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Durban – Jake White was ever the diplomat on Thursday when he deftly handled questions about allegations that the Brumbies scrum illegally, and that the Sharks were sure to whisper as much into the ear of referee Jonathan Kaplan ahead of Saturday’s much-anticipated clash between two of three unbeaten teams in Super Rugby (the Bulls are the other side).
The suggestion of nefarious no-good was pointed out by none other than White’s opposite number John Plumtree at a press conference on Tuesday at the Shark Tank, but White, speaking from his team’s opulent base at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Umhlanga Rocks, smiled and then tickled the comments down to fine leg.
“I have read the comments in the newspaper and we will meet with Jonathan,” White said.
“We get feedback every week from New Zealander Lyndon Bray, who is the head of referees (for Sanzar), and there’s nothing untoward about our scrum and, in fact he’s praised it. So I think John Plumtree was obviously just a bit concerned that last week against the Kings the Sharks probably weren’t rewarded for a dominant scrum.
“In saying that, Plum has made his feelings felt and that’s fine. He obviously wants a dominant scrum to get a return. But I don’t think we scrum illegally. Jonathan is a very experienced referee and he’ll blow it the way he sees it and he will not be hoodwinked by either me or John.”
After 102 Super Rugby games in charge, Kaplan knows his stuff and it will be pleasing for spectators to have an accomplished referee ensuring that the restarts are just that, and not boring spectator sports in themselves.
White made a number of rotational changes to the side that beat the Waratahs in Canberra last week.
“I’ve made a few changes, not for any other reason than it’s a very tough competition and we have games coming up against the Sharks, Stormers and then the Bulls,” the former Springbok coach said.
“Those are three very tough matches, there is no way I’m going to have the luxury of being able to pick the same starting XV week in and week out. The nice thing about these changes is that a lot of these newcomers played against Tonga and Samoa when they came to Australia in our bye week.
“It is an opportunity to give some guys a start and others a chance to rest up. So hopefully it will also create some competition in the squad.”
An intriguing feature of the game is that the Sharks and the Brumbies have both won three local derbies in a row.
Their success against their countrymen has taken them to the top of their respective conferences.
“At the end of the day it doesn’t matter too much what our records are,” White said.
“It’s a new game and the exciting thing is that it is an opportunity for both sides to play their first cross-conference game. The Sharks have played some good rugby, they probably have kicked more than most teams, but their mindset will be to start with their defence and kicking, to get that right, and then evolve their attack from there.”
White knows the conditions in Durban at this time of year only too well from his time as a Sharks assistant coach in 2000 and will expect nothing less than a tactical game to negate the humidity.
“We chose to spend Sunday in Sydney and then arrived here on Monday night, which was a bit different, but it’s been a good week.
“What we are expecting is another really tough game against last year’s finalists,” White said.
The weekend’s fixtures get under way this morning when the Highlanders host the Hurricanes and then the Cheetahs will be hoping to continue their good form when they visit the Waratahs in Sydney.
On Friday, the Kings host the champion Chiefs.
On Saturday, the Bulls have a tough tour assignment in Christchurch against the Crusaders. The Reds host the Force and then the 5pm game is at Kings Park.