Sharks director of rugby Jake White has shared some insights into the work he has been doing behind the scenes over the last couple of months, as well as the plans he is making for the future.
White has moved purposefully into the background after the Super Rugby season, stepping away from a hands-on coaching role to spend time analysing the various Sharks structures, and to start plotting the way forward for the union.
“For me, it’s not been about being actively involved with one team or another, I’m basically just using this opportunity to get to know who the players are, how the succession plan looks, and what the strengths and weaknesses of our rugby programme are,” White explained during an in-depth interview.
“Are there things we can change to become better? I’ve been meeting with the Academy and seeing if we’re getting what we want out of that. Then I’ve gone to the under-19 and under-21 teams and seen what does and doesn’t work. I’ve been meeting with headmasters as well to check with the schools what we need to do provincially to hold onto our top players, and what we need to do to make sure we look after our schools and make them feel part of the Sharks family.”
White’s role is a multi-faceted one, and it is completely new to Sharks rugby in the sense that it encompasses the more traditional function of an overseeing director of rugby.
“My role is completely different; it’s about making sure the rugby in the whole province is strong. It’s not only about winning, but it’s also about creating a pathway for players and for coaches to compete at the highest level. Obviously we can’t buy 150 contracted players every year, we don’t have the finances for that, and it’s not sustainable.
“But what we can do is up-skill the coaches in our province, and ensure the players in our province really want to play for the Sharks jersey, and want to stay here. We must create an environment that is a point of difference, which not only attracts players, but helps retain players that have chosen to play here. We have a great venue here, great weather, a passionate rugby public, a CEO (in John Smit) who loves rugby, and real traditional rugby schools. The Sharks brand is highly sought after, and we want to build on that.”
White said he didn’t feel wholesale changes were required, but that it was rather about identifying areas for improvement to create a sustainable model for success in both the short and long-term.
“I have seen things already that I think we need to change, but all that will only be re-affirmed once we get to the end of the season. Maybe recruiting-wise we need to be sharper with regards to what’s important for us in the succession plan. Perhaps the coaching role of junior coaches needs to be looked at in terms of how much time they have to prepare their teams. Maybe the conditioning of our younger players and the speed with which we bring them through to senior level needs to be re-addressed just in terms of what the needs are when you are a professional player. These are just some of the things to consider.”
Next year’s World Cup will also present unique challenges in that it will require careful player management during the 2015 Super Rugby season, while the reality is that a number of players could opt to take up overseas contracts after the global showpiece.
“Players will have the World Cup in the back of their minds during Super Rugby, some understandably might not want to play every game, while some will want to have a full crack (to force their way into the Bok squad), and others might want to manage themselves differently,” White acknowledged.
“So I’m in the process of finding out who I’ve got, who I can call on, and what I can do in the next six months to make sure we are ready. But this is also about a two-year plan for me that has short-term, medium-term and long-term goals from an individual playing pathway point of view. I’m working on a sustainable model and one that improves every player that we have in our franchise, for not only next year, but the year after when players may have left.”
White is also currently working on various player specific programmes, whether it be related to skills, strength or speed training, to be implemented during the pre-season preparation prior to next year’s Super Rugby season.
“It’s about what we need to do between now and February next year to get the best out of our players,” he explained. “One of the things that’s unique is that we want this to be an individualised thing, as opposed to just a generic thing that everyone buys into. It is a bit different to the way things have been done in the past, but it’s about focusing on what each player needs, now that I’ve got to know them, got to know what their shortcomings are, and what I’m going to have next year.”
And although White has not been involved in a coaching capacity with the current Currie Cup squad, he said there was lots to be learnt from taking a “distant” view.
“It’s not about abdicating responsibility, but it’s about looking from the outside in, and seeing what we need, and who can contribute in Super Rugby. I have an idea of how I think the perfect Super Rugby team will look, and so I have to consider what’s missing, so that I can hopefully put that perfect team together.” - Daily News