White eyes top prize in rugby's toughest job
Springbok coach Jake White is on the verge of emulating compatriot Kitch Christie in winning the Rugby World Cup, but he admits victory will have been against the odds in what he believes is the toughest job in rugby.
Just under a year ago, the 43-year-old was in danger of the sack after being recalled during the Springboks’ northern hemisphere tour, only to be saved by a victory over England in the second Test at Twickenham.
However, the major problem for White has been adhering to the quota system, which requires a certain number of non-white players be selected in the national squad.
“No other country comes close to resembling the South African scenario,” said White, who will be taking charge of his 53rd Test in the final against England on Saturday.
“South Africa is the only country where if a winger is injured, you are obliged to change the prop [should the injured player be black or coloured].
“But I accept that as this is my country,” added White, who has rejuvenated the team since replacing Rudolf Straeuli after the debacle of the 2003 World Cup.
“The racial changes could be an immense bonus if they were well implemented,” said White.
“France have Serge Betsen, Thierry Dusautoir, Yannick Nyanga, who are selected on merit, England have Paul Sackey, Jason Robinson, again chosen on merit.
“These countries have a black minority. How can we, with 40-million black people [85% of the population], justify a white team? If we are really being serious about making an effort, it’s impossible,” added White, who is likely to have just two coloured players in his starting line-up for the final in wingers Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen.
White, though, said that all his players knew he did not racially discriminate when it came to selecting the starting XV.
“I’ve been lucky because I’ve had some of these players as juniors, and at under-19 and under-21 level [he coached South Africa to the under-21 world title].
“They know me and know that I never want to be strong-armed into playing a guy because of the colour of his skin.
“That is a dreadful thing to do to a player.
With me it’s a case of whether you deserve to be in the starting XV or not.
And the coloured players are aware of that.”
On that basis, the Springboks will have one more coloured player in their starting XV line-up on Saturday than their 1995-winning side, which had only winger Chester Williams.
That 1995 victory still resonates.
“Winning in 1995 was massive,” said White. “People asked me, when I was resting my players, and being very strict on conditioning: Why are we putting so much emphasis into a World Cup?
“But people forget, 1995 changed everything in South Africa.
“It changed the country, the politics, the people. It didn’t last, true, we didn’t use it as a wonderful thing to carry on with.
“For that time, if you wanted to make a movie, you couldn’t make it better: everything clicked on one day. And it only happened because of one rugby game.
“But rugby-wise, 1995 did not serve us in a way, coming from isolation. Playing amongst ourselves, we thought we had always been the best, and we came back, we won in 1995, so that was just confirming it.
“Had we lost, our coaches would have been going overseas, travelling the world, and seeing how to get better, to catch up.
“In 1999 we pushed the future world champions Australia into extra-time in the semis, lost at the death on a Stephen Larkham drop goal, so we could think we were still there.
“The big realisation that we weren’t who we thought we were was in 2003 [South Africa lost to New Zealand in the quarterfinals].
“And we’re lucky we have a second chance, that’s what I said to the players.”—Sapa-AFP