Cape Town - They regard each other as “mates” off the field, but things are going to heat up between Allister Coetzee and Jake White when the Stormers take on the Brumbies on Saturday.
This is the first time that the Brumbies will face the Stormers since White took over the coaching reins in July 2011, as they weren’t drawn against each other last season. Coetzee was the Springbok assistant coach to White from 2004 to 2007, culminating in the Rugby World Cup triumph in France.
They are also virtually the same age – both were born in 1963, and White celebrated his big 50th birthday on Tuesday, while Coetzee will reach the landmark on May 23 this year.
Now they go head to head for the first time in their coaching careers, with their respective teams experiencing contrasting fortunes so far this year. The Brumbies are unbeaten after four games and top the log following a number of top performances, while the Stormers lost their opening games against the Bulls and Sharks before redeeming themselves somewhat by beating the defending champions Chiefs before their bye last week.
It’s shaping up to be a thrilling encounter at Newlands on Saturday, and the battle is about the two coaches as much as it is about the players. “Well, it is strange when a former national coach coaches somewhere else. I think Jake has always loved the game, so he would’ve coached somewhere. We are good mates, obviously, and we have chatted a lot about the game,” Coetzee told the Cape Times this week.
“It was a fantastic ride with Jake from 2004 to 2007, and we won the World Cup. It was a great experience, and I was very fortunate to be a part of that. I’m sure he would say the same – he’s been lucky to be around those athletes and quality players, and winning the World Cup.
“(But) It’s definitely not about us, in my view – it’s not about that. We’ve got a team culture of team first, and that is still how we as a team want to get it right this weekend.”
White was quoted as saying on Tuesday on the Rugbyheaven.com.au website that he was excited to return to his former home town and take on Coetzee’s Stormers side. “This is probably my big week because I’m going home now,” White said.
“I know the Stormers and I know Allister well, probably better than (I know) most coaches because I coached with him for such a long time. It will be a case of two mates trying to have a crack at each other … I understand the psyche (of the Stormers). I think the understanding I’ve been able to share has helped.
“But at the same time, I don’t play the game, I can only give them as much advantage as I can, and then when they get on the field, it’s up to them.”
White has been credited with the Brumbies’ remarkable renaissance in the last 18 months, where he has taken them from 13th position on the log in 2011 to seventh last year – they just missed out on the playoffs on points difference to the Reds in the Australian conference.
This season, the Canberra side have a six-point lead at the top over the Chiefs, and come off a superb bonus-point victory over the Sharks in Durban last week. “He has turned the Brumbies around, and with his management team of Laurie Fisher, Stephen Larkham and George Gregan. They’ve got a good management team around him, and so have I. They’ve got really quality coaches,” Coetzee said.
“You know what, it’s on the day. You prepare your team as well as you can, and then the players must pitch up and play. They know what their strengths are, and Jake understands the psyche of South African rugby. I can see that that is very evident in their side.
“He will probably look for the best of both worlds and try to shape them in that kind of mould.”
Super Rugby Records
Allister Coetzee (2010-2013)
Win percentage: 71.16
Jake White (2012-2013)
Win pecentage: 70