Durban – New Sharks director of rugby Jake White has already been hard at work at King’s Park, with the team’s pre-season preparations for Super Rugby having begun in earnest two weeks ago.
Daily News rugby writer Craig Lewis had the opportunity to recently chat with the former Springboks and Brumbies coach to discuss his new job and plans for next year.
Q: What would you say is the key to winning Super Rugby?
A: All it is, is heads down, bums up – that means it’s hard work. That was the motto we had at the Brumbies and that is all any loyal supporter wants to see.
If we work hard, put the hours in, prepare, and do whatever we can to be the best we can, then the success will come. There is no secret, and there is no short cut. I am fully aware of that. It was not just at the Brumbies, it is a known fact. That is all I’ve said to these boys: let’s just make sure that we work harder than everyone else.
Q: When you started at the Brumbies and even the Boks, you had to re-build a team, how will it differ now that you are taking over a successful Sharks side?
A: I never wanted to be known as the chap who always takes over teams that are finished, as in you always have to pick them up from the ashes.
By default it has always happened like that for me – the times when I have joined teams it is almost as if it doesn’t matter what happens, they can only go up.
Whereas now that I’ve joined the Sharks, I’m thinking they are Currie Cup champions, they’ve got everything in place, they’ve got 11 Springboks, but it is great time to take over. It’s nice for me to come here, and there are pictures of the Currie Cup success, it’s a prestigious tournament in our country, so to be the holders and have the youngsters aspiring to that is fantastic.
It’s also different for me, because I never wanted to just become a hospital-case coach, I’d like to take over a side that is doing well. So thank goodness that I’m taking over at a team that have got things right, who have a young dynamic CEO, a winning culture, and a host of Springboks who were on tour. There are lots of positives in that.
Q: Can you settle the debate about where Pat Lambie will play?
A: Pat Lambie is going to play No 10, that’s it. He is not going to play anywhere else for the Sharks except at flyhalf, and I’m going to give him confidence in the way that we coach him and in the role that he can play for the Sharks. And if the Sharks win everything, it is going to be very hard for the Boks not to pick him at flyhalf.
Q: What are some of the most important things you are looking to achieve during the pre-season?
A: I’m dealing with a group of nearly 40 players that are training here, that I’m up-skilling, and making them enjoy the Sharks and getting them to love the fact that they will potentially be part of Super Rugby.
I’m also getting them to know me, and what I’m like as a coach, and making them better at the job they do, I’m looking after them in terms of what we feed them. I’m broadening my base so that when those Boks come back they either make the team stronger or they will have to catch up to these guys that are training. It is what coaches want, strong competition, because at the end of the day it means you get a strong team. My challenge is getting the current Boks to unify with the group when they return to training. But I’m sure that will happen on its own if everyone is happy.
Q: What has been your message to the players?
A: The one thing I promised is that I will be truthful with them and that I will tell them exactly how things will work from day one. They are not necessarily all going to hear what they want to hear, but at least I would have manned up to tell them things they perhaps did not want to hear.
I have told them they are going to win Super Rugby. If they don’t believe it then it is not going to happen. It is no use trying to sell something (they do not believe in) and if I’m at the wrong place they must tell me.
The realistic thing is, I may have taken over at a great franchise, but the Sharks came eighth in the (Super Rugby) tournament this year, and came fourth out of five South African franchises.
Only the Kings finished below them. Even with all the Springboks, when it really counted, out of five franchises they came fourth. So it is not all rosy yet.
Q: Will all the players be effectively starting with a clean slate?
A: Even if I didn’t have the Bok guys coming back, I’d still be confident about what is exciting me about the young guys here now. So it’s just an added bonus that we have a settled group, and what I’ve chatted to the boys about is that I want them to understand that it’s irrelevant what happened last year and where they played or who was above them.
And conversely if you were above someone else, that’s irrelevant as well because if everyone wants me to be fair and honest, which they do, and everyone wants to have a fair crack, then I have to start from zero.
We are settled, we have senior players, Currie Cup winners and a positive energy, which is great, but what I’ve stressed to the players is that I want to start from day one with everyone having a fair understanding of what I’m looking for in a player.
Here’s an example, if you were a third-choice winger, and we think you can be a first-choice outside centre, then you’ll start for the Sharks at outside centre. That’s what’s so exciting, hopefully everyone can have a fair crack at making a name for themselves by this time next year.
Q: Obviously Brendan Venter had a short, but very successful stint as the Sharks’ director of rugby in the Currie Cup, how do you view the takeover process?
A: Brendan did a fantastic job, but whereas he had a three-month focus on the Currie Cup, part of my role even involves where the under-19s are going to be in four years’ time. So my planning is completely different to how Brendan’s would have been, knowing that he was only here for a short stint to maybe rejuvenate and revitalise the group of players.
Q: Are you satisfied with the squad depth?
A: I’m very happy. Everyone in the world would like to have stronger squads, to have depth in every single position, but you have to be a realist. Every franchise sits with areas they wish could be stronger. But, in saying that, the talent here is phenomenal and I can compare apples with apples. Comparing a side like the Brumbies who came second, to a franchise like the Sharks; there is unbelievable talent here. From 19-year-olds right up to Springboks.
Q: Can we expect some new faces?
A: There are going to be plenty, players who people wouldn’t have heard about playing Super Rugby and that’s what’s so nice. I’m excited and it’s how I felt when I got to the Brumbies.
I saw these young guys, and look what they’ve managed to do in a short space of time – they’ve played for Australia, won the World Club Sevens Tournament and played in the Super Rugby final this year. And I have no doubt there will be a lot of nice, exciting young guys who will get an opportunity to play for the Sharks next year.
Q: Are you happy with the Super Rugby draw the team has received?
A: I think it’s a fantastic draw, both times with the Brumbies when we did well was when we had byes early on. A lot of people initially thought that was a negative because it would break your rhythm, but we have two byes almost in the first month, and that’s fantastic because what it allows is for the competition to unfold on its own without you being involved, and you can also get a feel for how the referees are going to blow things early on, and what the emphasis will be on.
Also with the Springboks we have, having a bye early on also allows them to freshen up for what’s in store for them for the rest of the year.
Q: Finally, how does it feel to be back working in South Africa?
A: I’m just really chuffed to be here, and I’m really excited to be at the Sharks, knowing what is possible here. My wife will join me soon, she is just trying to sell our house in Australia. Then my one son is going to go to Stellenbosch University, and another one is going to go to the Western Province Rugby Academy.