Don’t pick a fight with Jake White—that is the lesson that Waratahs coach Michael Cheika should have learned from the 10-32 loss to the Sharks in Durban on the weekend.
In a sense, White told Cheika this after the match.
Few coaches have out-thought White—or out-talked him.
Even the World Cup winning NZ coach Sir Graham Henry had to watch White take the 2007 Cup, which most people felt would go to the All Blacks.
France knocked NZ out of that Cup—but White won it with his South African side.
After Saturday’s lop-sided Sharks clash, Cheika said: “It was a tight game in many aspects …”
White responded sarcastically, saying: “Whatever Michael Cheika says, we believe. Don’t we?”
He thanked Cheika for his tough stance leading up to the match.
White said there was “a lot of talk” of the Waratahs going “toe-to-toe” with the Sharks.
The brutal boxing metaphor was a challenge—and South Africans never step back from a challenge.
“I suppose I should thank Mike,” White said. “I just put it [his comments] on the board.”
White had another snipe at Cheika when commenting on the 19 to 9 penalty count against the Waratahs.
“I just want to see if our coaches’ box is still alright,” White said. “Hopefully it’s not too damaged.”
He was referring to Cheika breaking a AU$700 (HK$5000) glass door in frustration during a loss to the Brumbies last month.
Though well beaten, the Waratahs were courageous against the Sharks. But their aggression failed to intimidate the Sharks—it just annoyed them.
Mid-match, Sharks captain Bismark du Plesis said this to referee Mike Fraser: “They keep hitting us and we’re not going to take it.”
Referee Fraser said: “Don’t take the law into your own hands.”
Du Plesis iterated: “They are hitting us and we’re not going to take it.”
While the Waratahs were overly abrasive, the Sharks played with controlled, but bristling aggression, which was matched by their discipline.
That aggression may have been unleashed on the Waratahs if not for the intercession of one South African player – that being lock Jacques Potgieter, who is playing for the Waratahs this season.
He constantly subdued his team-mates as they clashed with Sharks players.
In the end, the Waratah harping led to captain Dave Dennis being sent to the sin bin for an innocuous push.
Meanwhile, in Pretoria, the Bulls were ahead by 16 points against the Chiefs, with 10 minutes remaining. Suddenly the miss-firing Chiefs burst into dazzling life, scoring three trys to draw the match 34-all.
Each side took two points for the draw, but the Chiefs received a bonus point for scoring five trys, so technically at least, the defending champions won.
Bulls captain Victor Matfield concurred, saying the draw “feels like a loss”.
The real heroes of the weekend, though, were the written-off Melbourne Rebels. They were down 3-10 against the top Australian side the Brumbies at half-time and seemed certain to lose.
The Rebels played the second half like seasoned champions, out-performing the Brumbies in all aspects of play, including accuracy, intensity and aggression. The Rebels won 32-24.
Unlike the Waratahs, the Rebels let their actions do the talking.
Rebels captain Scott Higginbotham summed-up the approach, saying: “It’s what we have been talking about doing all week; you’ve got to be physical against these blokes and it was good to see it come off.”
Fullback Jason Woodward scored 27 points, a record for the Rebels.
Brumbies captain Ben Mowen praised the Rebels for their ability to control play, saying they “well and truly” exposed “flat spots in our game”.