Nick Mallet, Jake White and Rudolf Straeuli Talk World Cup
By Ross Anderson
Jake White, Nick Mallet and Rudolf Straeuli have certain things in common. All three gentlemen have coached the South African Springbok rugby team during a World Cup and all three were fired soon afterwards. So, it was no surprise that with their experience and insight they were brought together at the Accenture Coaches Breakfast. The breakfast was held at the Sandton Sun hotel. Its main aim was to discuss the upcoming rugby World Cup and the Springbok’s chances herein.
The former coaches discussed team selection, injury worries, players’ current forms, conditions and the opposition which was expected. All three of these prominent rugby figures have taken a team to a World Cup so they have inside knowledge on the challenges expected and on how to manage the players. Jake White won a World Cup with the U21’s in 2002 and with the national team in 2007 and Rudolf Straeuli played in a World Cup winning team in 1995.
The first major point that was put forward at the breakfast was the level of experience needed within the squad. The squad is currently sitting at 800 total caps according to Ian Macintosh who is involved in the selection process, a former coach and who was the MC of the breakfast. Jake White stated that teams that have done well at past World Cups have averaged around 600-650 caps in total. White’s worry was that our team will be too old.
Controversy has flared up as the 23 players offered Springbok contracts are either injured or out of form. Nevertheless, Ian Macintosh defended their selections saying that there was still time for those players to improve. When asked what the Springboks needed to do to win, Nick Mallet said that they should play to their strengths. These strengths lay with their running forwards who are the biggest and fastest in the world.
The fly-half position was another topic up for discussion and interestingly all three coaches chose different players. Jake White chose Butch James, Nick Mallet chose Peter Grant and Rudolf Straeuli said Patrick Lambi would be the best choice. Francois Steyn had not yet been given a contract as he is currently playing overseas but all three former coaches said they would have him at centre with Gio Aplon as fullback. With the position of hooker Nick Mallet and Rudolf Straeuli both said Bismaarck du Plessis was the better choice but Jake White remained adamant that John Smit was the man for the job. The topic of the captaincy and John Smit’s form was also addressed. Only Nick Mallet said he would not make him captain, Rudolf said he would have him as captain but was not sure if he would start, Jake said he would be starting and the captain.
To attempt the impossible by winning back to back World Cup titles will be tough but doing that in New Zealand is even harder. All three former coaches say that New Zealand are definitely favorites. Jake White added that their choker tag is a myth as they have won a World Cup title at home before. Nick Mallet who is currently coaching the Italian national side says that there is no Northern hemisphere team that is a real threat to the Springboks.
When asked what advice he would give Peter de Villiers, Jake White said that de Villiers should enjoy his time as coach because no Springbok coach gets a second chance and to make sure he has no regrets. All three former coaches said they were disappointed that Peter de Villiers had not approached any of them for advice. They stated that the major problem with South African rugby was the communication as it is not what it should be. In fact, when asked if they would ever take the job again; they all said they probably would not be able to say no, but the politics involved would not let them do their job properly.