Watson ‘not an issue’ for White

Springbok coach Jake White insisted on Monday that the Luke Watson saga had had no influence on the Springbok squad, despite renewed reports of political undertones and presidential interference in national team selections.

The Boks are currently at their base in Bloemfontein, preparing for the two-match Test series against England – the first encounter being in Bloemfontein on Saturday, May 26, and the second in Pretoria a week later.

Despite reports on Monday of more personal attacks by both South African Rugby Union (SARU) president Oregan Hoskins and his deputy Mike Stofile on the Bok coach, White insisted that his focus was neither on the Watson saga, not the political agendas behind it.

“It’s not a question as to how Luke Watson fits in, it’s more important that we’re coming out of a positive Super 14 and all that energy is focused there now,” White told the South African Press Association (SAPA).

White said the talk and body language from the players in the squad were that of a positive vibe.

“The whole energy level for me is based on England, there is a World Cup, and there has been a lot of work put in by the management staff.”

The inclusion of the Western Province and Stormers captain, Watson, managed to overshadow the build-up to the first ever all-South African Super 14 Final – between the Sharks and Bulls in Durban – this past weekend.

White said he did not think anybody was focusing on “just one person”, as the focus was not only England this coming weekend, but the World Cup.

The Bok squad, reduced from 46 to 38 on Sunday, had their first practice session for the coming England tests in bitterly cold weather at the Grey College rugby field in Bloemfontein on Monday.

While White tried to put a positive spin on the Boks’ build-up, it was obvious that behind the scenes his enemies are continuing to sharpen the knifes for him.

There has even been hints that they are looking for reasons to oust him before the World Cup.

The SARU president, Hoskins, accused White of having a “belligerent” attitude.

In another personal attack on the Bok coach Hoskins said, in an interview with the Cape Argus newspaper, that White was regarding the Springboks as his own personal team.

Hoskins said in a radio interview last week that he was prepared to fire White and his two selectors, Peter Jooste and Ian McIntosh, if they don’t toe the line.

This followed the decision by Hoskins, Stofile and vice-president Koos Basson to force White to include Watson in the national team – despite strong protestations by the coach.

At the same time Stofile launched another scathing attack on White, following reports of an agreement in which White will play Watson in one of South Africa’s next three test matches – two against England and the third against Samoa – as well as in one Tri-Nations test.

This would have allowed White to select his strongest possible team for the two tests against England, while then fielding an experimental selection against Samoa.

But Stofile told Die Burger newspaper that he would not tolerate such an agreement.

“We are Jake White’s employers. He is not SA Rugby’s employer. Jake must do his work on our terms. If he does not accept SA Rugby’s terms, he should take his things and go.”

Hoskins has denied that such an agreement exists, but that didn’t stop Stofile from launching a verbal assault on the Bok coach.

The SARU president, Hoskins, admitted that he had a meeting with the national selectors (including White) in Durban at the weekend and described the get-together as “very positive”.

But he was reluctant to divulge the details of what was discussed.

“It is not in the interest of South African rugby to disclose details of the meeting to the news media,” Hoskins told Die Burger.


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