Adaptation: White says team that adapts best to adversity will prosper at Rugby World Cup
Adaptability and tactical fluidity in relation to setbacks is paramount when it comes to winning a Rugby World Cup, says Jake White, who won the title with the Springboks in 2007.
The coach who guided the Springboks to their second World Cup hardware in 2007, Jake White, believes the team that adapts the best to inevitable setbacks will win the tournament.
The quarterfinals of the France 2023 edition will include two blockbuster clashes that would make for a riveting final encounter on any other day.
First, Ireland will aim to down New Zealand on Saturday night, before South Africa and the on-song French fight for a place in the semifinals.
In the other quarterfinals it will be Wales against Argentina and England taking on a Fiji outfit that has punched above its weight at this tournament.
Who will win?
White – who also spent just under three years in France coaching Montpellier between 2014 and 2017 – was reluctant to put his head on the block and call an outright victor from each of the two headline quarterfinal clashes.
Instead, during a Daily Maverick webinar conversation with this publication’s sports editor, Craig Ray, on Monday evening, the Bulls’ director of rugby said the team that is as fluid as water for the remainder of the tournament will win the whole thing.
“[What it takes to win a World Cup is] very simple. It’s the ability to adapt to things that are thrown your way,” said White, who has coached the Brumbies and the Sharks and served as a technical adviser for Tonga.
“Everyone has a plan. But things happen… There has to be a collective buy-in and clear guidance. In the next three weeks, things are going to happen where the ‘best teams’ are going to be the ones that adapt [to those setbacks],” White shared.
“Planning is paramount. Keeping your group fresh is paramount. But the ability to adapt and the ability to understand things you can’t control… That is the secret to any of the teams that might win this year’s World Cup, and the teams that have won in the past.”
Of course, the Springboks’ ability to think on their feet and leap away from predators like their antelope namesake has already been tested in France.
The have lost one of their leaders in hooker Malcolm Marx at the World Cup, as well as a great replacement option in the form of the wily Makazole Mapimpi on the wing.
In what may yet prove to be a stroke of genius from Jacques Nienebar and Rassie Erasmus, the Boks have recalled Handré Pollard and Lukhanyo Am to replace the two major losses.
Pollard and Am – who were left out of the initial group travelling to France due to injury – have been vital cogs for the Boks over the past few years.
Which means that even though the loss of Marx and Mapimpi would have disrupted the Boks, the addition of the two influential stars will do little to take away from the quality of the sensational South Africans. This is despite the duo’s fitness levels being under the microscope owing to their pre-World Cup injuries.
If Dupont runs out in a mask, the French crowd is going to go berserk. Just the fact that he is there adds immense value to everyone in his team.
“It’s a blessing that they’ve got two strings to their bow. They are very different players. Pollard and Manie Libbok,” said White on the race for the crucial No 10 jersey ahead of the crunch tie.
“Having Am there as a World Cup winner, plus he is a centre who on his day is the best player in his position, is also a bonus,” he added.
In his experience, in terms of selection, White said it’s about sticking to your decisions as a coach. If they work, you are a genius. If they don’t, you are the worst coach in the world.
The Springboks might have to contend with the impressive rugby brain of French captain Antoine Dupont on Sunday.
The talisman suffered a facial injury that threatened to rule him out of the tournament. However, he has recovered and will be ready to rumble when needed in the enthralling encounter.
“If Dupont runs out in a mask, the French crowd is going to go berserk. Just the fact that he is there adds immense value to everyone in his team,” said White about Dupont’s influence on the French.
“He’s clever enough not to get involved in things that he does not have to get involved in… It’s immeasurable the value he will add to the group… He’s a phenomenal rugby player.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Rugby World Cup 2023
The contest – just like Ireland against New Zealand – looks set to be a memorable tussle.
It will also be the first World Cup match between the Boks and Les Bleus since the 1995 edition, which the South Africans edged 19-15 on home soil at the semifinal stage.
Most recently, France and the Boks met in November 2022 when the French fought for a narrow 30-26 win. DM