White and Smit hail triumph of South Africa's 'family' enterprise

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The Independent Online

Jake White, the head coach of the Springboks, will stick around to revel in the immediate glory coming the way of rugby's new world champions, though he has challenged the South African Rugby Union to persuade him to stay in the job long-term rather than go overseas, possibly to Wales. John Smit, the winning captain, has already signed a contract to play in France for Clermont Auvergne but he too will take part first in the victory celebrations which begin with the team's arrival home in Johannesburg tomorrow morning.

The Springboks got the party started with an all-night affair at their hotel in the south-east of Paris after the final. Smit, the sixth man to lift the Webb Ellis Cup, called it a "spontaneous moment", shared with wives, girlfriends and sponsors including the tycoon Johann Rupert. The trophy was safely in front of Smit at a press conference attended by coach and captain at midday yesterday. Indeed the engaging 29-year-old Smit – with four stitches above his left eye as final souvenirs – thanked the summons to face the media for having obliged him and his wife Roxane to call it a night at 8am. Others had been less restrained. "I've just seen Ricky Januarie [the third-choice scrum-half] come in from a nightclub," said White. "He hasn't played for a month and even he's happy."

Supporters were free to grab photos and autographs around the hotel lobby, and with the line-out kings Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha around there was little need for hired muscle to guard the trophy. It was in dire need of a polish but otherwise intact despite Bryan Habana, who finished as the tournament's top try-scorer, having dropped it with a clatter the night before as he made his way from the dressing rooms to meet the press. Someone pointed out he had not had much practice handling anything but the occasional England garryowen in a stodgy final.

White confirmed he had been in contact with the Welsh Rugby Union, who are looking for a successor to the sacked Gareth Jenkins, but that he, White, would handle the Springbok tour next month to Cardiff and Twickenham for matches against – coincidentally – Wales and the Barbarians.

"My contract is up at the end of December," White said. "You can be selfish and it is hard to hand over this group of players to someone else. I need to stand back and see whether SA Rugby will take the step to be a dominant rugby nation. If so the decision is easy. If coaching the Springboks is just going to be another job, maybe not.

"I've spoken with Sir Clive Woodward and Eddie Jones [the winning and losing coaches in 2003] and the worst thing I could do is make a decision based on emotion."

Woodward and Jones lasted nine months and two years respectively after the 2003 final before each resigned, and White intimated it was better to go immediately as a winner. He also said he would love to coach the 2009 British & Irish Lions on tour in South Africa but predicted with a smile he might need 25 bodyguards on arrival if it ever happened.

No such problems are anticipated when the Boks land with the World Cup tomorrow, before a five-day ticker-tape tour of the Republic kicks off on Friday, going on to take in Saturday's Currie Cup final in Bloemfontein. The itinerary will also include Soweto, said White, who had watched as President Thabo Mbeki was carried shoulder-high around the Stade de France after the tryless 15-6 win.

"I think we'll only understand what we've done when we get home," said White. "It's important for South Africa to keep this group of players together." He called for a change of rules to allow Smit and fellow departees Matfield, who is joining Toulon, and Butch James (Bath), to remain available for Test duty.

"The country as a whole has to realise how big this thing is," said White. "Nelson Mandela wore a Springbok jersey when we won in 1995 but here we had President Mbeki on the players' shoulders. It doesn't get better than that."

Smit gave special praise to the 33-year-old full-back Percy Montgomery, who kicked four of the Boks' five penalties. "I keep telling Percy not to talk himself into retirement," said the captain. "He's in the best shape of anyone and his bravery with the kicks was phenomenal."

The two principals left the question of how the win might accelerate South Africa's process of "transformation" to the politicians. Smit hoped the players would stay in contact "like a family". Habana, a peripheral figure in the final, was delighted his parents, brother, sister and girlfriend had all flown in to see it. "To wake up on Sunday morning with my girlfriend in my arms, I realise how special it is," said the wing.

"Equalling Jonah Lomu's record of eight tries is something I'll always be humbled by. England threw everything at us for 80 minutes and Danie Rossouw's cover tackle on Mark Cueto was a huge turning point for us. Winning rugby is not always pretty rugby but the World Cup is going back home and that's all that counts."

A French journalist asked to touch the trophy, then cradled in Habana's arms, and the 24-year-old quipped that was the closest the hosts would get to it. "I didn't get much ball in the final," Habana said, "but any contribution is fine by me. Every player that's represented the country in the last four years has made a contribution. I think our forwards played particularly well in that last 20 minutes when it could have gone either way."

Asked about specifics of transformation, which includes targets to increase the non-white representation in South African teams, Habana said: "There will be changes but we'll leave that to those upstairs. We want to enjoy the success and as rugby players we just want to go out on the field and represent a country of 45 million South Africans. Hopefully that will make a difference to each and every individual in South Africa and build into a brighter rainbow nation. I would like to be an inspiration to guys from previously disadvantaged communities who have the talent to be where I am today.

"And it would be a sad loss if Jake White wasn't kept in the structure somewhere. He brought South African rugby back from the depths of gloom and despair to being one of the proudest rugby nations in the world."

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