It was one of the best days of my life as a rugby writer. October 21, 2007.
Dan Retief writes in his SuperRugby column that it’s the Sunday after the 2007 Rugby World Cup Final and we have just opened a bottle of wine from the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region which was my gift to my French host. On the television we watch shots from home – South Africans in Springbok jerseys joyously celebrating.
And now finally it starts to sink in. The match was too nerve-wracking. The night too late. The concentration, on match reports, on overcoming public transport problems to get back into the city from the Stade de France, too intense.
It was actually anti-climatic – which was my overwhelming emotion as I emerged from the Metro station under the Arc de Triomphe and made my way down the hill to my hotel. The pubs were closed, the cheeky English fans missing in action, the green-shirted South Africans nowhere to be seen and my laptop heavy on my shoulder.
It was over. 50 Days and 50 nights in France had come to a glorious climax, the Springboks were the world champions and here I was feeling depressed!
But now it was Sunday. The day after the World Cup Final at the Stade de France.
I had often looked up at the lights shining through the tall sash windows of French apartments as I passed by on the street below and wondered what it would be like to be invited in… and now I was, sitting down to a stylish lunch with most gracious hosts who were as happy as we were that the Boks had won the World Cup.
Earlier in the tournament I had been on a wonderful outing to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape area near Avignon with “Groot” Schalk Burger so I knew a bottle or two of the nectar coaxed out of that stony ground was the right gift to take (plus a bottle of our own provided by “Mr Pinotage,” Beyers Truter of Beyerskloof) and in the convivial and mellow atmosphere I finally began to relax and celebrate the wonderful weeks and magical night which had made my team, the Springboks, the champions of the world.
These memories were re-kindled as I watched the final edit of the 13th and last edition of Springbok Saga which will be screened for the first time on SuperSport on Wednesday. September 17, at 21.00 on SS1 and CSN.
I’m not ashamed to say that tears welled up in my eyes as the closing sequence, set to Josh Grobin’s stirring “You raise me up,” played out.
It was just such a special and hopeful time. South African rugby was literally at the top of the world, the Springbok jersey had replaced expensive Italian suits as the dress of choice in parliament, and the dream of chasing off the race albatross always circling rugby seemed attainable.
One had hoped that SA Rugby would grab the exceptional opportunity represented by a green-and-gold Eiffel Tower but it was not to be. The dishonourable retreat from glory started almost immediately as one sordid event followed another.
In November 2007, one month after we rejoiced with John Smit and his Springboks, I wrote: “It seems incomprehensible that four years of experience, four years of moulding arguably the greatest year in South African rugby history, will simply be allowed to walk out the door when White leaves.
“To my mind White is the perfect person to play a role in what could become the “new dispensation.” White’s greatest skill is arguably the identification of young talent and the ability to manage, hone and nurture youngsters to achieve their full potential.
“Would it not have been better to keep him in the system? Perhaps appoint him as the Head of Coaching at SA Rugby with a special brief to take on transformation and development to deliver the black players whose absence from the upper echelons continues to be such an albatross over the good ship SA Rugby?
“White has learnt an enormous amount along the road to France 2007 – for instance, he has identified the need for an intensive programme to improve the standard of prop forwards – and would undoubtedly make an outstanding champion of development.
“He would also then still be available to assist the incoming coach and be in place to assist with the planning for the next World Cup campaign in New Zealand – possibly being attached to the team as the technical coach and, given the volatility of rugby, being there to pick up the pieces in case of any emergencies that could arise.
“There have been problems and White has not been blameless but to cause him to walk away without due deliberation, without exploring all the avenues, would be nothing short of reckless disregard of sound management principles.”
In April 2008 these were the views I expressed: “I find it staggering for instance that the SA Rugby Union has, for all intents and purposes, not had any debriefing sessions on the World Cup; that no attempt has been made to record and preserve the intelligence gained in winning the Coupe du Monde.
“Jake White, the man who had a plan that came together, has been allowed to walk away; Xola Yeye’s views have not been sought; nor John Smit’s input solicited, Mac Hendriks’ experience turned into a manual; Derik Coetzee’s methods committed to record; or the process followed by selectors Ian McIntosh and Peter Jooste recorded – never mind getting some contribution from those of us who interrelated with the team on a daily basis.
“The same thing happened in 1995. A blueprint for sound management developed around Francois Pienaar’s team (a respected manager in Morne du Plessis, a coach left to coach in Kitch Christie, a skilled media man in Edward Griffiths, the influence of former Springboks in Gysie Pienaar, Hennie Bekker and Ray Mordt – that was never again repeated) not even in France.
“The people who really knew what it took to gain ultimate success are no longer involved – White, Smit, Eddie Jones, Allister Coetzee, Gert Smal.
“If a country should have done an independent review it was South Africa. That it hasn’t speaks volumes for the management of the game and yet again illustrates what a miracle took place in St Denis on the night of 20 October 2007.
“The fact that the Boks won does not mean we didn’t make mistakes. We made many, too many, and it seems that with a new coach, a new manager, new assistant coaches and any number of new auxiliary staff we’re about to start the cycle again. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 12 years until we get it right again!”
It did not happen. Care was not taken with new appointments, the inherent problems of a lack of experience not anticipated, and rugby is right back in the dog box.
The last episode of Springbok Saga now stands as an indictment. It is goose bump stuff guaranteed to cause you to mist up. They did raise us up to great heights and the glorious memories, at least, are ours to keep and cherishTweet