When Jake White was coaching the Brumbies, he inadvertently caused a media furore in South Africa when comments he reportedly made about the intellectual capacity of our players were blown up into “South African players are not as clever as their Australian counterparts”.
What he meant was that Australian teams have to box clever because they don’t have the abundance of players that South Africa and New Zealand have, and there are occasions when they can’t match overseas opponents in certain areas.
For years there has been the example of the Wallaby set scrum adopting tactics that border on the illegal because they have not been able to match the brute force of the opposition.
On Saturday night, after White’s team had scored a bonus-point win over the defiant Lions, White was asked about the challenge posed by the Reds and the Waratahs when they play the Sharks in Durban on Saturday and March 29 respectively.
“Are you guys going to ask me if I think those teams are brighter than us?” White asked the press, getting his defence in early.
It was a rhetorical question from the media-savvy coach, and he moved swiftly on to the different challenges the Aussie teams present. Sandwiched between their visits is a very different proposal in the derby visit to the Bulls in Pretoria next week. “It is a fact that Australian players ask different questions (to South African and New Zealand teams),” White said.
“They play a different kind of rugby (to the physically confrontational approach of their international rivals). The Reds have (X-factor playmakers) Quade Cooper and Will Genia, and the Waratahs have an abrasive pack of forwards (to compliment their potent backline).
“I know what makes those two franchises tick having coached in Australia, and I’m looking forward to that,” White added.
“They are the two biggest franchises in Australia. We will prepare ourselves exactly the same as we did for the Lions and the Bulls and the Hurricanes, and that means doing our preparation precisely. We’re playing at home, and we have to make sure that our homework is spot on.”
White said this “homework” was as much about improving on what the Sharks had been doing well, as about being aware of the threats posed by the opposition.
The coach has made the point that good teams do not fall into the trap of being “reactive” in their preparations.
The table-topping Sharks not only continue to be injury free – the sickness to flyhalf Patrick Lambie notwithstanding – but will have a fresh boost today when Springbok wing JP Pietersen reports for training after his Japanese club commitments ended at the weekend.
If White chooses to slot the lanky wing straight into the team then one of Lwazi Mvovo or Odwa Ndungane, both of whom have been in good form, would have to make way.
“Pietersen’s not automatically going to play,” White said. “But he is an international player, and if he (quickly) learns what we want and we feel that his game would suit what we want to do against the Reds, then it will be about what is best for the team.” - The Mercury