|By Phil Gordos of the BBC|
Jake White took the copy of his autobiography I had just got him to sign and started moving it around on the table in front of us.
The World Cup-winning coach was trying to explain to me what he envisaged would be the next big tactical innovation in rugby union.
|I’m waiting for the rugby bug to bite again Jake White
Former South Africa coach
It was clear from our brief meeting that his passion for the game still burns brightly, even before he told me that he still thinks about rugby just before he drops off to sleep at night.
After four years in what is arguably the toughest job in world sport, not to mention a long flight from South Africa, it would have been easy to forgive the former Springboks coach for looking and sounding a little jaded.
The 44-year-old admits he is happy to be out of the spotlight for the moment, keen to spend more time with his family, but only while he recharges his batteries.
“I’m waiting for the rugby bug to bite again,” he said, a little ironically given he remains deeply involved in the game on both a corporate and consultancy level.
|The Luke Watson affair tested White’s resolve as Springboks coach|
It surely won’t be long before he is back in a top job.
He has already been linked with several, including coach of the British and Irish Lions, although there would surely be an outcry in his homeland if he took on that particular position ahead of the 2009 tour to South Africa.
But what is certain is that he is well-equipped to handle the pressures of any job that comes his way.
As coach of South Africa, he had the pick of such superstars as Os du Randt, John Smit, Fourie de Preez and Francois Steyn.
Surely anyone could mould a potential World-Cup winning team from players of that calibre!
Yet, for White, it was never as simple as picking his best players and sending them out on the pitch to perform.
With almost constant interference from politicians and the South African Rugby Football Union (Sarfu), not to mention daily and sometimes insufferable scrutiny by the country’s rugby-mad media, it is not a job for the faint-hearted or easily-dissuaded.
Throw in some very public sniping from disgruntled former Springboks, and the occasional misguided parent, and it could be viewed as impossible.
|JAKE WHITE CURRICULUM VITAEWhite voted IRB International Coach of the Year in both 2004 and 2007As coach of the Springboks, he had a winning ratio of 67%, with 36 wins in 54 games with one draw and 17 defeatsHis book has sold 210,000 copies to date in South Africa ¿ outselling the last instalment of Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Deathly HallowsHe took the Springboks to first place in the IRB world rankings in 2007 after starting off in sixth when he took over in 2004, ending New Zealand’s 40-month reign at the top
He coached the Springbok Under-21 side to World Cup success in 2002
But White, convinced he was the right man to lead the Boks to their second World Cup win, did it for four, long years – and did it supremely well.
Some of what he has gone through has been well-documented.
A lot more has come to light in his book In Black and White, The Jake White Story.
White is at pains to point out that the title has nothing to do with race.
It is an obvious play on his surname as well as a clear reference to getting his thoughts and musings in print.
It also harks back to his days as both a pupil and teacher at Jeppe High School for Boys, where the first XV used to play in monochrome colours.
In any case, discussions about what the title may or may not mean quickly pale into significance compared to the revelations between the cover.
Some of them are simply staggering.
Having selected a training squad of 45 for the World Cup in France, White was amazed to find that a 46th name had been added to the list without his knowledge and consent.
The player concerned – flanker Luke Watson – subsequently missed out on the final squad of 30 but the incident is typical of the kind of interference White had to cope with.
|White sometimes had an uneasy relationship with the media|
He also had to handle the extremely sensitive issue of quotas for black players.
Again, he was frequently pulled aside and told to choose one player over another, purely because he was a different colour.
However, well-intentioned the policy of ‘transformation’ is, I can’t quite see Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson or England boss Fabio Capello putting up with such meddling.
There are numerous other incidents that tested White’s resilience during his successful spell in charge of the Boks.
He often had spats with his employers and his position was constantly being questioned.
But, undaunted, he battled on, only occasionally losing his cool – usually when suddenly finding himself face-to-face with the author of an untruthful newspaper report.
He also had the last laugh, steering South Africa to victory over England in the World Cup final only three months ago before exiting in yet more controversy.
White is disappointed at the way he was effectively forced out by Sarfu but he feels it was the right time to move on.
|I’m sure they can win back-to-back titles and it’s a little sad not to be part of something that could be very, very special, but they need a new voice and a new faceWhite on the Springboks|
“There is no way I could have coached those players for another four years,” he stated. “What would I have said to them after winning the World Cup?”
When I tentatively suggested their collective motivation might come from being the first country to defend the Webb Ellis Trophy, he responded as quickly as a Bryan Habana dash down the left wing.
“I’m sure they can win back-to-back titles and it’s a little sad not to be part of something that could be very, very special but they need a new voice and a new face,” he commented.
“They need to be stimulated by someone else. I knew that was it for me.”
But his legacy will live on and, more importantly, the South African public now fully appreciate what he had to endure while in office.
“Because of the book, they now understand how difficult it was being national coach,” he said.
“Now they thank me, not just for winning the World Cup but for telling them what happened behind the scenes. They now know why I said or acted the way I did.”
In Black and White, The Jake White Story, £12.99, is published by Zebra Press, www.zebra-press.co.zaTweet