>Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of The People, looks at the latest shenanigans down under in Wallaby land where it is definitely not now going to be a White Christmas and asks the now regular question about Leicester.
Some things come around as regularly as clockwork. The annoying Christmas songs in the supermarket before November has gone, mentions of Brexit as soon as you turn the radio on in the morning and massive hikes in train prices. Don’t get us started on Black Friday, Cyber Monday or all the rest of those cobblers made up days but they all come round every year.
And Jake White putting his hat in the ring for an international coaching job is another hardy perennial. You could set your watch by it and if he ever rings your office you had better start looking over your shoulder.
White, who coached South Africa to their World Cup win in 2007, reportedly contacted Rugby Australia to ask them for a ‘chat’ recently on the back of run of bad results for the Wallabies. Quite what had to do with him is anyone’s guess.
The little chinwag with the Aussies got called off when the press down under got wind of it but Michael Cheika, the current Aussie coach, is probably not amused.
He was not amused at the end of the southern hemisphere campaign which ended with the Wallabies worse season in 60 years, which ended in a 37-18 defeat to England, and he is probably less than impressed now.
“Jake White approached Rugby Australia and asked to have a conversation,” said a Rugby Australia spokesperson. “Rugby Australia did not approach him but agreed to speak with him but have decided not to proceed with the call.”
White, a South African, is currently coaching in Japan, with Toyota Verblitz, but has always fancied another crack at an international job so he, or his people, got on the blower.
However you might think he could have been a bit more subtle. He might not have made to the 2007 tournament in France with the Boks because his job was on the line in 2006 until a third party intervention.
Eddie Jones gave us the inside track on that caper before the autumn internationals. You will remember that Jones was drafted in as a consultant for the Springboks prior to the 2007 World Cup and we all know what happened next.
But in 2006 White was bang up against it and could have been out of the door so he must surely have some sympathy when he goes to a governing body asking if he can help out when there is a bloke in a job already. If the reports are correct, and there is no reason to think they are not, then it does not smell great. White has been under the cosh himself before.
In 2006, the South Africans ended the year with a record of 12 Tests played and five won. Crucially after they had been beaten 23-21 by England at Twickenham White was summoned home to save his job. He returned for the second game at Twickenham and South Africa won 25-14 and the rest is history.
“Look at the 2007 South African World Cup team,” Jones recalled. “In 2006 Jake White’s on the European tour, they’re getting pumped every game. Gets the phone call ‘come home’ so he goes home, he’s told he’s going to be sacked, he’s out there like the schoolboy outside the principal’s office. Anyway a certain bloke with a lot of money sends a fax to the SARU office saying ‘you sack him you lose all your sponsorship’ so Jake gets a reprieve.
“So 2007 Tri Nations, how many did they win? – one of the first four. Go to the World Cup and what happens? 36-0 first game against England. They didn’t look back.”
White, 54, knows a bit about the game having coached the Springboks, the Brumbies, the Sharks, Montpellier and helped out Tonga. No one can criticise ambition but every time a job comes up his name is put in the frame.
White has shown interest in posts with England, Wales and Australia over the years before this latest episode and once told us, on the pitch at the Stoop in 2015 when he was at Montpellier, he could win a World Cup with the English. As us tabloid hacks put it when reporting transfer stories it was the ‘ultimate come and get me’ plea.
White has done decent jobs before – notably during that triumph in France 11 years ago when he was up against all sorts of political pressures and got it over the line. Albeit with a group of players who would hold every trophy they possibly could by 2009 when he was long gone but his old squad have affection for his training methods.
Victor Matfield, the brilliant former South African lock, recalls: “What he brought was structure. We didn’t have that before 2004 and he was innovative. Every day there was something new – Sheryll Calder for the eye training and then Eddie Jones. There was always something new and he was very astute.” So White knows his onions.
But there is more to the saga of the sage from South Africa bubbling down under.
Ben Whitaker, the high performance boss of Rugby Australia, met with Scott Johnson, who is now Scotland’s director of rugby over here on the recent tour. Johnson, another Aussie, is reported to have said he would fly back to Oz tomorrow if he got a similar role with the Wallabies but was not interested in the head coach’s post. White would probably be on the plane with him if he could be.
As it stands Cheika is probably safe, although there is a Rugby Australia board meeting next week, as it would cost a few Aussie dollars to get shot of him and the RA coffers are not exactly overflowing. It is also only a year to the next World Cup.
That did not stop the Wallabies getting rid of Ewen McKenzie in 2014 but the circumstances were a bit different from losing a few games of rugby. The Australians gave Cheika the gig then and got to the World Cup final, he ended up World Rugby Coach of the Year, so we wouldn’t be ruling them out totally in Japan next year.
White is not currently scheduled to be involved in that global gathering but you would not bet against him being there in some capacity. And the way the Premiership is going there might be a few directors of rugby looking over their shoulders dreading the club office phone ringing.
Every so often in this column, well since Richard Cockerill was shown the Welford Road door in January 2017, we have wondered what hell is going on at Leicester.
It has been a few months since the last one……so, what the hell is going on at Leicester?
Training, environment, recruitment, finances – who really knows? But something is happening to what some people still refer to as England’s biggest club despite the fact they have not won a European Cup since 2002 or a Premiership since 2013. They might pull a few punters in on a game day but the natives are getting restless and they can’t count on that loyalty forever.
Since the glory days of Cockers’ Tuesday morning press conferences the Tigers have lost Aaron Mauger and Matt O’Connor as head coaches and now have Geordan Murphy in place.
Murphy, although he is Irish, is a dyed-in-the-wool Tiger having been there since he was a teenager, as player and coach, and he knows when everything is turning to the proverbial.
And the proverbial hit the fan at Bristol on Saturday when Leicester lost 41-10 to the Premiership newcomers – and the hosts were value for a bigger win than that.
This against a Tigers backline that contained George Ford, Ben Youngs, Jonny May, Manu Tuilagi, Kyle Eastmond and Jonah Holmes plus they had Matt Toomua on the bench. Something is rotten at Welford.
The Leicester fans are chuntering about the upstairs staff, and no wonder, but at least Murphy, courtesy of an official club Twitter account fronted up.
“Nobody is more embarrassed than I am,” Murphy said.
“An absolutely appalling performance. We are devastated. It’s one of those things, we probably won’t speak until next Friday. I’ve asked the boys not to do any media. I know it’s going to be absolutely brutal for our fans to take. I hope they stay with us. We are in a bit of a hole and we just have to keep digging until we get out of it.”
No wonder Murphy is spitting and fair play to him for spitting publicly. Leicester are three points off the bottom of the Premiership and to make things worse Harry Thacker, their former hooker, scored two of Bristol’s tries at Ashton Gate at the weekend.
After losing to Ulster and beating Scarlets in the first two rounds of the Champions Cup, Leicester now have a double header against Racing 92 starting in Paris on Sunday.
Lose both of them and it will be more than two heads the Leicester fans will be after.