If it doesn’t hurt, it’s not a sacrifice. Jake White has always believed this. And this season has hurt. It’s hurt one of the most successful coaches in the history of rugby and his Vodacom Bulls team. And that hurt has White and his team exactly where he wants them as they approach the Vodacom United Rugby Championship quarterfinal against the DHL Stormers in Cape Town this weekend.
Hurt and dark places on a rugby field force questions, and now White believes the Vodacom Bulls have some answers for themselves.
As White himself has battled through physical health issues and his team has had their own backs against the wall as they fought to make these playoffs, he believes the valuable lessons this group has learned shouldn’t be ignored.
“I’ve always known that this group of players has got something. What they’ve achieved in a very small space of time is remarkable. I mean, they won every tournament they played in, and if they didn’t they were in finals. That’s phenomenal. I knew this group has got it. But I also know that sport is about resilience and going through the difficult times,” says White.
“It’s been a heck of a tough run for all of us. If I look to the back end of last season, I contracted Shingles. Then I fell off my bicycle and broke my collarbone, then I was in hospital with a life-threatening issue with my stomach. The last year has been very trying in terms of me being able to give 100% because of my health. It’s been a test.
“I’ve been coaching for 41 years and that was probably the toughest block I’ve even been through. I can’t remember being under so much pressure performance wise. I’m not talking about pressure from the media or the owners or fans and so on. That’s part and parcel of the job. I’m talking about actual pressure performance wise. We just couldn’t find that last pass, and the problem was never the same thing. We just couldn’t seem to put all the pieces together every single week.”
For that reason, White says he committed himself even more to every aspect of the team across every competition.
“I felt that during my illness I was so distant from the group that I had to show them I was there for them all of the time. I missed my connection to the group. I had to show that I was fully in. We often speak about what commitment means, and it’s about being fully in as a group.
“When you make a sacrifice to a team it’s got to hurt, otherwise it’s not a sacrifice.”