For better or worse; why I will miss Jake

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JAKE White, I will miss you. Sure, we had some battles over the past two years, but I have enormous respect for what he was able to do at the Brumbies, taking the side from its worst performance to the Super Rugby final in the space of two years.

Jake White
Jake White

He turned around the culture of the Brumbies; from a rabble, back to their rightful position as the leading Super Rugby team in Australia. Under Jake players knew their responsibilities and there was little in the way of misbehaviour off the field.

His strength was appointing the right people, putting structures in place, with Laurie Fisher and Steve Larkham doing much of the day-to-day coaching.

I realise we are just small cogs in the wheel, but from a media perspective, he was hard work.

Jake came to the Brumbies from a background of being savaged by the media in South Africa. Everything was scrutinised in the same way AFL is in Melbourne, where sport is more than sport and it infiltrates virtually every aspect of life.

He coached South Africa to the 2007 World Cup. Instead of becoming a long-term Springbok mentor, he became a casualty of politics and was unceremoniously shown the door. The media played its role in his demise and he emerged scarred from the experience.

He had little understanding of the Canberra market with its competing codes and the need to promote the Brumbies. South Africa is a country where rugby is dominant and everything else is a distant second. His view, that he had arrived in another region where rugby dominated, was probably fortified as he walked through the streets of Manuka and watched the “Rugby Club” on Fox.

He gave me the impression from day one that the media, in particular, was not to be trusted; to be given as little information as possible lest it might fall into the wrong hands.

One of Jake’s issues was the filming of the final training session before a game. In the past we were able to film a good 20 minutes, but under Jake’s watch, we were lucky to have the camera rolling for a couple of minutes before being told that was enough.

 The belief that the opposition team was able to interpret moves from a news story with the average shot lasting three seconds is laughable.

The naming of the team seemed to get later and later in the week even though the players were told as early as Monday.

We were often criticised by the public for not running new-player profiles, but it wasn’t through lack of trying. Players we were keen to profile often had media bans slapped on them; prop Dan Palmer’s column in “The Canberra Times” was canned; personality was,  apparently, to be discouraged and the Brumbies supporters were the poorer for it.

From the pulpit of Jake’s rugby world he would often say at media conferences he wanted crowds of 20,000-plus, but failed to understand that the code was in dire need of promotion in Canberra.

There was no free-to-air coverage, people didn’t know the players and rugby was struggling to find an audience.

Many didn’t even know the game was on such was the lack of promotion.

I complained to the Brumbies management, but I got the impression their hands were tied because the team was successful and the players were happy and you don’t mess with a winning formula. It was classic siege mentality; the media on one side and the team on the other.

As for his reasons for leaving, I have been told he wanted to leave when he missed out on the Wallabies job. I have also been told he wants to be a father to his two sons in South Africa and nobody can begrudge him that.

As I have said, Jake White can take plenty of credit for turning around the Brumbies on the field. For that, he should be lauded, but he has left many of us in the media contemplating that it could have been so much better.

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Tim Gavel
Journalist and ABC sports broadcaster

2 COMMENTS

  1. Tim – seriously no promotion of rugby in canberra? You are kidding aren`t you? Your saturday morning grandstand show is either all about rugby or rugby league, you talk about nothing else and the canberra times is full of both league and union. AFL gets a tenth of the coverage!! Please don`t make excuses for poor crowds being solely due to poor promotion of a sport that gets the lion share of coverage thanks to you!!

  2. I agree with anthony. I used to listen to your local grandstand show on the ABC but now I have switched off because of its heavy rugby bias. I seriously can`t believe that you think there is a lack of promotion for the brumbies! If they got the amount of coverage the AFL gets on your show and in the canberra times how much smaller would their crowds be? In saying that the fact both the brumbies and raiders get 10,000 people to each of their games week in week out is not a bad effort especially when you consider the poor scheduling both clubs get. Try playing more games in the afternoons, reduce the ticket prices and crowds may return! Also canberrans are pretty fickle – if the giants, raiders and brumbies start winning consistently crowds will return to manuka and canberra stadium. It is not all gloom and doom.

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