‘He’s up for it’: Why ex-Boks World Cup-winner Jake White should be on the Wallabies coaching hit list
Jake White did a rebuilding job at the Brumbies and now Ben Alexander believes the World Cup-winning coach can do the same with the Wallabies.
After Eddie Jones walked out on the Wallabies following their World Cup flop, Rugby Australia is about to start the process of replacing the new Brave Blossoms mentor.
The search for the new head coach will be led by RA’s new director of high-performance, with Peter Horne expected to be confirmed in the role in the coming days.
Despite the dire year and ugly state of affairs in the game, there is expected to be several well-credentialled candidates with Australians Dan McKellar, Stephen Larkham and Andy Friend all interested in the role.
Former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, who joined Ian Foster’s All Blacks coaching team in the 12 months leading up to their run to the World Cup final, is also interested The Roar understands.
But Alexander, the 72-Test Wallaby who played under White for two seasons, believes the South African should be considered, particularly in light of the feature events Australian rugby will host over the next four years with the British and Irish Lions to tour in 2025 and a home World Cup.
Crucially, too, sources have told The Roar the former Springboks mentor would be interested in the role.
“If you look back to what we’ve got over the next four years, and when you look at his resume, he knows what the Australian rugby environment is like because he’s been in it reasonably recently,” Alexanders told The Roar.
“He’s beaten the Lions with the Brumbs and we’ve got the Lions coming, so he knows how that operates, and he’s won the World Cup.
“And with that ’07 World Cup, people forget in 2003 the Springboks were a bit of a mess there. He brought a lot of young guys through in ’04 that were a part of his under-21 side that he won the Junior World Cup with. Four years later, they win the World Cup.
“He did the same here. He came in when the Brumbies were low and he turned us around and the Brumbies have been rock solid ever since.
“Normally when there’s a job position, Jake’s got a track record like Eddie where his name always gets thrown in the hat every time [there’s a job available], but just how Jake turned around the Brumbies so well in those two years, and the Wallabies is an even bigger challenge, I think he’s up for it.”
Where Jones was the master and commander on and off the field for the Wallabies in 2023, White is known to be a less hands on coach on the field and allows his assistants to deliver the vision.
“Jake didn’t do a heap of coaching, he put it together,” Alexander said.
“He runs it like a company and just gets the right people in the right roles. He’s a really good communicator.
“I had a lot of great coaches and learned different things from each one, but just the way Jake put together the system, he got Laurie Fisher back, he got [athletic performance specialist] Dean Benton involved, kept [Stephen] ‘Bernie’ Larkham. It was awesome to be a part of that.”
While the Brumbies didn’t win the competition in 2013, they gave it an almighty shake by knocking over the Bulls in Pretoria before coming up just short against Dave Rennie’s Chiefs in Hamilton a week later.
But after two years in the job, White resigned from the Brumbies abruptly after being left annoyed he had missed out on the Wallabies coaching job.
It’s not the first time he harboured the role, with White due to speak to former RA chief-executive Raelene Castle about taking over from Michael Cheika before the spruiked phone call hook-up was leaked and the line subsequently went cold.
Nonetheless, Alexander says his two most enjoyable years were under White.
“Looking back at my whole career, especially now that I’ve been retired for a while now, my favourite two years were the 2012 and ‘13 Brumbies,” he said.
“He turned us around. In 2011 we were the Real Madrid of Australian rugby [but underachieved]. Within two years, with a really young team, we nearly won the grand final in New Zealand. We won the preliminary final at Loftus Versfeld, we beat the lions, which was the first provincial side to do that in 40 years, and, just thinking back to all the coaches that I had, they were my two favourite years.
“Every day we set foot in the place everyone felt like they were getting better as a player and things just turned around so bloody quickly. That’s something I’ve always looked back on.
“I just felt I got better every single day I stepped into that environment. It wasn’t all Jake. Jake was the one in charge of getting the right people in the right roles.
“Players like training hard if they feel like they’re getting better. But I’ve been in some environments where you just get flogged like Seabiscuit and you feel like you get worse.”
Nor does he think the negative perception of White’s ‘Jake Ball’ is fair.
“I know there’ll be some people go, ‘Oh, Jake Ball and all that garbage’, but my memories, especially in 2012 before Christian Lealiifano broke his leg, that was the best the Brumbies attacked during my time, so I think there’s a bit of misconception around that whole Jake Ball stuff,” he said.
“We scored a tonne of tries and weren’t boring at all. That was when the Brumbies started using the rolling maul and we had a really big emphasis on scrum and set-piece in 2012 and 2013, which allowed us to go and play attacking footy. But then, as a club, we just sort of doubled down on the scrum and maul in the following years and we became a bit predictable.”
But is he a relic of the past?
“That’s what I’ve questioned myself. I thought Eddie coming back was amazing, but it turned out to be an almighty s–t show. Who knows. Maybe he is. That’s why I’m not involved in selecting the coach,” he said.
“But he’s going pretty well. He went and coached the Sharks and they were the first team to beat them in Christchurch in many years. He’s going well at the Bulls. He had some mixed stuff at Montpellier. Maybe my opinion is tainted because I had a really positive experience with him.”
While RA has historically appointed coaches on long-term deals, Alexander said there was no reason White couldn’t coach the Wallabies through until the Lions series before perhaps looking at a local to take over ahead of the World Cup.
“Jake’s great at all the politics as well,” Alexander said.
“I’ll never forget going to Parliament House for a function and Jake had everyone eating out of him hand. He’s quite a charismatic guy. He’s quite funny at times. He could navigate the politics and fix systems. Jake is wily and experienced enough to deal with all this politics and all the peripheral stuff.”
RA won’t rush to name a Wallabies coach, with Jones’ successor to likely be named in the weeks before Super Rugby resumes in late February.