Mike Greenaways take on Jake White and the Sharks

There are rumours of Jake White returning to the Sharks next year following his shock resignation from the Brumbies. Very premature rumours but even if they come to nought it nevertheless pricks the memories of us scribes who were doing Sharks duty back in 2000.

Few people recall it, but White was in fact the Sharks assistant coach to the unfortunate Hugh Reece-Edwards in 2000, a watershed year in Sharks rugby history.

I say “unfortunate” because Reece-Edwards was on a hiding to nothing. He had no price in immediately making a new team of “mercenaries” a winning brand in the white-hot cauldron of Super Rugby.

A few months before, the last vestiges of the famous Sharks team of the ‘90s had retired after a catastrophic Currie Cup final in Durban when a young Lions team, coached by former All Blacks boss Laurie Mains, poured sleets of rain on the Sharks’ parade.

AJ Venter was the Man of the Match for the Lions in an emotional final that said farewell to legendary Natal mentor Ian McIntosh and forever components of Sharks folklore in Gary Teichmann, Henry Honiball and Andre Joubert.

The Sharks got pumped in that game, sadly, and the next season there was almost a brand new squad, although it should be pointed out that many of Mac’s Men had been slowly put to pasture in the previous two or three years.

And there was a new coach in Reece-Edwards, arguably the greatest player ever produced by the province given that the Northlands Old Boy (now Northwood) played 170 games for Natal in the amateur era, when there was no Super Rugby and only a tight Currie Cup competition featuring the top six teams, pretty much as it is today. Reece was fullback for Natal for well over a decade.

He became Mac’s assistant coach and then the head coach, with a young Jake backing him up, but in truth no coaches under the sun could have made that new squad work.

For Reece and Jake it was sheer bad timing, and it is hard to blame the Sharks’ administration given that so many star players retired en masse in a relatively short space of time.

There was the head-strong Venter, famously extricated from his Lions contract on the flimsy premise that he could train better on the dunes of Durban’s beaches, there was a flood of Griquas imports headed by the new golden boy of South African rugby, Gaffie du Toit, and there was a thin white line of Natal stalwarts in the form of captain Wayne Fyvie, John Slade, Pieter Muller and the infamous duo of Ollie le Roux and Chris Rossouw.

I was with the Sharks on their tour that year to New Zealand and Australia. What a dog show! I have never felt so sorry for a coach and captain. Reece and Fyvie are among my favourite Sharks players of all time, and that tour they spent most of their time battling internal feuds or extricating knives from their backs.

Current Sharks CEO John Smit was a youngster on tour, as was another “super” Shark in Craig Davidson, the courageous scrumhalf that had to retire prematurely because of concussion issues because he too literally took to heart the order “to put your body on the line”.

Ollie and Chris took it upon themselves to instruct youngsters such as the aforementioned to “show respect”, instead of working towards earning it. And there was the Griquas imports looking like fish out of water although Philip Smit did his best to be the clown of the show.

I recall Venter coming off the field after the team had been pumped by the Brumbies by 30 points and throwing his hands in the air and proclaiming: “How can you win if there is f…king game plan!”

Don’t get me wrong, Venter grew up to become another great Shark, but he had a wicked temper…

Later in the tour, I interviewed Gaffie after a hiding in Wellington, and blow me down if he didn’t have a minor nervous breakdown. “I can’t do it this,” he said. “I am not taking it to the gain line any more. I would rather move to fullback.”

And so he did. And in the middle was poor old Reece … but Jake was not idle at this time and senior Sharks of that era allege that he worked behind the scenes to end the careers of Fyvie and Slade. It is hard to prove whether this is true or not but Fyvie did not play beyond that season and that was a pity. If you bump into him today, you will see the scars he incurred in courageous service for his province.

At that time, the nick name for the future Springbok coach was “Jake the Snake”, but 13 years later it is impossible to determine whether or not this was warranted. And, of course, Jake went onto great things after that traumatic season with the Sharks.

If he indeed comes back, let’s hope that he has a very different experience in Durban.

by Mike Greenaway

About Martin Myers
Music Supervisor / Artist and Talent Manager / Publicist / Music Exchange Founder / Owner Triple M Entertainment

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