White shuns red rose talk as Ashton support blooms

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The Independent Online

Jake White, who coached the Springboks to a second world title in France last month, yesterday distanced himself from any notion that he might replace Brian Ashton at the top end of the England operation – a sensible move, given the strong support Ashton has secured during the Rugby Football Union's review into the red rose army's unexpectedly determined defence of the Webb Ellis Trophy. A comfortable majority of players questioned by Rob Andrew, the director of elite rugby at Twickenham, want the 61-year-old Lancastrian to continue in his role, as does Twickenham's executive wing.

Andrew had been scheduled to present his findings to a meeting of the union's management board next week, but he is now expected to offer an interim report and wait until the December meeting before making a final recommendation on the make-up of the England back-room team for the 2008 Six Nations Championship, which begins in early February. There are still discussions to be had on the appointment of a team manager to work alongside the coach and relieve him of some of the more onerous extra-curricular duties – some influential RFU figures want Andrew to take on the role himself – and these will not be concluded before the end of the month.

Bizarrely, given Ashton's success in guiding an unexceptional England side to a second consecutive World Cup final, there was much talk in the immediate aftermath of the tournament of White being approached. Andrew was less than ecstatic at suggestions that he had held talks with the South African – as per usual in these circumstances, the misinformation was traced back to an agent – and yesterday, White felt driven to give Ashton some support of his own.

"There's nothing worse than being a head coach and reading all the time about some other guy who's after your job," he said. "It's pretty unfair." As it was almost a year to the day since White himself had felt the fires burning beneath him – had the Boks lost to England in the final Test of the 2006 autumn series, he might well have been sacked and Ashton would have gone to the World Cup as one of Andy Robinson's deputies – he knew of what he spoke.

"For the record, straight from the horse's mouth, I'm taking some time off," he continued. "I want to stay in rugby, and as I've always said, England is the plum job in the world game, but the last time I spoke to the RFU about anything was when they were looking for an elite director. The timing has to be right for these things, and when I do make a move, it will be because I'm sure I'll be adding value to the role and it will be a win-win for everyone." Then he added, with heavy irony: "I'll say this much. It's amazing how many jobs I've been offered in the newspapers."

White was definitely contacted about the Wales job eventually offered to, and accepted by, the former All Black hooker and Wasps coach Warren Gatland. This weekend, White will bid his fond farewells to Springbok Test rugby with a one-off match against ... Wales, of all people. It is an utterly meaningless game, certainly compared to the big matches in the World Cup, and with Fourie du Preez, his superb scrum-half, joining the long list of gold medallists dropping out of the fixture, any resemblance between Saturday's team and the one that did a job on England in Paris last time out will be faint indeed.

Next week, White will seek out another celebrated England coach, Sir Clive Woodward, who is heavily involved with high-performance planning for the Beijing Olympics – for a tête-à-tête."I'm not after an Olympics job," White said, laughing at the thought of trading rucks and mauls for some small-bore rifle shooting in the prone position. "We're good friends, and I want to talk to someone who won a World Cup about what I should do next.

"Some coaches stayed in rugby after reaching the pinnacle and ended up regretting it. Clive did it differently, moving into football and now the Olympics. It will be interesting to hear his views."

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