brisbane, White came to a crossroads on tour in England last November.
A troubled England side ended a dismal run of seven successive defeats by beating the Springboks 23-21 in the first of two Tests.
White then masterminded a face-saving victory a week later and survived a South Africa Rugby Union motion of no confidence.
“It saved my job. It was a massive achievement for me,” White said in Paris this week after the Springboks reached the World Cup final with a 37-13 victory over Argentina.
“To beat England at Twickenham, we hadn’t done that since 1997/98.
To do it at Twickenham in a game that was probably do or die, it’s also an opportunity for these players just to put it in their memory banks.”
The victory ended a run of seven successive South African defeats by England.
“And I think psychologically, we played the English side that were the best they could put on the field at that time,” he said.
The Springboks came to the World Cup in much better shape than England and thrashed them 36-0 in the pool stage, taking White’s tally to four successive wins over the English, although the two Test victories in South Africa in mid-2007 were against a severely weakened team.
The astute White is taking nothing for granted, though, aware that England have improved dramatically and will do everything they can to become the first world champions to retain the title.
White loves the word “massive” and perhaps he is right, for South Africans have always regarded their rugby as top drawer.
The man who succeeds in leading the Springboks to the pinnacle in the face of the huge demands made by the South African media and public can truly say he has achieved something of immense proportions.
Having reached the final, White said: “It’s a massive thing.
White has one big game left and a marvellous side, the only one still unbeaten in the tournament, to send out on Saturday—an intelligent mix of experience and exuberant youth that should be too good for England to cope with.—Reuters
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