Whatever the result of the United Rugby Championship final on Saturday, it will herald the completion of two remarkable coaching stories.
For Stormers coach John Dobson, it will give him standing as one of the country’s leading coaches. Although highly-rated, Dobson has had to spend many years working away in the shadows of Cape Town rugby as a dysfunctional union looked elsewhere for a coach to revitalise their sagging fortunes.
For Jake White, what he has done for the Bulls has marked a triumphant return to South African rugby. Having achieved the pinnacle of coaching when he steered the national team to the World Cup crown as a 43-year-old in 2007, he arguably should have presided over a dominant era of Springbok rugby. But, typical of how SA Rugby was run in those days, he was instead almost declared persona non grata locally.
There were many things held against the outspoken, headstrong White. Whether it was the fact he never played first-class rugby let alone for the Springboks, or that he preferred speaking in English, or that he treated the players as if he was still a schoolmaster, his coaching ability was somehow questioned.
Even after he steered the Sharks to the top of the South African Conference and a Super Rugby semi-final against the Crusaders in Christchurch in 2014, there were murmurings of a dictatorial approach. Or was it just that the Sharks didn’t have the steel to see the required changes at Kings Park through to the end?
There can be no questions anymore about White’s ability now that he has transformed the Bulls from a hesitant, under-performing team living on past glories, to a vibrant, exciting, clinical force that also boasts wonderful depth in talent in their efficient pipeline.
The Hall of Famer, who also enjoyed success in Australia, France and Japan, has also mellowed a bit. His global experience has taught him that there is more than one way to achieve success and there is no doubt the Bulls love playing for him.
Ironically, considering how often Loftus Versfeld and White butted heads when he was Springbok coach, in terms of tradition and culture and an appreciation for the basics of rugby, the Bulls are a good fit for the two-time IRB Coach of the Year.