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White bows out, leaving team he says is close to the ‘finished product’

By Gavin Rich

Jake White ended his career with the Springboks on Saturday pretty much where it started, with a depleted team smashing a northern hemisphere unit in fine style. However, much has changed in the four years since the Boks beat Ireland in Bloemfontein, when a new team was only just coming together, and after a classy 34-12 win over Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, White said he felt he was watching a combination that was pretty close to the finished product.

“We scored five tries today and all of them were off set plays, which I think was an awesome effort. It is such a great feeling to watch what you have worked so hard on during training sessions bear fruit like that,” said a grinning White.

“A lot of what we saw in this match has been put together over and over again on the training field, but at the World Cup we never really transferred that onto the playing field in match situations. Now the guys have the confidence to put it together, we had three players up with the ball carrier throughout the game. Every coach loves it when that happens.”

Even though there were several withdrawals, with 11 of the World Cup squad of 30 not making the trip, the bulk of White’s team was still made up of experienced players he had stuck with over a long period of time. It was thanks to the efforts of skipper John Smit, prop CJ van der Linde, lock Bakkies Botha and flanks Schalk Burger and Juan Smith that the platform was created off which newcomers such as Ryan Kankowski and an impressive backline were able to excel.

“What this has shown me is that you have to back yourself and go with what you believe in. There is a lot of irony in the fact that the corresponding weekend last year saw us play against England at Twickenham in a match that, had we lost, would probably have spelled the end of my career with the Boks.

“But we won that day and I survived to take the Boks to the World Cup title, which is the pinnacle of any coach’s career. It underlines what I have always said — a top level coach in any sport is always just a couple of matches away from being sacked, and even Alex Ferguson, the great Manchester United coach, will tell you that. He has been one match away from the end for the last 20 years.”

Captain Smit said that the players delivered what they said they would by giving White the perfect send-off.

“I was quite amazed with the intensity with which we played. I thought during the week we might have been a little too relaxed but the match proved me wrong. There is obviously a heck of a lot of confidence in this team at the moment and we revelled in being able to play a match like this as world champions.”

The Boks finish off the year with a low key festival match against the Barbarians on Saturday. The Twickenham match has been devalued by the decision by the Premier League clubs in Europe to make their players unavailable for the Barbarians team.