Coaches dabbling in games of brinkmanship in the run-up to the World Cup final have become almost as traditional as the anthems, although interestingly it seems it was not his opponents but his employers that Jake White was intent on giving the hard stare yesterday.
By announcing that he believes Saturday's showdown against England in Paris will probably be his last game in charge, the South African was delivering the perfect retort to a move by the South African Rugby Union (SARFU) that has been greeted with widespread astonishment in rugby and beyond.
Last week the SARFU, a governing body not renowned for its tact, decided to advertise the position of national coach and put a deadline for applications to be received by this Friday – the day before the final. Initially, it was thought that White, himself, would have to break off from training to apply too, but although this seems wide of the mark – his contract expires on 31 December and his agent claims it contains a clause for negotiations after the tournament – he is nevertheless angry at the baffling timing.
It is against this backdrop that he went on the offensive yesterday, even going so far as to admit that he would happily work for England should the opportunity ever arise. "When you win the World Cup you've got to go, there's no more you can achieve – and if you don't, they probably want you to go anyway," said the 43-year-old, whose four-year reign has been dogged by controversy.
"If my contract doesn't get renewed and England came to me with a proposal to coach them one day, I would be crazy not to accept it."
The chances of Francis Baron knocking on his hotel room come Saturday evening are slim, however, as the RFU have all but confirmed that Brian Ashton will be staying on following the Red Rose's remarkable resurgence, although there could be scope for another senior role in the Twickenham set-up. In South Africa, White's shifting upstairs to a new position as "director of rugby" was considered a likely option but, in an interview in the Johannesburg newspaper The Star, yesterday he coolly rejected this out of hand. "I don't think so," said White. "At this point I don't even want to think about that."
White is wary of what he calls "massive political pressure" being exerted on the coaching staff following the World Cup – a group of hardliners are thought to want to see "colour quotas" introduced, with up to as many as 10 black players figuring in the side next year – and any "director" role would see him directly in the firing line.
For this reason, a move abroad – to Australia, perhaps, or even Wales, who are known to want him – would be attractive, though the feeling in his homeland is that, should his side prevail in France, even his many enemies in SARFU would find it inadvisable to oust him, just as he would find it as difficult to leave. Money is understood not to be the deciding factor as he is settled in a Cape Town mansion and enjoys a fine quality of life.
He has been pushed to his limit, however, and many of his countrymen will hold the union accountable should he leave – Cup or no Cup. " South Africa Rugby have got it hopelessly wrong over Jake White," said Joel Stransky, the match-winning fly-half of the 1995 champions. "SA Rugby have invented the game of politics; Jake's playing it pretty well now by saying he's prepared to go and coach elsewhere."Reuse content