Cape Town – The effect at Kings Park, good or bad, of Jake
White’s abrupt departure from the Sharks fold may become evident sooner rather
than later ... perhaps even as swiftly as Friday night.
It is then that the defending Currie Cup champions play a
vital match against the Golden Lions, one which could go some way to
determining which of the two earns a home semi-final.
As things stand, the Sharks lie third on the table with two
rounds of pre-knockout play left, five points behind the second-placed Lions.
A clear-cut victory for the home side would potentially draw
them level with the Johannesburg-based outfit, even if the dice would stay
loaded against the Sharks ending ordinary season better placed: the Lions’ last
match is at home to the Cheetahs, whereas the Durban crew must travel to the
Cape to play rampant leaders Western Province.
Whatever happens -- and even considering the fact that the
Currie Cup is an increasingly poorer cousin to Super Rugby -- I just suspect we
may see some tangible evidence over the next few weeks of the mood in the Kings
Park camp following the rather sudden exit of director of rugby White.
Yes, he took on an “advisory” role for the Currie Cup
campaign, but was still the big guy to all intents and purposes in the coaching
staff’s pecking order: I can’t claim to know precisely to what extent he still
pulled the strings even as Brad Macleod-Henderson wore the head coach tracksuit,
but he is unlikely to have been a shrinking violet.
What is close to beyond dispute, I submit, is that for much
of this year, whether in Super Rugby or the Currie Cup, too much of the Sharks’
play has been rigidly template-based and just a little joyless – it won’t have
helped the quest to return better crowd figures to their home ground, and it is
possible his philosophy wasn’t universally treasured by the Sharks players.
So did Jake jump after a lone full (well, fullish) calendar
year in charge or was he pushed?
The answer was blowing in the wind as this was written, with
a scramble for any clues through the fairly customary, diplomatic
severance-of-duties statement from the Sharks on their official website on
Already one or two scribes have speculated on the instant
medium of Twitter that some element of “good riddance” may have entered the
equation; he has a reputation as a strong, single-minded and perhaps stubborn character.
But whatever you may say about the kindness of the Bok route
to the glory that year, his World Cup 2007-winning achievement is an indelible
component of his CV and may even be the cause of residual envy by some
contemporaries and critics.
White also attracts criticism for his perceived “mercenary”
tendencies, the pretty standard joke being that if there’s a first-class rugby
coaching job going anywhere in the world, he will be interested – even if he’s
just started out somewhere else.
Then again, is there any law against someone being a fairly
routine nomad and restless “quick fix” sort of guru? Aren’t there also cases of
head honchos who actually overstay their welcome, and go fatally stale?
He wasn’t at the Brumbies for especially long, for example,
but his efforts notably awakened a once-mighty Super Rugby franchise from a
significant spell in the doldrums.
Given the strength of squad at his disposal, White also
achieved roughly par, you might argue, in his only full season this year in
charge of the Sharks’ own assault on the SANZAR tournament, taking them to the
semi-finals as only South African side to get that far in a seriously
disappointing year for our conference.
His teams don’t always win prettily, but historically they
do tend to win more frequently than they lose, which is why his credentials
will always attract interest.
Put it this way: the man won’t ever go hungry.
Has he moved properly with the times, though? Maybe that is
a relevant topic to debate in the wake of his Durban departure.
A few weeks ago White was slightly crudely branded a
“tactical Neanderthal” by a writer for New Zealand’s main national newspaper,
whilst more locally SuperSport pundit and a predecessor as Bok coach Nick
Mallett has sometimes lamented his “pressure rugby; kicking rugby ... too much
playing without the ball”.
Interestingly, on the very weekend that news of White’s
cessation of service at Kings Park may well have spread through the dressing
room – or at least was on the very, very nearby grapevine -- the Sharks broke
their shackles, if you like, to register a rare seven-try blitz against the EP
There just seemed an overdue whiff of freedom to their play,
albeit that it has to be acknowledged the Kings have become painfully porous
against just about everyone.
Is it just possible that a fresh fragrance of liberation, of
gleeful abandonment of inflexible structure, has permeated the ranks?
My gut feel, whether correct or not, is that right now some
rival strategists in the Currie Cup may fear a concerted late Sharks rally in
defence of their title a wee bit more than they did a day or two ago.
So Durban bids farewell to Jake White. His short tenure was
far from a disaster, but guarded “appreciation” may be a more lingering and accurate
local tribute to him than affection. There will be those who offer up no
tribute at all.
He is just, and may always be, that kind of guy.
Give him this much: he will never be uninteresting.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing