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The Doc’s wisdom

Jake White

I was asked, recently, what the impact of COVID-19 will be on the game – domestically and globally.

It made me think about Newton, who once said: ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’. 

I was asked, recently, what the impact of COVID-19 will be on the game – domestically and globally.

It made me think about Newton, who once said: ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’. 

The other thing I remembered, is what Doc Danie Craven said, which is that ‘rugby will be destroyed by money’.

There are a lot of discussions, worldwide, about how we should react to this pandemic. How do we deal with this? 

There is all this talk about a global game and salary cuts.

Those two things – the reaction to the pandemic and what Doc Craven said – resonates with me, when I think about this.

Let me explain. 

In these testing times, players who have been playing overseas have realised it is not so great that they are away from their families and on the other side of the world.

Some realised maybe it is better to come home and play in an environment where you can control what is around you.

For every action – in this case the COVID-19 factor – there is an opposite reaction.

The other aspect is there is this discussion around what is important in rugby and plenty of talk about the changes everyone wants to implement.

Just looking at the domestic scene.

There is strong support to play an extended Currie Cup competition – on a home-and-away basis. Very much like the ‘old school’ Currie Cup.

When I grew up there was no international rugby, due to isolation. The Currie Cup was very much the jewel in the crown for South Africans.

There was plenty of prestige attached to winning the Currie Cup or playing in a Currie Cup final.

Danie Craven
Danie ‘Doc’ Craven in 1969 (Photo by David Cairns/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

It is generally accepted that in recent years we have lost much of that prestige and the Currie Cup competition has been watered down through circumstances.

That brings me to Doc Craven’s statement, that money will kill the game.

Players have gone overseas, and we lost countless players to teams abroad. 

If you look at Petone in New Zealand, a club with a storied history that dates back to 1885, Villagers (the second oldest club in SA, established in 1876) and the other old school clubs – you played there, because your dad played there, your dad played there because his dad played there.

Everyone grew up in that club. The clubs were places of social gatherings for families. Doc Craven was terrified of rugby losing that ethos.

Doc’s fear was we would lose those old school values, norms, and principles in the game.

When money came in guys left Villagers to go play at Hamiltons. Guys left Petone to go play at a rival club. 

I am using those as examples, but there are clubs like that all over. Players would have left Diggers to go play for Alberton, which was unheard of.

Doc’s fear was we would lose those old school values, norms, and principles in the game.

I am going the full circle now. Maybe COVID-19 has taught us what we enjoy about the game, players saying: ‘Maybe the money is not that important.’

Some players were stuck on the other side of the world and could not get back to their families. Players who were supposedly getting good salaries had their salaries cut.

This has been a bit of a reaction to the COVID-19 situation.

Maybe we will get back some of those old school values that guys like Doc Craven so treasured. 

Also, there are no longer Under-21 and Under-19 age groups. It is now Under-20, with an Under-20 World Cup.

Jake White
Jake White espouses old-school rugby values (PASCAL GUYOT/AFP via Getty Images)

Your school system becomes very important. Out of school you get a junior contract or play Under-20 rugby.

Those players coming out of the Under-20 system, most of them, are going to be too young to play senior rugby – especially the tight forwards.

As a result, club rugby will have to improve and be stronger. 

It will be just as it was in the old days – guys staying at their clubs, guys staying at their union for a long time. Money was not important. It was more the camaraderie, what happened in the change room, stories of some great players playing together.

I know, I am old school. However, if you speak to the older generation, they speak about the guys they played with, the rugby memories they made – whether it was the Tygerberg, whether it was second XV at UCT, whether it was Maties, whether it was the club’s ‘fish-&-chips’ team or winning teams that won club championships.

Those are the memories players treasure.

When I watched all the interviews during lockdown, while there was no rugby, people were reminiscing about the past.

For me it has been quite refreshing to see those things, reminisce a bit and remember those things. They have been highlighted because of the situation we find ourselves in.

As a dreamer and a person who really loves rugby, who understands all those old school values, I hope that the reaction to COVID-19 will be a positive one. 

There was no live sport, as people cannot travel. They are not sure when the next big tournament is. Not sure when internationals will take place.

That is not just for us in South Africa. That is for everybody.

When I watch the New Zealand teams play in Super Rugby Aotearoa – 43 000 packing out Eden Park in Auckland and a sell-out crowd in Christchurch. When last did Eden Park have 43,000 spectators for a domestic game? 

Eden Park
It was so pleasing to see the crowds back in New Zealand (Photo by Dave Rowland/Getty Images)

As a dreamer and a person who really loves rugby, who understands all those old school values, I hope that the reaction to COVID-19 will be a positive one. 

Hopefully, the reaction will see stadiums full again, hopefully it sees the Currie Cup being strong and people wanting to watch derby games in their own countries. 

Hopefully, it entices players to stay where they want to stay, as opposed to going for money – which Doc Craven always said was going to kill our game.

I can speak as somebody who is the director of rugby at a union. The sales-pitch to get the players back is much easier than it was a year ago. 

He anticipated people moving from club to club, province to province and country to country – based on the finances they could get, as opposed to what the game meant.

I can speak as somebody who is the director of rugby at a union. The sales-pitch to get the players back is much easier than it was a year ago. 

To get an Arno Botha back, who was at Munster and genuinely wants to play for the Springboks again, is really refreshing. 

Then there is Nizaam Carr, who wants to come back and play provincial rugby in South Africa, having earned British pounds. There is a guy like Pieter-Steph du Toit, who decided not to move abroad and wants to stay at Western Province.

It is certainly not just an issue at the Bulls. 

Pieter-Steph du Toit
Pieter-Steph du Toit is staying put in South Africa (Photo by Carl Fourie/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

I also see that happening in New Zealand – players recommitting to New Zealand and returning to New Zealand from abroad – like Dan Carter, Adam Thomson, Aaron Cruden, etc. 

There are guys like Blues loose forward Hoskins Sotutu extending his stay.

It is not just in South Africa; it is a worldwide trend.

In the Premiership, players are being offered longer contracts, because they had to take salary cuts. Those guys now must recommit to the clubs for a long period. 

While some people might frown upon that, that is exactly how it was – you stayed at your club, you never left it.

If you were a Leicester Tigers man you were a Leicester Tigers man. If you were a Villagers man, you were a Villagers man. If you were a Petone player, you became a Petone Old Boy and stayed at the club.

Then there is the wonderful decision by Carter to go play at his childhood club, Southbridge, where his dad used to coach. That is a fantastic gesture.

Some things have happened, because of COVID-19, that are refreshing, and I hope it does not fall off again and that is a catalyst for return to those old school values.

I understand the professional game, I understand there is money. I understand that more than anybody – having coached in Australia, France and Japan, as well as two provinces in South Africa.

I love those old school values and they are close to my heart.

You can sell what was important when you sell the amateur game to people. 

I understand the professional game, I understand there is money. I understand that more than anybody – having coached in Australia, France and Japan, as well as two provinces in South Africa.

I understand you cannot always get those values, but what I am hoping is that there is a reboot coming out of this lockdown – which I think is important.

The other aspect is that we probably took international rugby for granted. We had four international matches most weekends. 

Now we long to watch a test match again. 

South Africa are currently world champions and this team has not had a chance to play. It is hopefully going to be such a massive thing when they run out again.

Springboks win World Cup
South African fans can’t wait to watch the Springboks (Photo by ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images)

The challenge is that we must not lose that expectation, that excitement for the national team. 

We must remember these times now to ensure we do not fall into the same trap as we did when we took international rugby for granted.

It is likely anything. Once you do not have it anymore, you appreciate it.

COVID-19 has given everybody a chance to reboot. 

We need to reset to all those things that were important and those things we neglected.

Maybe now the fans will also appreciate the fact that they can just go to a game and do not need all the sideshows for entertainment.

That was always the reason we went to stadiums – for the rugby, not the sideshows – to watch the Under-20 teams, the Rooibokke and the main match.

Hopefully COVID-19 makes us think about the real reasons we go to stadiums, to watch the players play.

Hopefully when we get going again our appetites will be refreshed.