Jake White: 'My gut feeling is he is in trouble'
I remember it as if it were yesterday. I looked around Twickenham, and could hear a cacophony of boos, that went straight through me.
It was 2006, and my Springbok side has just beaten Andy Robinson’s England side 25-14, in a similar fashion to the one-sided 27-13 scoreline from last weekend.
The thing is the boos were for Robinson and a week later, after a poor Autumn Series, in which he had lost to Argentina, he was gone.
I thought about that this week when reading about the pressure on Eddie Jones, because the parallels are uncanny.
I know more than anyone that a week is a long time in Test rugby because in 2006, I had been flown home earlier in the Series for a vote of no confidence, ironically from my current employers, the Bulls. They had called into question my leadership of South Africa, so I know how Eddie is feeling right now.
I had been called in front of the SA unions where I had to answer a Q&A. In advance, a call came in from Johann Rupert, South Africa’s richest man. He basically said to me ‘just say you are sorry, don’t argue with them’. What he was saying to me was, ‘don’t fight with them and bite your top lip’.
As my future was discussed, I had more pockets of support. Our main sponsor wrote them a letter and said there was no way they would continue to back the Springboks if I lost my job.
Rupert consequently explained to me what had happened behind-the-scenes. A couple of players had got hold of him and said, ‘you have to help, you have to help Jake and stop him from getting fired’. They told him they still thought I was the right man for the squad.
As history transpires, I stayed on and less than a year later, we won the World Cup.
Fast-forward 16 years, and there’s no doubt the vocal signs of discontent at Twickenham last weekend would have carried right into the boardroom. The decision-makers would have been hearing the same chorus of disapproval as the fans. As the clamour for action grows, they will start to get twitchy about commercial and PR factors. It’s a slippery slope.
Whether or not Eddie survives this, personally, the calls over my suitability for the top job scarred me. If I was ever feeling low, I felt there was a black mark against my name, that I was on trial leading into the World Cup. It was always there, just nagging away at me that the decision makers didn’t want me.
It’s six days since a heavy defeat to South Africa and the mood has changed. The silence has been deafening from the RFU which adds to the swirling conjecture over Eddie’s future being in the balance.
Eddie will have spent this week nervously waiting, crossing his fingers and toes for a positive outcome.
So what will conspire to give Eddie his P45? It’s a combination. If the powers-that-be want you gone, that’s one thing. If the fans boo you that’s another, but ultimately it boils down to the players and whether they think you can motivate them to get up for Test matches, and ultimately challenge for that World Cup. If they’ve given up on you, it becomes very difficult.
This week his go-to-guys were hardly going to throw you under a bus. What else could Ellis Genge do other than back him publicly. Likewise privately, I’m sure Owen Farrell or Maro Itoje, who have had his unequivocal support, will back him but if you ask the guys on the fringes, who aren’t getting picked, you may get another, less positive answer.
What will the waiting game feel like? It’s terrible because as a coach you lose confidence. When you feel the support of your bosses, the power dynamic is simple. It’s for you as the coach to pick or overlook players as you see fit, but when your job is under scrutiny, you are desperately hoping that the players are privately backing you to carry on. It can affect even the most confident of personalities.
If you watch that game from Saturday dispassionately, you can understand the concern. There is no way Eddie’s squad is closer to winning a World Cup than when they lost in Yokohama in 2019. Every knowledgeable rugby fan would agree they’re further away right now and that’s a worry, especially given the Boks had a handful of first-line players absent. The gap between England and potential winners, Ireland, France, New Zealand and South Africa is more of a chasm right now.
Last week I said England were favourites for the World Cup, and nothing has changed. It is still possible. They still have a great draw, they still have great players, and they will huge travelling support but they have ground to make up.
Going back to 2006, I didn’t have formal review, like the one the RFU is currently conducting, it was more an informal conversation with the selection committee over whether I qualified for bonus structure. Things have changed immeasurably. Now it’s far more in-depth. Questions like, ‘is the English game in rude health, are you playing in the right style, are your management team happy and are the squad well-placed to seriously challenge in France next Autumn?’
The one area Eddie has regressed in, and I’ve said it previously, is his inability to retain staff, and according to reports, more key staff seem to be wavering. He seems to be making the same mistakes wherever he’s gone. It points to indecision or maybe an inflexibility.
Also, having had 180 players in camp over the last seven years can be seen as a strength, but can also be construed that you haven’t made up your mind what your best team is. Time is running out on that front.
In my view, all the best teams stick with a core group. As management you think, this is the team I’m sticking with and I hope to hell they will go the distance and win the damn thing. Rassie is largely sticking to the blueprint to do it twice, but with England, I see muddled thinking. England are caught between two stools.
I remember the last rites being called on the Test careers of the Vunipola brothers, and experienced guys like Jamie George and Elliot Daly who were out in the cold but three of them are back in. It’s mixed messaging.
Clive Woodward, as ever, has been strident in his criticism. He has called out the lack of transparency in the review process. The fact the names are anonymous but you can understand the RFU’s conundrum, because who has the qualifications to review a guy like Eddie? Not many people can confidently pass judgement on him because of the experience he has. If you’re going to tell him how to coach, you’d better be clear in your thought processes because he’s been around for a long time. He’s coached in many different countries with many different teams and in many different competitions. Who has the gravitas and credentials to say, ‘what you’re doing is not right’.
Either way, I think Eddie will find out soon. The RFU need to make a decision. My gut feeling is he is in trouble. If the World Cup wasn’t less than a year away, he’d be gone. That is a fact. If the World Cup was two years away, he’d be out of there. If the board don’t act and England have a poor Six Nations, they will come under serious fire for not acting earlier. The voices for change are becoming louder and louder.
Join free and tell us what you really think!Join Free