Cape Town — While stating that the current situation at the Blue Bulls has been the toughest time “I’ve had as a coach in a long time”, Jake White said he didn’t consider stepping away from coaching himself.
And he also felt that the players are not “playing like they should” and need to take responsibility for their below-par performances as well.
The Bulls have lost 10 matches in a row across the Champions Cup, United Rugby Championship and Currie Cup, and will hope to stop the rot in Friday’s clash against Griquas at Loftus Versfeld (5pm kickoff).
White made the drastic decision on Wednesday to take over the Currie Cup coaching reins and send Edgar Marutlulle back to the junior teams at Loftus Versfeld, explaining that it had as much to do with the defeats as it did to safeguard the former hooker’s coaching career.
But White added that the players must earn their spots too. “No – I think it would be more disruptive (if he had to put another coach in charge). If you tell a player the whole time to prove himself and walk the walk, then you can’t just step away as a coach and give away your responsibility,” the former Springbok boss said.
“If I had to say I will just leave the Currie Cup and you guys can just continue, and we can play our juniors or whatever, then it’s also not the right thing. Then you guys would tell me why are we so unfair to not let the senior guys play in the Currie Cup?
“I’m in no doubt that what we decided is in the best interests of the teams, players, coaches and the careers of everyone who is involved.
“There is no relegation from Currie Cup this year, that’s only next year. But it is the toughest time I’ve had as a coach in a long time.
“Collectively, I’m also looking at ways we can see why we are in this position. I’m not making excuses, but it’s the way it was… I got very, very ill. I was out for a long time — I was really ill.
“At that same time, we had a seven or eight-game stretch of the toughest games we probably could have had since I’ve been the coach here.
“One snowballed into the other one, and we started with two big Currie Cup games against the Pumas and Cheetahs, which probably also didn’t favour us.
“But I will get it right. I know that you have to go through these things, and I know now that some players are going to get cut at the end of the season.”
So, the players need to prove themselves if they want to have a future in Pretoria, starting with Friday’s game against Griquas.
But the long-term planning is already under way to ensure the Bulls don’t find themselves in a similar situation next season.
They have already signed the likes of fullback Henry Immelman from Edinburgh, tighthead prop Wilco Louw from Harlequins and utility forward Jannes Kirsten from the Exeter Chiefs, and more new faces are set to follow in the coming months.
“I need to change the depth of our squad, and if you see the impact that the two Springboks (Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie) have made in our team — and they are not even starting Springboks… Yet those two guys have turned what we’ve done on the field literally by themselves,” White said.
“Going forward, we need Springboks. We did really well last year and I think we exceeded expectations. But I think reality has also set it — with my illness, with me being out, with rotating the squad, with the fixture list we had… it’s obviously been a tough time.
“But if you expect players to stand up and walk the walk, you can’t just put your head in the sand as the head of rugby and make as though it’s going to go away.
“Behind the scenes, I’m working hard on recruitment, how we can restructure our coaching staff, what we need going forward once we’ve done an audit on our three campaigns.
“If it means that there needs to be changes at whatever level and with any personnel, then it has to be made.
“In professional sport, those are the things you have to accept. It’s not a free ride for anybody.
“That’s also why I’ve gone to become hands-on with this group of players. I don’t think they’re being fair; I don’t think they’re playing like they should. I don’t think they’re showing that they deserve to be at this union playing Currie Cup rugby.
“Now, it’s got nothing to do with Edgar. A coach can only (do so much) — if you run into touch three times and you lose two lineouts and you drop the ball three times, it’s not because Edgar’s your coach… it’s irrelevant.
“I’m there to make sure that the guys who are not going to be good enough are not going to be with us this time next year. In my position, I am able to do that.
“The pressure’s now on the players too. If they feel like there’s a bit of heat and feel they are now the ones under pressure, well, then that’s the way it’s going to be — I can’t change that.
“The players are not happy that we are not doing well. I’m not happy, people above me are not happy, and the way we’ve got to do it is that we have to find a way to change it.
“That’s part of why I have been in coaching for so long. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve had very successful teams. This is the first time where I’ve sort of packaged a team where we haven’t… we’ve lost something, and it’s my job to sort it out.”