Bulls coach Jake White has never been averse to stirring up a bit of controversy and, although he does not have much of a social media presence he knows very well how to stoke up conversation before a big game. And in South African rugby, matches don’t get much bigger than the Currie Cup final, which the Bulls will host against the Sharks today.
But this week White, who admitted that he still feels the pressure of crunch matches, has been strangely restrained and even went as far as to suggest the Sharks might be favourites because half of their team have won the Currie Cup previously.
Knowing how canny White is though, this is almost certainly some sort of mind game and he will ensure his Bulls team are the most inhospitable of hosts.
That’s the thing about the 57-year-old White, who has been a top-level coach now for almost 20 years, dating back to when he led the Junior Springboks to the U-21 World Cup crown in 2002. There is always a plan and it usually comes off.
From utterly transforming a Springbok team that was in disarray in 2004 into World Cup champions in 2007, and winning a rare Tri-Nations title along the way, he then took the Brumbies to the 2013 Super Rugby final and the Sharks to the 2014 semifinals, before leading Montpellier to the European Challenge Cup in 2016.
— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) January 29, 2021
“I’ve been in enough finals and playoffs to know how it works and you can never take away the pressure,” White said.
“So I still feel the pressure, and myself and the players will make mistakes, but a final brings the best out of certain players and they take their opportunities. There’s a real buzz in the squad, it’s so nice to be in the changeroom. You can just feel it.
“This is a very proud and driven team. They have a great hunger to win the Currie Cup and I just need to channel that the right way.
“I felt what it was like to win in the 2007 World Cup and I would like to taste that again. Although it doesn’t get easier, hopefully I can transfer my experience and the lessons I have learnt to the team. I’ll be trying to keep them calm and they must just enjoy the moment.”
— The Sharks (@TheSharksZA) January 28, 2021
Sharks coach Sean Everitt (51) would have had a lot of interaction with White in 2014 because he was one of the Sharks’ assistant coaches, but the relationship between the head coach, his assistants and the players reportedly became strained leading to the World Cup winner spending just a year in Durban.
White was accused of being dictatorial but he has certainly softened since then, and he is well-versed in global modern rugby trends.
Everitt’s coaching stock has certainly grown hugely since then as well, and Brad MacLeod-Henderson, who coached with him at the Sharks, winning the Currie Cup in 2013, described him as being a mentor who placed more responsibility on the players.
“Sean is more collaborative. He won’t pitch up and say ‘this is what we are going to do’. He will help the players make the right decisions, depending on the cues the opposition give them,” said MacLeod-Henderson.
“As a former backline player, he’s more creative and he’s in favour of ball-in-hand rugby and having a go. But he wants the players to have a look first. If it’s on, have a go; if not, go to the air. It’s about space and getting the balance right.
“Sean is a great guy and all the players respond well to him being a good person. They have a lot of respect for him, he’s well-liked by the players and they will go the extra mile for him. He has created a good environment and that’s why the players want to be in Durban because they’re happy on the field.”