Home Book Review White owed this man a place in his book

White owed this man a place in his book


It was George Orwell who said an autobiography was only to be trusted when it revealed something disgraceful, because a man who gave a good account of himself was probably lying.

Writes Clinton van der Berg for the Sunday Times.

So, does Jake White’s book, In Black and White, pass the Orwell test?

Certainly, it’s an unflinching, behind-the-scenes look at life in charge of the Springboks.

The disgrace, such as it is, is revealed in the appalling behaviour of rugby’s little men, the administrators. They tried, at every turn, to make White’s life miserable. Even now, with his memoirs about to hit the shelves tomorrow, there are threats to nail him for breaching rugby’s “code of conduct”.

Coming from the game’s political pygmies, who routinely breach rugby’s code of conduct, such a threat is best taken with a dollop of salt.

White’s book has at least passed its first test. It’s caused a storm; not a bad thing in an age when sports books are routinely insipid affairs.

There have been a lot of bad books from good athletes and coaches.

Orwell’s second requirement was honesty. White earns no more than a C on this score.

It’s a cracking read and confirms his very human side; his insecurities, biases, frailties and mistakes. White’s personality ranges from supreme confidence, particularly in the early years, to self-doubt, bitterness and anger.

He’s also stubborn and occasionally cheeky, indispensable traits when dealing with the bullies.

The book reveals his foibles and idiosyncrasies. Consequently it’s easy to have empathy with the man whose toughness – he always revelled in being a Jeppe boy – was the best qualification he could have had for the job.

It will be disappointing if White’s book is hyped only for his pot shots at officialdom, because there’s much more than a settling of scores. The story of his early years is particularly appealing and the anecdotes are fun.

“It’s a rugby book and there’s a lot of it there,” he said. “I think it’s pretty good.”

No book can claim to be all-inclusive, but there’s a gaping hole in White’s autobiography and it surprises and disappoints me.

Dale McDermott isn’t a name that will strike a chord with many readers, but the Springboks knew Dale and Jake certainly knew Dale. He was the technical analyst for the Boks under Rudolf Straeuli and technical assistant to Jake with the under-21 Boks of 2002. Like Jake in the early days, Dale was an ambitious rugby junkie with his eye on getting to the top. He loved rugby and everything about it. Jake and Dale were mates. The pair spent many happy hours together. They talked, they strategised, they fished, they drank beer. Dale idolised Jake.

Dale was also the guy who filmed the horrors of Kamp Staaldraad. And when news leaked out about that awful episode it was he, egged on by others, who produced the damning pictures for newspapers.

Who could forget the haunting picture of the Boks, naked and shivering, staring out from that muddy pit?

That was Dale’s shot. Some players with a warped sense of morality saw him as a Judas and he was unfairly castigated for his role in one of SA rugby’s darker episodes for blowing the whistle on that shambles. Jake had yet to be appointed as Bok coach, but he was close to the affair and he knew every detail, every move.

He was, not to put too fine a point on it, deeply involved. Dale lived for the ideal of working with the Boks. When the whole lot came crashing down around Straeuli, he had every reason to believe there would be room for him in the system. Hell, even Jake pledged he’d look after him. But it never happened. Jake got the Bok job, apparently to be told by Brian van Rooyen he could appoint anyone except his mate Dale.

I don’t know what was said between Jake and Dale, but Dale was shattered.

He had received on-off treatment for depression even before his rugby job. The rejection and public vilification plunged him further into a black hole.

Sad and disappointed, he returned to teaching in Durban.

As 2005 dawned, Dale’s depression got worse. Nine days later he was dead, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

As Dale’s mum, Mary, wrote: “A comparison with the demoralised Boks in their Kamp Staaldraad hole is ironic – they knew their ordeal would end, Dale did not.”

Said Jake: “Dale was a really special friend of mine. I have known his whole family for a long time and I know that he is going to be really missed.”

Dale, the good buddy, doesn’t warrant a single mention in Jake’s book.

Leave a comment


  1. Ag Clintons just pissed because he didn’t make the cut for ghost writer.

    The whole Dale issue is considerably murky than its made out to be.

    >> And when news leaked out about that awful episode it was he, egged on by others, who produced the damning pictures for newspapers.

    It was Clintons own rag doing the buying, who was doing the egging? the Media or Rugby people….its pretty obvious……

  2. Spot on WS.

    Again sensationlist crap that smacks of sour grapes.

    It is easy to speak about someone not with us anymore and draw up conclusions.

    What stops you from picking up the phone and asking Jake straight Clinton?

    Sure he would give you a pretty straight answer.

  3. Maybe he just didnt mention it because they were good friends and its out of respect.

  4. Dale was urged by someone to release the pictures and videos. That someone is the cancer in South African rugby. That person is alive, Dale is dead.

  5. HB – lol, i think he might not even make scrummie, he tell a different tale though regarding dale. Who knows where the truth is.

  6. i dont know the whole story about this Dale chap, but i feel extremely sorry for a man like this in amongst ppl that are equipped with at best a very twisted morality. Often these ppl look for the grey areas in life to make excuses for their actions, but sometimes its just not right and literally very black and white.

    We have a very painful past and many dont want to face up to it, but I have little time for those who seek to bully others into silence.

    Cowboys dont cry is the SA way. well i personally have far more respect for the whistleblowers that have more guts then all the compliant rugby ‘men’ put together.

    In this respect I respect the Watson family massively, but I am unsure from other accounts whether they are all together savoury either.

  7. let me clarify that first paragraph, ‘these ppl’ are the ones that sought to bully Dale merely in that he exposed gross stupidity.

    When one is stupid or wrong you admit it, dont seek to blame others or pretend it really was not so bad. this is the exact same mindset that pervaded the nats and their conservative offspring.

    These questionable and slippery morals are precisely why we dont have things like accountability in our rugby etc. In the real world one is told, these things dont exist. Bullshit, its only those that are allowed to create this sort of environment.

    That is my political tirade finished for the day.


  8. I thought Andre Markgraaff was the cancer in SA Rugby

    Comment by robdylan© — November 22, 2007 @ 1:05 pm |Edit This

    Cancers have an unfortunate habit of multiplying, Rob.

  9. Interesting that this guy who by all accounts was Jakes real close mate until he got the big job didn’t get one single mention in the hero’s autobiography, now really that strikes me just a wee bit odd, but then you do know how it goes around pride ambition and win at all costs for some, and not for others, who really would care to consider exactly how it goes inside a forlorn hopes head.

    The reality of it all is simply this, nothing gets dead and buried forever, no single word, thought, action or deed goes unnoticed in the grand ethereal record of all time.

    All unfinished business gets dealt with one way or the other, destiny and its laws of cause and effect have more than enough time on its side, it is only we who do not.

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