DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA – APRIL 24: Jake White, Director of Rugby of the Sharks during the Sharks captain’s run at Growthpoint Kings Park on April 24, 2014 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images) Photo: Gallo ImagesFormer ACT Brumbies coach Jake White says he has no regrets about quitting the club last year, adding the timing of his departure was “win-win” and has been vindicated by the Canberra team’s ongoing success this year.
White is back in Australia preparing to lead the Durban Sharks on a four-game Australia-New Zealand tour, which includes a potential top-of-the-table blockbuster against the Brumbies in Canberra on May 10.
White’s abrupt departure last year, two years into a four-year deal, shocked Brumbies players and fans.
The South African mentor hoped he wouldn’t be subjected to a backlash from Canberra supporters, the Brumbies toying with plans to encourage fans to wear white to the game as part of a “White-out”.
But with the Sharks and Brumbies first and second respectively on the Super Rugby ladder, White felt both camps had benefited.
“I genuinely thought it was a win-win situation for everybody,” White said of his departure from the Brumbies. “In a lot of ways that has been vindicated now by the way the Brumbies have continued their success.
“From the bottom of my heart I believe the Brumbies are in a great place. [Leaving] was never done with any bad intent.
“[New coach] Stephen Larkham is doing a great job … I really believe everything I set out to do [at the Brumbies] is coming to fruition.
“I can’t emphasise how much I loved my time in Canberra, it was one of the highlights of my coaching career. I don’t have any regrets. It would be sad for me if I arrive and it leaves a bitter taste.”
White said the changing landscape of Australian sport was part of his decision to return to South Africa.
He was in contention to coach the Wallabies when Robbie Deans was sacked, but the ARU opted for Ewen McKenzie. ARU chief executive Bill Pulver had admitted one of McKenzie’s key advantages was coaching to “play the Australian way”.
“When I arrived in Canberra there were three foreign coaches in charge of national soccer, cricket and rugby union teams and the ARU always made clear there would be opportunities,” White said.
“That landscape changed, there was no reason and it’s not right or wrong. But it had a significant impact on whether I wanted to stay miles and miles away from my family.
“I want to coach internationally and anywhere in the world but you need opportunity. I would have loved to have finished my contract [at the Brumbies] but I really believe it was the right decision, despite how difficult it was.
“[In 2011] the Brumbies fired a coach [Andy Friend] two games into the season. For me, clubs can’t have their cake and eat it.”
White rebuilt the Brumbies when he started as coach in 2012, beginning with just three Australian Wallabies players on his roster. That has grown to 15.
The Brumbies narrowly missed the finals in his first season before charging to the grand final last year, losing to the Waikato Chiefs.
White hopes his knowledge of Australian rugby will help the Sharks to become the first South African team to win abroad this season, playing the Melbourne Rebels on Friday night.
The Brumbies fly to Christchurch to play the Canterbury Crusaders on Saturday, aiming to break a 14-year drought against the Crusaders in New Zealand.
The Sharks are basing themselves in Sydney during the two-week tour. White will only bring his team to Canberra on the eve of the May 10 match against the Brumbies.
“When is the right time to leave? I did what I thought was the right thing. If there are people that aren’t happy, I understand that. You can never make everybody happy.
“It’s easy to look back in hindsight … I know in my heart there was a decision that had to be made. Whether it suited the Brumbies, probably not.
“Coaches leave clubs, it happens. [NRL coach] Des Hasler left Manly. Ricky Stuart is now coaching Canberra. Timing is never easy, it’s about understanding where you want to be and where you want to go.”
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