Super Rugby: Jake White Shark – Former Brumby Coach Resurfaces
by Paul Cook –
Put a date in your diaries Brumbies fans. Saturday 10th May 2014 will be your first chance to let former coach Jake White know in person, exactly how you feel about his early departure from the nation’s capital when he makes a sensational return to Canberra Stadium.
Whether your message is simply one of gratitude for the unquestionable turnaround in fortunes he achieved and the progress he inspired in his two year tenure or one of sheer frustration and disillusionment at his premature exit from a side with seemingly unfinished business, he will be returning to the scene of his recent success to face the possibility of both brickbats and bouquets.
Oh, and by the way, he’ll be in charge of the opposition.
Yes, only 13 days after quitting the Brumbies for ‘personal reasons’, White was yesterday confirmed as the new Director of Rugby at the Durban based Super Rugby team, The Sharks, reuniting the World Cup winning coach with his World Cup winning captain, John Smit in the process.
Smit, who retired from the game at the end of last season to take up a role as the Sharks CEO, made the announcement at a press conference alongside White in and was clearly buoyed by the prospect of renewing ties with his former mentor.
“We are immensely happy to confirm the appointment of Jake White as our new director of rugby,” he said. “We formed a formidable relationship during my playing career and I am delighted to re-establish that partnership, which is in line with our vision to take the Sharks to the next level.
“Jake is an experienced coach whose track record speaks volumes about his ability to rally his team and get the best out of them,” he continued. “We are pleased that he has decided to join the Sharks.”
White said he was as surprised as everyone else at the recent turn of events and was equally effusive in his appraisal of Smit. “I’m delighted to be part of The Sharks. I never thought in my wildest dreams when I was coming back to South Africa from Canberra for a holiday that I’d be sitting in a press conference next to John, talking about coaching with him.
“I don’t take it lightly to have John as my boss, he’s a guy who understands rugby,” White explained. “He knows exactly where he wants the Union to go, he loves this place. It’s a great challenge and I want to create an environment where we become the best rugby franchise in the world; and John has the same vision.”
A chance conversation on a flight with the incumbent Director of Rugby at King’s Park, Brendan Venter, was the catalyst for the move, with Venter subsequently recommending White to Smit as his successor in the knowledge that he would be relinquishing his role in the near future due to commitments with his burgeoning medical practice.
White has yet to speak with the Australian press regarding his decision to return to his homeland – the official line is that he wanted to be closer to his family and that he was bitterly disappointed to miss out on the Wallabies job – and there was no mention of another coaching opportunity from either White or the Brumbies at the time of his departure.
However, as he briefly reflected on his time in Australia and spoke of the machinations that took place following that chat with Venter, it seems there may have been some foreknowledge of his future destination after all.
“The last couple of months were up and down and we [the Brumbies] got to the final of the Super Rugby competition but we didn’t manage to win it, which was obviously a bit of a let-down,” he said. “However, the planning started before I left in terms of where the Brumbies needed to go.
“I said to the Brumbies that I thought it was time for change anyway. It suits me to come home, one of my boys is finishing school, the other is nearly finished University,” he continued. “When I was chatting to Brendan on the plane and we were talking about options, and he asked if I would consider it, I thought that if I was upfront with the Brumbies and let them know that there was an opportunity for me, they wouldn’t begrudge me and thankfully, they let me move on.”
Interviewed about the announcement on South African radio, White also said, “It’s official, it’s fantastic and for me it’s a bit of a dream come true. For me it’s about moving [to Durban] lock, stock and barrel. I’ll be here every training session. It’s a bit like Canberra, I’ve got to make sure I’m committed.”
The irony in that last comment will not be lost on those Brumbies fans who may remember the following statements White made to the media during his time Down Under:
“I’d like to coach international rugby again when that opportunity arises. But I’m contracted… and I would never desert the Brumbies.”
The Canberra Times, October 12, 2011
“I’m committed and I see the bigger picture here at the Brumbies and my four years isn’t a jail sentence. I want to be here, I want to be a part of it and the decisive thing in me as a coach was that it was a moral stance within. There’s no use talking the talk if you can’t walk the walk.
“I’ve asked the players to be committed here and to buy into things, I’m doing the same. I can’t ask the players to put their bodies on the line and be committed and disciplined if I don’t have the same values.”
The Canberra Times, March 10, 2012
“I’m focusing on the Brumbies, I’ve got a four-year deal and I’ve made it quite clear that I’m going to look after the Brumbies because they’re my No.1 priority. Yes I want to get back to international rugby, but I’m here for four years and I don’t want it to be a distraction every time something comes up.”
The Canberra Times, March 17, 2013
“I’m not available for the Ireland job. I’ve made it quite clear that I’ve got a Brumbies contract and I’m here with a job to do. I’m happy here, I’m coaching boys in Australia and I’m enjoying that. I’m really not in the market for every coaching job that pops up…”
The Canberra Times, April 19th, 2013
Fox Sports’ Sean Maloney: “You’ve been really well-liked since coming and calling Canberra home, you’re not going to run off and leave us now are you?”
Jake White: “No mate. I’m an Aussie!”
The Rugby Club, July 11th, 2013
Alas, not anymore Jake, not anymore.