Monday, November 12, 2007

Rugby bosses slapped me in the face

Jake White, the Springbok coach, will leave South African rugby bitterly disappointed and disillusioned by the lack of "loyalty, honesty and timing" that have been shown to him by his employers at the South African Rugby Union (Saru).

White's autobiography In Black and White - the Jake White Story is due on shelves this week and in it he details how he had to deal with the power struggles and personal vendettas that dominate South African rugby.

This week he told the Sunday Tribune he felt as though he had been "slapped in the face" by Saru after returning triumphantly from France having won the Webb Ellis Cup.

The Springboks had been named as the international team of the year, Bryan Habana was recognised as the best player of the year and White as the best coach in the world, yet White was summarily shown the door.

Saru, said White, had made up the excuse that he had not applied in time.


"I've always said timing, loyalty and honesty are not the key values of South African rugby, and that has never changed," said White.

"There's no history of any of those values in South African rugby ever and that's why I was so disappointed and that's why I made that press statement to announce that I would be leaving the Springbok job when my contract ended.

"Because it was the easiest thing for SA Rugby to tell the public that I didn't get the job because I didn't apply. Why don't they tell the public the truth? I didn't get the job because I was tired of fighting with people every single Saturday to keep my job. That's the simple truth. They didn't want to tell people that because they would look like the bad guys.

"Six months ago I felt I didn't have the energy to keep fighting every single weekend to show that I was doing my job. That's as simple as it was then. But as the World Cup unfolded and we won, well, things changed. People are allowed to change their minds; that's the way things work in life.

"When we got back and I read I wasn't on the shortlist because I hadn't applied, it felt like a slap in the face. It was literally an hour after we had finished the road show with the Webb Ellis Cup. The timing was awful. I was stunned."

In Black and White, the former school teacher tells of his upbringing in Johannesburg, his success with the South African Under-21 side, the hypocrisy and "media hype" that sprung up around the Luke Watson affair and his run-ins with, among others, Saru deputy president Mike Stofile.

White also writes about how he saved his job last year when he flew back to Cape Town from London to answer a call of "no confidence" in him in front of the Saru executive.

The lack of empathy and understanding that the executive had of rugby became evident when one president pulled out a clipping of "player ratings" cut out from the Afrikaans Sunday newspaper Rapport, and used it as evidence that White was not a good coach.

White convinced them that he was capable of winning the World Cup and writes that he saved his job that afternoon, despite a concerted campaign from one newspaper to get him fired.

"If the truth is controversial, then maybe the book is controversial, I suppose," said White.

"I'm not going to soften any blow because I had to fight a lot of negativity and people calling for my head. At times it was an uphill battle for me to keep my job. This is not a book in which I am trying to paint myself as the hero.

"I just wanted to portray what it was like in the last four years, what it felt like, what sort of pressure I was under and to say thank you to the guys who supported me."


White's future is uncertain. He wants to coach international rugby and has been linked with the England job, but right now a huge part of him is relieved that he is leaving Springbok rugby on a high.

"Kitch Christie (coach of the 1995 World Cup Springboks) said to me in 1995 that there is a time to go and a time to stay. Half of me wants to stay, the other half thinks, what more is there to achieve?

"Next time I lose a Test match the headlines are going to be: 'See, we told you he wasn't as good as you thought he was'. You have got to have the energy to fight against that sort of negativity, and I don't know if I can any more.

"It's nice to be normal for a while," smiled White.

"My kids actually asked me what I am doing next year and I told them that I am going to spend time with them, and they were so happy about that.

"Obviously things could change if I get another coaching job, but I told them that my first job for a while will be to fetch them from school and watch them play rugby, and for a father who loves rugby there can be no greater thing."

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