URC – Jake White Still Loving The Game Of Rugby As Much As Ever

 

Jake White has been coaching for some 30 years now and has already won the biggest prize in the game, but there is no sign of his enthusiasm waning.

“Someone asked me just the other day, ‘How long are you going to do this for?’” reveals the 60-year-old Vodacom Bulls boss.

“I said ‘As long as I keep loving it’.

“I am very fortunate. I coach rugby in a country where it’s the national sport and I am coaching a team that people enjoy and a team that’s on the up. I don’t think it gets too much better than that. So I still love it.”

White’s long coaching career has taken in spells in Australia (Brumbies), France (Montpellier), Japan (Toyota Verblitz) and Tonga, where he worked with the national team.

Then, of course, there has been his contribution to rugby in his homeland of South Africa, most notably as head coach of the Springboks, who he guided to World Cup glory in 2007.

Since 2020, he has been at the helm of the Pretoria-based Bulls and building a team that now really looks ready to vie for silverware.

They lie second in the Vodacom URC and have secured a home tie against French club Lyon in the last 16 of the Investec Champions Cup.

But now comes arguably their toughest test of the season so far - a league trip to table-topping Leinster this Friday night.

“That will be a great benchmark for us to see where we are as a group,” said White.

“It is an away game playing against a really good team.

“The bulk of those guys play international rugby for Ireland and they have just won back-to-back Six Nations. At the World Cup, they beat the Springboks who went on to win it.

“So I know it’s going to be a great test match for us and a great test to see how good we are.”

He added: “Leinster will always be there. The core group of that squad know exactly how to get through this competition.

“One thing they are probably leaders at is understanding how to compete in both the Vodacom URC and the Champions Cup.

“They are the ones that set the benchmark in the league and if you can beat them you have got yourself a chance to win the competition.”

This is now the third season for White and the Bulls in the 16-team Vodacom URC, so what has he learned about the competition along the way?

“You’ve got the weather, the playing surfaces, the grounds,” he says.

“We are sometimes spoiled back home. We play in big enclosed stadiums where the wind isn’t a factor.

“Whereas when you come into this competition, you visit some very unique grounds.

“What players and coaches are learning is that it's a different challenge every week. It’s a different outing at all the teams you go to.

“Also because it’s such a long competition and because you play home and away, it becomes very difficult.

“This time last year I was probably at fault by keeping the same base of players together for all the games and it caught up with me at the back end of the competition.

“The one thing that has been very different this season is I have been able to rotate players and that just gives me more competitiveness in the squad. So I am happy with where we are at the moment.”

The bumper attendances for Vodacom URC games in South Africa this season would suggest the league is really gaining in popularity there and White feels this is partly down to people being more aware of the competition structure.

“What has happened now is they understand it,” he said.

“You would get people saying how come there’s a Champions Cup game in two weeks time, how does that fit in?

“But when you explain the reason we are in the Champions Cup is we did well in the Vodacom URC last year, they understand what the merits of the league are.

“They now realise as soon as you have a bad Vodacom URC, you drop out of the Champions Cup.

“So slowly, but surely they are understanding the importance of Vodacom URC games.”

The Bulls warmed up for their top-of-the-table clash against Leinster in Dublin with a 31-10 bonus point victory over the Dragons at Rodney Parade last Saturday night.

It looks a comfortable scoreline, but White stresses it was anything but a stroll in the park.

“They really fronted up to us physically. They were clever in the way they played and made everything a contest,” he said.

“They obviously had a plan on how they could break our rhythm.

“We tried to get quick ball, we couldn’t. We tried to maul them, we couldn’t get any go-forward. They disrupted the scrum as well.

“We encountered problems we haven’t experienced before.

“It was the first time a team did certain things to us at scrum time and breakdown time.

“But the bottom line is we found a way to get through. It was job done in the end. We wanted to go there and get a win and then to get a bonus point as well was a plus - I suppose that’s why it’s called a bonus.

“I do feel we took too long to find a way - the whole first half and a bit of the second half - so hopefully this is a learning curve. We have to adapt a bit quicker.

“But it just shows there are a lot of hard games in this league.

“Who would have thought the Sharks would be as low down as they are now, with the squad they have?

“It’s such a competitive league and it is just going to get stronger and stronger.”