Nearly 30 000 fans turned up at King’s Park in Durban on Saturday to watch the Sharks scrap with the Lions. Against the Hurricanes just under 24 000 fans paid to watch their team in action and in round one, 34 000 people paid to see the Sharks tackle the Bulls.
There can be no doubt the Sharks are drawing some of the biggest crowds in Super Rugby – and it’s easy to understand why. They are playing good rugby and they’re winning. But I think a lot has to do with the union’s CEO John Smit and coach Jake White – two people who have a long history and know what it takes to be successful at the top of the game.
There was shock and disbelief towards the end of last year when Smit was named the Sharks’ new chief executive and a few weeks later White was announced as the team’s director of rugby. Former coach John Plumtree was sent packing, to the ire of many, and in stepped White – a man who is loved by many, but loathed by others.
But what has become clear in the last year is that whether or not you like White, he’s a very fine rugby coach – and at the end of the day that’s all that matters.
White wasn’t wanted by any local union or rugby body following his winning of the World Cup in 2007 and, after a period of unemployment, he took up the head coach’s job at the Brumbies and guided the team all the way to the final last season. It was a remarkable achievement considering the depth and quality of players he was working with but White’s knowledge and experience rubbed off on the players and the rest is history.
Smit getting White to sign on at the Sharks is proving to be a masterstroke as the team have won three out of three in Super Rugby and look to be very much one of the strongest squads in the competition.
The fact is if White can get a rather ordinary Brumbies team playing winning rugby, there was never a doubt he’d get the Sharks doing the same. And so it has proved.
But more than that, White knows how to get the best out of various individuals because he believes in them wholeheartedly – a case in point being Frans Steyn. The one-time wonderkid of South African rugby looks to be back to his best again and I’d wager that’s got plenty to do with White. The same goes for Ryan Kankowski – there’s just something about the relationship White develops with players that seems to get them playing at their best.
It is this superb man-management that has the Sharks and every member of the squad performing at their optimum.
Like it or not, Jake White has everything to do with why the Sharks have to be taken extremely seriously this season. - The Star