Home Book Review Reborn Boks face task to stay on top

Reborn Boks face task to stay on top


Two thoughts occur on reaching the end of former South Africa coach Jake White’s autobiography: how on earth did the Springboks manage to win The Webb Ellis Cup and how can they possibly hope to stay on top?

Writes Wayne Smith for The Australian

Most other international coaches, most other Test teams have problems enough just sorting out the rugby side of the equation.

For White and the Springboks whatever conundrums the game itself threw up must have been a welcome distraction from the political machinations and madness swirling around them.

That somehow coach and players were able to clear their heads sufficiently to win the World Cup stamps the 2007 Springboks as a very special team indeed.

The wonder is that White made it through to the World Cup at all. Undermined and slighted at every turn by his South African Rugby Union superiors – even to the point of returning from holiday at the start of 2007 to discover his office overlooking Newlands cricket ground had been given away to a newly appointed official and that he had been shunted to a pokey backroom without even a phone line – White should have pulled the pin long before France.

Seemingly, that is what South African Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskins and his key lieutenants were hoping for, that, if they heaped one indignity upon another on him, then eventually White would resign and they would be free to appoint a more receptive coach one who would not object if his team was selected for him on the basis of race and politics, not merit.

“Quitting never crossed my mind,” White growls in his book.

“I’d worked too damn hard with a squad of players that, to my mind, had become a formidable unit, I wasn’t going to let someone else come in at the last minute and piggyback on my sweat and tears and take this team to the World Cup.”

Given the tensions surrounding transformation, the push to achieve a higher percentage of blacks in the team, it’s surprising that the player who caused the Springboks coach most grief was white, Luke Watson.

The son of Cheeky Watson, a revered hero of the anti-apartheid era who turned his back on the white regime and the green jersey to coach in the townships, Luke was accorded honorary black status and became the standard-bearer of transformation.

There was no denying he had solid rugby qualifications, as his award as South Africa’s 2006 Super 14 player of the year demonstrated, but in White’s mind, he wasn’t quite up to Springboks standard.

“In my view, Luke Watson was a decent, hard-working flank, but he couldn’t add anything to the Springboks,” White explained in his book. “I didn’t rate him as a player – it was that simple.”

Trouble was, it wasn’t that simple, not that simple at all.

Cheeky Watson had survived the worst the Broederbond could throw at him to become a significant figure in SA rugby. Now the push was on to get his son into the Springboks. And some were suggesting the captaincy.

The more White refused to compromise the integrity of the Boks’ jersey, the more the pressure increased, to the point where, according to White, the Watson family made him an astonishing offer through the lawyer he and they shared, Brian Bierbuyck.

“He pulled out a document listing nine points,” White recalled. “The opening preamble of the note included statements such as ‘Luke will be picked for the Boks squad’, and ‘Luke will play a Test’ and ‘Luke will go to the World Cup’. They were listed like a set of demands stating that, in return for my co-operation, the Watsons could ensure that I would work in South African rugby beyond the 2007 Cup.”

The affrontery was gobsmacking but White was in a terrible bind. He could dig in his heels and insist on selecting the team on merit and get thrown out of the job or he could swallow his pride and accept that going to the World Cup with 29 of the 30 players he wanted was surely better than not going at all.

After going away to think about it, White returned to say that he accepted the deal, only to learn that the Watson family, fearful of how they would be portrayed if the matter ever was made public, had withdrawn the offer.

But that was far from the end of the matter. A short time later, White and his fellow selectors omitted Watson from the 45-man preliminary training squad.

So it was a naturally incredulous White who listened as Hoskins read out on national television a 46-man squad, with Watson’s name at No46. Eventually White compromised again to allow Watson to make his Test debut against Samoa last year.

But if he felt soiled by the whole episode, his players felt even worse, believing the jersey they had worked so hard for had been cheapened. Afterwards, for the first time in the team’s history, they refused to initiate Watson into the Springboks.

White is gone now. The plotters eventually got him, even going to the extreme of advertising his position just before the World Cup quarter-final. Before he left, White and his players, with a little help from Eddie Jones who, to the astonishment of all who know him, seemed to have a calming influence on the South African side, completed their mission.

The World Cup is back in South African hands. The question now is whether a transformed Springbok side, captained quite probably by Watson, who has not played another Test since his debut, will be able to defend it.


  1. Just a question of time before these morons turn on PdV. I don’t think he will make it past 2009. I actualy feel sorry for him and those that follow. Unless of course a few new faces are elected to the PC…..unlikely tho….

  2. White should have pulled the pin long before France

    a lesser man would have cracked, many times over. Jake White is a true South African hero.

  3. When last did a coach actually finish up at the Boks and not be surrounded in controversy? MacIntosh maybe?

  4. Ollie

    Most sport coaches leaves in controversy – as they need to discriminate in order to perform.

    athletes( human beings) that excels have an competitive edge by default and don’t accept another man’s version of reality.

    What makes the Job of Bok Coach so much different is that over and above the active business groups playing with the contracts and the politics of provincialism – we also have the race issue and all the different hues and factions.

    Quite complicated

    Add to that the amateurishness of some aspects…

    Not a job for the faint hearted.

  5. hey guys, i wanted to let you know:

    If you have DSTV, press the “TV” button on the remote, select the “PAS 7/10” option, and go to channel 14. They are testing HD by replaying the 36-0 game over and over and over again. I love it! I must have been the most complete game i have ever watched.

  6. OO,
    You make a valid point, most coaches seem to go for results reasons, or lack of them to be more exact. As you mention, in the case of the Boks it is a whole different ball game.

    So lets put it this way, when last did a coach leave purely because of poor results or willingly at the end of his contract?

  7. Ollie

    When last was a coach totally removed from the awarding of contract issues?

    Even in the amatuer age- provincialism was a prime driver of strange choices.

    I still think players should not only be identified by province when selected but also by agent/ backing organisation.

    It will never happen – but most of the politicks of rugby lies in that issue.

  8. OO,
    I am not sure about that, not when I take the Stofiles, Watsons, Yeyes etc. into account. I think it is a lot worse and bigger than just provincialism being the main cause. In fact I think provincialism is maybe 3rd or so on the list.

  9. I dont think provincialism is such a big issue. Its the provincial media that makes this problem seem bigger than it is.

  10. Its labelled as HD testing but i don’t have an HD TV so not sure if its pure HD quality or not. On that Pas 7/10 is where DSTV test all their new stuff so a lot of it is disruptive and out of sequence.

    What i like about the rugby is that its got no commentary so you can actually hear the crowd.

  11. nbs

    Did you forget Joost’s comment to TGHMQD about him bringing his ‘western province maniere’ to the camp????

  12. yeah, wasn’t there a case a while ago where some quite large company fired a bunch of workers by sending them a text message. Same thing, just new technology.

  13. OO,
    Sorry, I’m being a bit dense today, but I don’t get your meaning. Embellish please?

  14. True wes. A provincially aligned nationalcoach might inflame provincialism but after 4 years of White I dont think its that strong. Newspapers can still sell on the back of it but between players I simply dont think its as relevant as it was in yesteryears.

  15. Ollie

    Transformation is the “acceptable” tool to get yourself into the rugby money.

    Hence the reason why a coach dont usually and needs to be pushed.

    Dont want to give up on the opportunity.

    Hope I have “embellished” enough.

    You know mos- my VrystAAtAnglo is a bit challenged!

  16. well written piece this, he really knocks many of the salient points on the head.

    The alleged Watson offer is horrendous, but just shows the haggling White had to do to accept it, not altother thrilled with that, but understand in practice one could not survive in that environment any other way. Bladdy terrible.

  17. OO,
    Nearly. hehehehe
    Where does provincialism fit into that though?

    Feel free to write it in the delicious tale of yours. My Afri-flem will enable me to read it.

    BTW, yuo have mail on your warmpos account

  18. A provincially aligned nationalcoach might inflame provincialism but after 4 years of White I dont think its that strong. Newspapers can still sell on the back of it but between players I simply dont think its as relevant as it was in yesteryears.

    Comment by newbokshields — January 22, 2008 @ 12:51 pm |Edit This

    Anybody else notice how the SA S14 sides didn’t try and Bliksem each other into oblivion each time they met on the field last year?

    To me that indicates good work by JW in breaking down the provincial lines in the Bok squad and good work by the players for spreading it to their fellow provincial mates.

    I just hope the S14 this year continues in the same manner.

    Let’s keep provincialism DEAD amongst the players because next season your friend will be your foe and vice versa.

  19. Aye, on that I can agree. As well as a fair smattering of a blinkered stubbornness by the provincial presidents……although I suppose greed has it’s foot in that door as well I suppose.

  20. Comment by KSA Shark © — January 22, 2008 @ 1:14 pm

    That might have been the case last year but I reckon we’re gonna bliksem the bulls this year.

  21. I was actually looking at a comparison on the Bulls sute this morning and it actually made the upcoming clash seem like all but a foregone conclusion.

    Let me go and get it.

  22. 15 Zane vs Gio Aplon
    14 Akona vs Naqelevuki
    13 Jp vs Dylan
    12 Wynand vs Bobo
    11 Habana vs Tonderai
    10 Hougaard vs Grant
    9 Fourie vs Bolla
    8 Dewald vs Watson
    7 Wickus vs Louw
    6 P3 vs Schalk
    5 Danie vs van der Merwe
    4 Steenkamp vs Andries
    3 Gerber vs Brok
    2 Chilly vs Tiaan
    1Guthro/Jaco vs Moller

    man vir man behoort die bulle hulle te klop,maar ons lynstaan en skrums kan n bietjie lol!!

  23. KSA

    That is why i despise the Bulls. They think they just need to show up to win.

    Bloody arrogant gits!!!

  24. That is really an average Bulls team.

    The only players i rate:


    The rest are all crap.

  25. OO

    I rate Kirchner but this is his first S14 season isn’t it?

    The Stormers players who i think have the upper hand:


  26. wpw

    I agree jantjes is better than Kirchner

    for now

    I am just of the opinion that Kirchner will be a very much improved player by the end of S14 2008.

    I would have liked it very much if he was rather playing for the Cheetahs- but we are not allowed to poach from Griquas- and I believe he of kind of bored with the Kimberley scene.

    because money was not the problem.

  27. I think WP have the upperhand in the forwards and the backs in those two teams.

    My Superbru pick will be going for WP. (first time in a while I have done that )

  28. OO

    i was led to believe your problems with griquas were a thing of the past.

    Although Kirchner DID leave before you guys resolved your differences.


    Speler van Crusaders begin by Cheetahs
    Jan 22 2008 05:22:25:320AM – (SA)
    Hendrik Cronjé

    DIE onbekende Nieu-Seelandse agterspeler, Joel Iggi, sluit hom vandag in die Super 14-rugbykamp van die Vodacom-Cheetahs aan.

    Dié belowende agterspeler van die Crusaders sal die kans wil gebruik om vir hom groot naam as ’n veelsydige speler te kom maak.

    “Hy sal reeds Vrydag in aksie wees wanneer ons in ’n losmaker speel,? sê Naka Drotské, afrigter van die Cheetahs. Die losmaker sal waarskynlik om 16:30 op Vodacompark in Bloemfontein plaasvind.

    Iggi, wat glo sterk en beweeglik is, het ’n maand om Drotské te oortuig, anders sal hy op die eerste vliegtuig terug huis toe gestuur word.

    Waar presies Drotské-hulle hom wil inspan, is nog onseker, hoewel dit bekend is dat die Cheetahs min reserwekrag op buitesenter en heelagter het.

    Die Cheetahs het egter nog geen sukses met oorsese inkopies behaal nie. Iggi sal daarom onder druk wees om dadelik sy stempel af te druk, aangesien hy nie as ’n vanselfsprekende keuse beskou word nie.

    Die Cheetah-spelers het gister na ’n DVD van Iggi gekyk en sommiges was agterna beïndruk.

    Die Cheetah-breier sê twee spanne sal Vrydag in aksie wees. Die Springbok-flank en kaptein van die Cheetahs, Juan Smith, het sy spanmaats gister groot laat skrik en dit is onwaarskynlik dat hy in aksie sal wees. Smith het in gisteroggend se oefening hard op sy nek beland en daarna erge ongerief verduur.

    Drotské sê nog ’n Bok, Meyer Bosman (senter), sal weens ’n heupbesering nie vir Vrydag se losmaker oorweeg word nie. “Ek is egter nie bekommerd oor Juan of Meyer nie. Meyer se besering is egter tans baie gevoelig.?

    Albei die Bokke sal slaggereed wees vir die eerste Super 14-wedstryd op 16 Februarie in Bloemfontein teen die Leeus.

    Verskeie ander staatmakers soos Barend Pieterse (slot), Wian du Preez (stut), CJ van der Linde (stut) en Richardt Strauss (haker) het weens ’n verdere voorsorgmaatreël ook gister langs die kantlyn gesit. Drotské sê Pieterse sal beslis in Vrydag se oefenwedstryd speel.

    Die Cheetahs se tweede losmaker is op 1 Februarie in Bloemfontein teen twee spanne van die Haaie. Drotské kan dan eers sy sterkste span vir die hoofwedstryd van die dag aanwys.

    Afgesien van Iggi sal Drotské ook in Vrydag se oefenwedstryd groot belangstelling in ander spelers se vertonings hê wat op die randjie van insluiting is.

  30. I wonder if he is related to Ig?

    Comment by wpw — January 22, 2008 @ 3:03 pm |Edit This

    Younger brother.

    Ig and Iggi.

    They have a sister, Igilina.

  31. Well I hope he “ignite? something other than himself in that Cheetah backline

    Comment by Oranje Orakel — January 22, 2008 @ 3:25 pm |Edit This

    How can he, OO?

    Nobody in the history of the web has heard of him!

  32. I have just finished to read Craig Ray’s book on Jake. One of the best rugby books ever written on SA matters.

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