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Trusting Jake

Written by Udo Lütge (pastorshark)

Posted in :Original Content, Reader Submissions, Sharks, Super Rugby on 4 Jun 2014 at 09:34
Tagged with : , , , , , , ,

Jake White is a top coach and worthy of our trust. Perhaps after the debacle of last weekend that should read: “and STILL worthy of our trust.”

This is my first article on this site – I’ve been thinking about writing it for some time now. Jake has come in for quite a bit of criticism in the comments here: our game plan is one-dimensional, team selections are too conservative and the coach puts his foot in his mouth in the media too often for comfort! While such criticism is sometimes valid I would like to put it in its greater context and draw my conclusions from it.

FIRSTLY, I’ll start by taking a closer look at Jake’s coaching resumé:

I think the point is clear: this man can coach! He has had a fair measure of success with EVERY team that he has coached. It’s really tough to argue with the stats.

SECONDLY, a brief look at his coaching philosophy over the years shows that he has been remarkably consistent. Jake has always been more on the conservative side of the coaching spectrum. In every coaching job he has been an advocate for consistency in selection. Over the years he has preferred a direct game plan that minimises risk – that game plan has been illustrated by his well-documented preference for tall, big players who can play that direct game. I remember the second time I met him: he looked at me and asked whether I could lend Luke Watson 1 foot of my 6 foot 7 so that might want to select him! My point I this: I don’t think anyone should be surprised by our current game plan because that is the Jake White template. I should also point out that this template has always been particularly successful! And I’m not one who thinks that this game plan necessarily means boring rugby. In fact, many Jake White sides – including the Boks – have scored plenty of tries. And our first game of the season showed glimpses of how it could work. My opinion is that it has not been the game plan that has stood in the way of us scoring tries, but our handling and finishing. Looking at several games again, a 25% improvement in handling would have led to more than double the current try count. We have created more than enough opportunities – we just haven’t finished anywhere near enough of them.

UdoAndJakeTHIRDLY, I have met Jake several times and those meetings have resulted in great respect for him. One night sticks in my mind very clearly. It was the day that rugby died (you know, that final that we don’t speak of … ever!). My best buddy and I had spent an hour sitting in our seats in absolute shock. When we finally made our way to the car park and the post-rugby braai, who should be standing next to us braining with the common folk? Jake White. While all the other fancy people were up in the presidential suite mixing with the elite, the Springbok coach was in the car park enjoying steak and beer. We started chatting and after a while, as the news spread through the car park, a group of about 50 people gathered. Jake was so down to earth. He moved to an open space and invited everyone to come with him…and then gave us half an hour to ask him whatever we wanted.

He shared his thoughts on rugby, on the players, on his plans for the World Cup. He spoke openly, honestly and with passion. He treated everyone there respectfully and gave of his time to have photos taken with fans like me. It was an incredible gesture from someone who didn’t have to do that, but wanted to and did it anyway. Since that night I’ve met Jake two more times in pubs at the KZN South Coast – and every time it’s been the same: a down to earth normal bloke talking about his passion for rugby with normal folk who are thrilled to experience it. That alone means that Jake will always have my respect!

So when I reflect on Jake as a coach, I do it against that backdrop…and I see a world class coach who gets world class result, who uses his vast knowledge of the game to come up with the game plan that is going to be most successful and who is just a down to earth bloke with a passion for the game that he doesn’t mind sharing with ordinary people who love the game too.

Of course that doesn’t mean that he’s perfect. I have my concerns. The modern game, for example, requires – in my humble opinion – more rotation in selection than Jake naturally tends towards. Yes, he has always preferred consistency in selection…and with good reason. But the Super Rugby season of today simply demands more rotation than that! And there are other areas where he can improve too. But you know what? In my experience with human beings I have noticed that our biggest strengths are most often also our biggest weaknesses. So we have an honest Jake White who calls it as he sees it (STRENGTH), but that automatically also means that he will sometimes put his foot in it (WEAKNESS). We have a conservative Jake White who employs a game plan that minimises risk and maximises success (STRENGTH), but precisely that sometimes leads to a game where it doesn’t quite work out and it ends up in ugly rugby that’s not much to look at (WEAKNESS). My conclusion? If we want a coach with those strengths, then we have to live with the weaknesses that those strengths bring.

And so…still…all in all…I am very happy that Jake White is our coach. His track record, his rugby philosophy and his personality and approach to the fans will continue to result in much more success than failure. And I haven’t even mentioned his ability to coach individuals so that they become better players – he has shown with the Sharks (and with every other team he’s ever coached) that he has that ability too! All of that leads me to like the man and to trust in his ability to get the best out of our beloved Sharks. Jake White is a top coach and worthy of our trust. The season isn’t over yet…and I hope that the end of this Super Rugby season will have added to the Jake White success story. It really already has…but another trophy would make it better!


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