Book Of The Week: In Black and White – the Jake White Story, by Jake White and Craig Ray
Monday 25 February 2008
When South Africa's captain, John Smit, raised aloft the Webb Ellis Trophy after the Springboks had beaten defending champions England in the final of the 2007 Rugby World Cup, it constituted a near-miracle. How the hell their coach, Jake White, got a balanced squad together, let alone masterminding an historic triumph in Paris last October, defies belief.
Forget the seven teams the Springboks had to beat on the way to victory at the Stade de France, they were as nothing when compared to the obstacles placed in their path as they prepared for the tournament. Not least was the vexed question of Luke Watson, a white player, but considered suitable by the South Africa Rugby Board, the game's governing body, because his father, "Cheeky" Watson, had refused to play "whites-only" rugby at the height of apartheid in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Springbok coach had the humiliating experience of having his World Cup training squad announced for him by the board. He had been forced to include a 45th player Odwa Ndungane, but when the announcement was made on television the squad had been increased to 46 – Watson, whom White did not rate, had also been included against the coach's wishes.
In the end it all turned out well, but there is a degree of irony to the title of this superbly written and extremely frank autobiography, in that White has revealed that the politics of South African rugby are not so much black and white as murky, occasionally mucky and grey.
And while most sports governing bodies would want to reward the coach who turned them into world champions, the members of the South African board seemed to go out of their way to pile crushing humiliation upon indignity by informing White, whose contract expired following the post-World Cup Test against Wales in November last year, that he was required to reapply for his job.
White maintains that, according to his contract, this was not the case, so after victory in Cardiff one of the modern game's more talented coaches turned his back on his beloved Boks.
White's final words, "I wish the future Springbok coach luck – he's going to need it," are a heartfelt warning to his successor, Peter de Villiers. There will be more chapters, but the first 44 already make for fascinating reading as White bares his soul from cradle to contract's end.
Published by Zebra, £12.99
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