Jake White would consider Wallabies; Test desire as strong as ever

Jake White looks on as Brumbies coach at Canberra Stadium in 2013 Getty Images

Rugby World Cup-winning coach Jake White would consider any opportunity to coach a top-tier contender such as the Wallabies, but he says he can't understand the crisis narrative currently emanating out of Australia.

As Wallabies coach Michael Cheika comes under fire from supporters and critics alike following a fifth loss in seven Tests this year, White continues to follow the Rugby Championship with interest; the former Springboks boss is extremely proud of South Africa's shock win over New Zealand at the weekend.

But it's Australia's slide under Cheika -- they dropped to a record-low ranking of No. 7 this week -- that dominates rugby discussion Down Under, with the conversation bubbling along since Australia suffered back-to-back hammerings to end last year's spring tour. In a recent ESPN poll that received more than 5500 responses, 76 percent of voters were in favour of a coaching change.

And White, who lifted the Webb Ellis Cup as Springboks coach in 2007, is one man whose name has been kicked about as a possible replacement. Speaking exclusively to ESPN, White said he felt for Cheika but also reinforced a desire to coach at Test level once again.

"Obviously, I think that I've always said that coaching one of the top teams in the world is where you get judged," White told ESPN. "Australia is consistently always in the top teams in the world. I must say that obviously the reason I left [in 2013] was it was very, very well documented that the South African way, or style of play, wasn't the way Australia wanted to go. I'm sure things have changed, but that was the reason.

"And to be fair, unless that's become completely different to the way of thinking, it would be highly unlikely [that White would be asked to coach Australia]. But one never knows; stranger things have happened in rugby."

White was previously in the running for the Wallabies job when Robbie Deans was dismissed following the 2-1 series loss to the British & Irish Lions. But with New Zealander Deans being the Wallabies' first international coach, there was a push, as White says, for an Australian to once again assume the role.

Having coached the Brumbies for two seasons, reaching the Super Rugby final in 2013, White packed up and left Australia to return home to South Africa. Almost five years on, having coached in France and now Japan, his desire to coach at Test level hasn't diminished one iota since then-Australian Rugby Union boss Bill Pulver appointed Ewen McKenzie as Deans' Wallabies replacement.

"I think one of things about coaching is, like a player, you want to always measure yourself against the best in the world," White told ESPN. "And you always want to be in the coalface of coaching; there's no secret that I've always said that one of the reasons that I am in coaching is to learn, grow, develop and measure myself against the best.

"And if I look back at the last couple of years of my career; I've been in France, I've been in Australia, I've obviously been in Japan; you often hear players when they go to a new place they talk about growing as a player and learning new things. And I'm hoping that all the lessons I pick up and all the experiences I pick up, and the intellectual property that I get along the way, are going to give me the opportunity to use those at a higher level once the opportunity comes, and hopefully it does."

Cheika is not the only international coach feeling the heat at the moment.

England boss Eddie Jones, a close friend of White, with whom he secured the 2007 Rugby World Cup triumph, is on notice that he will be judged on England's performances from their November Test series. That comes after England finished fifth in this year's Six Nations, with just two wins, and then were beaten 2-1 in South Africa in June.

More recently, current Springboks boss Rassie Erasmus declared that his future depended on South Africa getting a result against New Zealand in Wellington. That's exactly what they did, with the stunning 36-34 victory easing the pressure on Erasmus after losses to Argentina and Australia.

The fickle nature of coaching speculation isn't lost on White, but he is also acutely aware of the nuts and bolts of the international coaching business: The fact that results rule all.

"I think any coach feels for [him], the job's tough enough [without media speculation] and you don't wish that on anybody," White said when asked if he felt for Cheika. "Especially at Test level, the margins are so small. If Rassie had lost last weekend, people would be saying 'Springboks are going nowhere'. And had [Israel] Folau made that pass there at the end, well then everything's not too bad.

"The margins are so small, so you've got to feel for coaches. Again, I s'pose it's the world we operate in and all of us understand that: Results are the most important thing and you've got to get results; that's what brings bums to seats."

Despite that reality, White says he can't quite understand the narrative that Australian rugby is in complete crisis mode. The players are there, he believes -- albeit some are based overseas -- to have Australia contending at next year's World Cup.

"I don't want to have a dig at anyone, but I find it odd that's what's coming out is that there's no talent," White told ESPN when asked if Australia had a problem with coaching development. "I can't believe there's been a player drain out of [Australia] and there's no talent anymore. Three franchises in the last [eight years] have either won the [Super Rugby] tournament or got to the final, and that must tell you something.

"Those players haven't disappeared; maybe one or two of them have retired but it's not like all those players have just given up rugby. [Scott] Fardy's still playing; I'm just thinking names aloud, [Scott] Higginbotham's still playing. There's a lot of players out there still playing.

"So the Reds won it, and it wasn't like they then had a mass exodus to the Brumbies, who then got to the final. There was a different group of players who then got to the final, and then there was a different group of players who then ended up winning it with the Waratahs. I mean there must be something that's positive in the make-up of Australian rugby if you can produce three groups of players who can either win or get to the final of Super Rugby."

White recalls his two years at the Brumbies with fondness, his final game in charge being the 2013 final against the Chiefs. That game, of course, was won by the New Zealanders. Coincidentally, the Kiwis were coached by another man to have his name tossed up as a potential Wallabies option, in Dave Rennie.

It may be that White's coaching experience Down Under, and those who have followed it, help earn him a job with another international rugby contender for the 2023 World Cup. It's where the "romantic" in him sees the perfect conclusion to an already-storied coaching career.

"I enjoyed it [his time in Caanberra]," White said.

"I remember talking to Eddie when I took the job, and he said one of the greatest times he had was coaching the Brumbies.

"I really enjoyed the Brumbies. It was not so much only because they did well; it was also watching them post my tenure end up becoming Wallabies. If you look at that team: Scott Sio became a Wallaby; Stephen Moore became a Wallaby captain. Scott Fardy became a Wallaby; Sam Carter became a Wallaby; Nic White, Matt Toomua, [Tevita] Kuridrani, Henry Speight.

"For me, that was also a part of being a provincial coach, or a coach at that level, is to produce international players. So I got as much enjoyment or pleasure out of watching them develop into international players, and good international players, even post my time in Australia. So it was a great time, it was a really important time in my coaching career as well to actually see how the Brumbies play, and what is important to the Australian way of playing."