The poisoned chalice

By Dale Granger

What a show. SA Rugby, the longest running soap opera in the country, produced another gripping episode on Wednesday as Jake White became the 10th Springbok coach in 15 years to part company with his employers in unhappy circumstances.

South African rugby does not appear to heed the maxim, 'if we don't learn from history we are doomed to repeat it'.

No wonder White wished his successor luck on Wednesday and added: "He is going to need it."

Considering the past, it's astonishing that anyone would even want the Bok job, a poisoned chalice if the wreckage left by previous coaches is anything to go by.

Four years ago England coach Clive Woodward returned home with the Webb Ellis Cup and was knighted at Buckingham Palace and given the reins to freely select his British Lions squad and a huge management team for the tour of New Zealand.

White, by contrast, took just 10 days after winning the World Cup to announce that he was quitting South African rugby and would not be seeking to renew his contract.

He joins a list of Bok coaches since 1992 whose terms ended in similar scenarios, with one critical difference. White has bowed out at the peak of his triumph and his lasting legacy will be of the coronation of Springbok rugby as world champions.

His predecessors were not so fortunate. This was their tale of woe:

John Williams

August-November 1992

Played 5, Won 1, Lost 4: Win Percentage: 20 percent.

South African returned to international rugby in 1992 to find that the game had moved on significantly from Currie Cup fare. Williams was found to be out of his depth and out of touch. Defeats to New Zealand, Australia, France and England, with a solitary victory over France cost him his job before six months had passed.

Gerrie Sonnekus

Was appointed Bok coach, but did not take up the appointment before a single Test had been played under his short term.

Ian McIntosh

June '93-August '94

Played 12, Won 4, Lost 6, Drawn 2: Win Percentage: 33 percent.

A Test series defeat to the All Blacks in New Zealand cost McIntosh his job after he had repeatedly clashed with former SA Rugby supremo Louis Luyt over interference in team selection, the latter favouring Transvaal players while McIntosh fought for Sharks players who had played under him at King's Park. Was fired barely 14 months into the job, along with team manager Jannie Engelbrecht.

Kitch Christie

October '94-Nov 2005

Played 14, Won 14. Win Percentage: 100 percent

The most successful Springbok coach in terms of results, won the World Cup for South Africa on home soil in 1995 and ended his 14-Test run unbeaten, albeit without playing either New Zealand or Australia in the Antipodes.

But the World Cup celebration did not last long. Within months, captain François Pienaar, team manager Morné du Plessis and Saru chief executive Edward Griffiths were fired. Christie, terminally ill with cancer, stayed in charge for three Tests after the World Cup triumph and was coaching the Bulls in the Super 12 when the 1996 season kicked off.

Andre Markgraaff

July - Dec '96

Played 13, Won 8, Lost 5: Win Percentage: 61 percent

Wasted no time axing a national hero, World Cup winning skipper François Pienaar, after just four Tests. Became the first Bok coach to lose a home Test series to the All Blacks before his term ended in tears and national scandal. This was after his former Griquas captain, Andre Bester, had taped him making racial slurs against leading black rugby administrators and supplied the material to the SABC.

Carel du Plessis

June - Aug '97

Played 8, Won 3, Lost 5. Win Percentage: 37 percent

Losing a home Test series to the British Lions saw Du Plessis lasting only eight Tests before getting fired. A 61-22 thrashing of Australia in his final match at Loftus was not enough to save him.

Nick Mallet

November '97-Aug 2000

Played 38, Won 27, Lost 11. Win Percentage: 71 percent

Mallett's appointment brought instant success and celebration to South African rugby. The Springboks won the Tri-Nations for the first time in 1998 and ended the year with a world record equalling 18-Test match victory streak. Mallett was unlucky to lose in the 1999 World Cup semi-finals to a wobbly Stephan Larkham drop-kick that the Australian flyhalf later admitted was intended for field position, not points. By 2000 Mallett's star was in decline. Five defeats in eight Tests that year sealed his fate, the axe falling on the excuse of his criticism of the high price of Test tickets after South Africa had lost their final Tri-Nations Test to Australia by a single point.

Harry Viljoen

November 2000-Dec 2001

Played 15, Won 8, Lost 6, Drawn 1: Win Percentage: 53 percent.

Comfortable and fabulously wealthy, Viljoen opted for the sanctuary of his Monte Carlo yacht by announcing his sudden resignation barely a year after taking on the Bok job. He was unable to produce a victory over England or New Zealand in his 13 months in the job.

Rugolf Straeuli

June 2002-Nov 2003

Played 23, Won 12, Lost 11. Win Percentage: 59 percent.

By the time Straeuli was axed, after South Africa was blown out of the 2003 World Cup in the quarter-finals, he walked away with a R2m payout. Springbok rugby was reeling from a series of racial clashes within the team and controversy over the infamous Kamp Staaldraad training camp. South Africa suffered their biggest ever defeat under his reign, a 53-3 humiliation against England at Twickenham on a 2002 tour that saw them also losing to France and Scotland. Straeuli was unable to record a single Test victory over England or New Zealand in his 18 months.

Jake White

June 2004-December 2007

Played 53, Won 36, Lost 16, Drawn 1. Win Percentage: 67 percent*

World champions, two Tri-Nations titles, two IRB coach of the year awards and two players of the year accolades was White's legacy. But the recurring theme of his term was repeated clashes with rugby officials and politicians meddling in team selection.

White stood his ground, making many sworn enemies in rugby who were determined to see him go, irrespective of success or failure. In the end he decided he could not work within the structures of SA Rugby and decided to bow out at the pinnacle of his greatest hour.


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