White's 'sham' marriage

Published Feb 9, 2008

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For four years, Springbok coach Jake White and his estranged wife Debbie had a sham of a marriage, deluding even friends into believing they were close.

And a few months before the World Cup in France last year, White allegedly negotiated an agreement with his wife to continue the charade and not disclose that the marriage had irretrievably broken down, according to close friends.

The couple are now divorcing.

At one stage, while White was still Springbok coach, his wife went as far as hiring a private detective because she believed he was seeing other women.

Their estrangement began before his appointment as Bok coach. Rugby officials were desperate to avoid further controversy in the wake of several controversies, including the Kamp Staaldraad incident, which had rocked the sport to the core.

At the time of his appointment as Bok coach, White was sharing a home with Dale McDermott, the photographer who took the infamous Kamp Staldraad pictures showing the bizarre and humiliating training regimen used by then coach Rudolf Straeuli, which were leaked to the press prior to the World Cup in 2003.

McDermott later committed suicide by shooting himself.

Close friends said this week that Debbie was furious when she discovered that White's mistress had flown to France during the early part of last year's World Cup - leading her to confront the woman on the phone and threaten to expose her and White in the media, the friends said.

White's two teenage sons subsequently flew to Paris for the World Cup, but they did not stay at the Springbok team's hotel.

And while the Whites' children were enrolled at exclusive Cape Town schools, the couple sustained the charade of their marriage, with Debbie telling friends how she ironed his clothes, ran a bath for him in the evenings and ran the home during his busy time as Bok coach.

The couple's relationship hit a new low last year when White arrived at a News Cafe in Joburg with a blonde woman on his arm - and then, with several rugby writers present, the two became openly affectionate with one another.

The evening deteriorated rapidly when White became involved in a heated altercation with tabloid journalist Adnaan Mohamed, of the Kaapse Son, over a story written by someone else that had appeared in the paper.

Another source pointed out that during his time as Springbok coach, White hardly ever allowed players' wives and girlfriends to stay at the team hotel - but made an exception during the World Cup.

Before the team left for the tournament, while the team were in Durban, White allowed the players' wives and girlfriends to spend a weekend with their partners at the hotel - but he flew overseas the day before their arrival.

White frequently told friends that the demands of the job meant that he was constantly flying around the country and abroad, and that he hardly spent any time at home.

But Debbie, who poured her heart out to friends, told a different story.

After returning from the World Cup to a hero's welcome, White, his wife and two sons posed with the Webb Ellis trophy at a victory celebration at Newlands stadium in Cape Town. In reality, Jake wasn't even living at home and had moved into a new apartment he had bought in Newlands, a close friend said.

But, the friend said this week, the couple were keen to avoid "mudslinging" in the media. "They are just keeping nice with each other until the divorce proceedings are over." the friend said.

Amanda Catto, Debbie's lawyer, said this week her client was a private person and did not wish to comment on her marriage.

"We are not trying to be unco-operative. Debbie is just an intensely private person. Her priority right now is her two boys. I can't comment on anything else."

White, who is promoting his book, In Black and White - The Jake White Story, in the UK, was unavailable for comment.

His lawyer, Anton Slabbert, said: "We regard this as a private matter relating to a private relationship between Jake and Debbie and can't see the interest in publishing the story.

"If you publish anything defamatory, untruthful, harmful or inaccurate, we will sue you," Slabbert warned. - Staff Reporters

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