Lessons to learn for old-school England

Former South Africa coach who had the measure of the All Blacks warns Johnson it can be lonely at the top
Click to follow
The Independent Online

After Clive Woodward helped England to win the World Cup he was rewarded with a knighthood. When Jake White led South Africa to the global summit last year the only sword he saw didn't so much touch him on the shoulders as enter his ribcage. In both countries, rugby politics can make Machiavelli look like a replacement.

The Springboks beat England in the final in Paris and White lost his job, as did, subsequently, the Red Rose coach, Brian Ashton. "I didn't get my contract renewed so it wasn't my decision," White said. "I put everything into that tournament." So he wins the Webb Ellis Cup and it's goodbye Jake. "Perhaps the timing was right and it was a good thing to move on," he said.

Yesterday White was watching his beloved Boks play England, and today he will be reunited with Eddie Jones at Saracens. The former South African and Australian coaches teamed up last year for the World Cup and will do so again for Sarries, the intention being that the London club will be training on biltong, such will be the Bok influence, not least financially.

"There is a shareholding in Saracens and they want it to be a South African club in London," White said. "It's like a joint venture. A coach should never employ a consultant who wants his job. Eddie and I are good friends and I'm here to help out. Players get bored listening to the same person." Bored listening to Fast Eddie? Both men will also coach the Barbarians against Australia at Wembley on 3 December.

When White was in charge of the Boks he had a remarkably good record of beating New Zealand in the Republic. They did it with a total disregard for the All Black reputation and a ferocious defence that knocked the confidence out of their opponents. The Blacks don't like playing the Boks.

Can England beat the All Blacks next Saturday? Is Martin Johnson the right man for the job? "Any of the top countries can beat anybody else on a given day," White said. "England showed a different attacking style against the Pacific Islanders but then let themselves down against Australia.

"England are never easy to beat at Twickenham," he added. "On top of that the All Blacks are without a number of first-choice players, although it doesn't always show.

"As a player Martin Johnson knew how to beat New Zealand in their own country and he will have learnt a lot from working with Woodward, who also started with a new team. In picking Martin, England have gone back to old-school values but I can't judge him yet, it's too early to tell. As a captain he took many things on board but this is a very different and difficult job. It's a lonely world out there and he'll need the support of his coaching staff. With the media you're all or nothing."

White pointed out that great players do not necessarily make good coaches. "Look at the people who have won World Cups and nearly all of them, Bob Dwyer, Kitch Christie, Rod Macqueen and myself, never played for their countries. It's not a given that if you played at a certain level you can coach at that level."

When Peter de Villiers became the Boks' first black coach, White took a sabbatical, but it developed into a lot more than that. He was associated with every coaching job going: England, Wales, Australia, the Lions, Leicester. "My name was bandied around but I was never interviewed for a post," he said. "In any case I'm not sure the timing was right. I took a year out to learn about myself and see where I wanted to be." He got engaged, at 45, and became a born-again Christian.

"After winning the World Cup I realised how the game can influence people's lives. Taking the trophy around South Africa showed me that. It was much greater than getting a knighthood. There were plenty of accolades but I can't take all the credit. There is a much bigger picture and I appreciate the role of divine intervention. When we played England at Twickenham a couple of years ago I nearly got fired. Instead it was Andy Robinson who lost his job.

"Rugby is in my blood and I want to get back into it on a full-time basis, whether at international or club level."

Comments