Jake White. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images)
- Jake White believes the fallout from Rassie Erasmus’ tweets over refereeing has been damaging to the Springbok brand, as Kamp Staaldraad was.
- The Bulls’ director of rugby concedes that officiating needs addressing, but points out the limited recourse for teams means it’s fruitless to spend too much time arguing about it.
- White hopes his experience of coaching in Europe will help his troops navigate refereeing interpretations in the Champions Cup.
Without explicitly naming him, Jake White believes Rassie Erasmus’ controversial tweets on questionable refereeing during the Springboks’ end-of-year tour to Europe have done as much damage to the national team’s brand as the infamous events at Kamp Staaldraad almost 20 years ago.
There’s been widespread unhappiness from local franchises about the potential impact SA Rugby’s director of rugby’s posts – which has earned him a second ban from World Rugby – will have when the teams try to navigate the different refereeing interpretations in the URC and European Champions and Challenge Cups, particularly when it comes to 50/50 calls.
Less tangibly, the Boks’ reputation as a symbol of hope might now have transformed into a group of men with a perceived persecution complex.
“There’s no doubt that what’s been happening behind the scenes is going to have an influence. It’s normal,” White, the man who revived the Boks in 2004 following the sordid revelations from the military-style bonding camp before the previous year’s World Cup, said on Friday.
“I remember with Kamp Staaldraad, which happened just before I took over at the Springboks, how much damage was done to the brand. It takes a while before people see that brand differently again.
“We’ve read it and digested it. It feels like every day now people are talking about off-field things [like how to handle refereeing] instead of the Boks being the world champions.”
White has never made a secret of the fact that he also believes officiating at the highest level needs to be addressed, but intimated that Erasmus’ strategy for bringing attention to the issue has been counterproductive.
“Every guy has his days where the frustration boils over, but does it do damage? Of course it does damage,” said the Bulls director of rugby.
“It’s human. I’m sure if you [as a referee] are getting nailed every week, you’re definitely not putting your head up again and getting shot.”
He concedes, however, that governing bodies’ inaction on addressing specifically accountability from referees will invariably lead to public criticism.
“I have to say though that it’s probably been a long time coming. But I said it before and I’ll say it again, there are certain things you can control and others you can’t.
“I’m fortunate in that I’m an older guy who’s coached Champions and Challenge Cups with Montpellier and the interpretations between the countries are different.
“And the coaches, I believe, understand that. Referees are never going to get it right all the time. Every week, if you draw up something about the referee – which we do anyway with our referee coordinator – most coaches will get correspondence back from the referee and assessor saying that they got two or three things wrong during a game and give an assurance that it’s being worked on.
“But that doesn’t change anything. To this day, we’re still debating if (Stormers star) Evan Roos crawled over the tryline in the URC final. But what difference does it make? The reality is you’ve got to get on with it.”
15 Wandi Simelane, 14 David Kriel, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Stravino Jacobs, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Elrigh Louw, 7 WJ Steenkamp, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Ruan Nortje (captain), 4 Janko Swanepoel, 3 Francois Klopper, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp
Substitutes: 16 Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Mornay Smith, 19 Ruan Vermaak, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Zak Burger, 22 Morne Steyn, 23 Marco Jansen van Vuren
15 Max Nagy, 14 Luke Morgan, 13 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Keelan Giles, 10 Jack Walsh, 9 Rhys Webb (captain), 8 Morgan Morris, 7 Will Hickey, 6 Ethan Roots, 5 Huw Sutton, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Garyn Phillips
Substitutes: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Rhys Henry, 18 Ben Warren, 19 James Fender, 20 Jack Regan, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Luke Scully, 23 Cai Evans
Given teams’ limited recourse when it comes to questioning officiating, White states that he tries to focus on issues he can influence.
“I’m hoping my experience of understanding how European interpretations work will be good enough for me to lead this group into two really tough competitions,” he said.
“Our biggest worry is having two squads ready to compete on two fronts. I have to worry about having enough players and whether our R70 million salary cap can make us competitive against Ireland, which has a cap of R186 million, and France, which is even bigger.
“That’s comparing apples with apples and an issue we have to worry about instead of things we can’t control.
“Referees need to officiate a game the way they see it. That’s how it is.”
The Bulls resume their URC campaign against Ospreys at home on Saturday.
Kick-off is at 15:00.