“Everything I said I wanted to achieve I’ve achieved, I wanted to win the world cup” said Jake White after leaving his post in 2007. South Africa had just won their second Webb Ellis cup defeating England 15 – 6 in the final at the Stade De France and White finished his reign as the country’s most successful head coach. He won 67% of his matches as well as winning the Tri Nations in 2004. White’s tenure was a short one lasting only 3 years, what he achieved in that time though was special.
In 2003 South African rugby was in a dire state, the players weren’t good enough and coaching staff wasn’t trusted. The team crashed out of the world cup at the quarter-final stage against New Zealand and soon after head coach Rudulf Straeuli was given the boot.
After taking over in 2004, Jake White’s first move was deciding who would captain his team, John Smit was the man chosen for the job, Jake’s decision paid dividends as Smit played a crucial role throughout White’s reign and captained the side to victory in 2007. Winning the Tri Nations in 2004 proved to a seminal moment for the Springboks, it was their first victory in the competition since 1998 and helped establish the team as a major force in world rugby. 2005 was seen as a successful year also with South Africa finishing second in the Tri Nations and had won 67% of their tests during the year.
However 2006 proved to be a testing year for South Africa, the team was plagued was injuries to important players such as Bakkies Botha & Schalk Burger and the weakened side suffered some embarrassing results most notably losing 49 – 0 to Australia in Sydney. South Africa finished the Tri Nations in last place losing 4 out of their 6 matches, but the Boks did finish on a high note winning their last 2 games in the competition. The autumn tests would see the Springboks lock horns with the Irish and play England twice at Twickenham. Despite losing 32 – 15 to Ireland and 23 – 21 to England. The second match against the English was pivotal, South Africa hadn’t won at Twickenham since 1997 and were desperate to break the 9 nine-year hoodoo. The Boks won 25 – 14, undoubtedly their biggest result in 2006.
In Jake White’s final year the Springboks peaked at just the right time, this was a team that had built slowly over the years with the ultimate goal being that beautiful gold trophy. The sheer breath of quality in the side made the South Africans favourites. Victor Matfield, Juan Smith, Fourie Du Preez, Bryan Habana, Jp Petersen and Percy Montgomery the list goes on. Jake White selected 2nd choice players throughout the majority of the Tri Nations, clearly rested some key players for the world cup. The choices in selection worked as South Africa cruised the group stages with the only competitive match being a 30 – 25 victory against Tonga. After winning their group unbeaten they faced a resilient Fijian side in the quarter finals eventually winning 37 – 20 and comfortable beat Argentina in the semis. This set up a final against England a team they had already beaten in the group stages. The final was a cagey match with very few chances being created. 4 penalties from Percy Montgomery and one from Francois Steyn decided the match. After celebrating the riches of sporting immortality, one week later Jake White was gone leaving a legacy which will never be forgotten.