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Don’t be a fool Jake … go on Sunday

Mark Keohane17/10/07

Jake White would only be setting himself up for failure and frustration if he continued with the Boks in 2008.

A day before the Springboks beat Argentina in the World Cup semi-finals, Jake White, Cape Argus sports Editor Gary Lemke and I were walking back to the team hotel after a coffee at the Bercy Village.

“Watch out,” said Jake, pulling me out of the road as a car whizzed past. Then he turned to Gary and said: “A year ago I would have pushed him into the road.”

We all laughed but the truth is given an opportunity 12 months ago Jake probably would have pushed me into the road because I was among those who had written he should be given the bullet as Bok coach. I wrote he had nothing more to offer the Springboks and we needed something else.

The Boks had lost seven of their last eight Test matches and White, in my opinion, had only been consistent in his inconsistency. That was 12 months ago.

Did I get it wrong? I could argue that I didn’t but the fact of the matter is the Boks are in the World Cup final, so whatever spin I’d want to put on it, I didn’t get it right.

I could also argue, as some have, that the Boks would not be in the World Cup final had it not been for the input of former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones. Then again the counter is that Jones is only there because of White.

Whatever your view, whether you’ve applauded Jake White in the last four years, condemned him, screamed at him or felt for him, you can’t ignore the immense courage it has taken to survive as Bok coach.

No Bok coach in the history of the game had made it to four consecutive years or 40 Tests. White on Saturday will be in charge for a 52nd successive Test.

White is in Paris this week because he never wanted to be anywhere else in the final week of the World Cup. Springbok rugby is his passion and South African rugby is his love.

He has made his mistakes, suffered because of them, sacrificed the normality of being at home when his kids eat dinner and fought incredible forces within the South African game. But he has also triumphed on so many levels.

At the same time he has been left perplexed by a South African media that voted him media personality in one year and outcast the next.

No-one ever promised White it would be easy to coach the Springboks, but no-one ever told him it would be this hard.

Yet he still wants the job, despite the media intrusion on his life and the abuse that comes with losing 49-0, as the Boks did to Australia a year ago.

What makes a man want to put himself and those around him through that kind of turmoil? What makes a man want to save the guy who a year ago tortured him in print?

When the wise heads of South African rugby advertised White’s job a week ago, they asked for someone who could handle abnormality, intrusion and ridicule.

They did this at the time when an extraordinary character was busy negotiating the kind of social and political obstacles no other coach in world rugby can comprehend.

They did this without looking at what they already had - a guy who has absorbed the pressure, stumbled because of it, but is still standing.

There is no prouder South African in Paris this week than Jake White. But if he continues in South African rugby there will be no bigger fool.

When he hurried me across the road I did tell him that he needed to walk away once he’d won the World Cup.

South African rugby doesn’t deserve him. I couldn’t think of a bigger thank you to give him.


MARK KEOHANE | keo.co.za | Wednesday, 17 October 2007 | Comment on this article

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Mark Keohane

Don’t be a fool Jake … go on Sunday 17/10/07
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