As a coaching visionary, Chalkie White rewrote the manual and set Leicester Tigers on the way to national success. Now he is to be celebrated as an inaugural member of the club’s Hall of Fame.
White played almost 150 games as a Tigers scrum-half from 1957, but his lasting legacy came after taking over as coach, leading the club to a Cup hat-trick when it was the only trophy available and putting in place the standards and expectations on which the club would build for years to come.
“Generally regarded as the best coach England never had,” says the Tigers History Book of the force behind a team which irrevocably put the club on the map in the late 1970s.
The players who formed a backbone of the team which became the Cup Kings of England before the advent of league competition – men like Peter Wheeler, Dusty Hare, Les Cusworth and Dosser Smith – are unstinting in their praise of the man who did so much to shape their careers.
As former skipper Wheeler recalled: “One of his sayings has almost passed into rugby legend: ‘Let others tell you how good you are, I will tell you how to be better’.”
Wheeler, captain of the teams which secured a remarkable Twickenham hat-trick, wrote in his 1983 autobiography: “Many people deserve a share of the credit for what the club has done, the lion’s share must go to Chalkie. His influence was cast not only on the team but on players as individuals.
“He loves the game as an art form, for the potential any 80 minutes may bring, not merely as an exercise to be reduced by a coach to the nuts and bolts.”
The former fly-half Bleddyn Jones, who was a member of the panel in 2020 which considered the list of potential Hall of Fame inductees, was also in no doubt: “The ethos of the club stemmed from him. Ask the great players like Dusty, Clive Woodward and Paul Dodge about who was the greatest influence on their rugby career and as a person as well, and they would say without a doubt Chalkie White.”
Herbert Victor White had been born into a farming family in Carlisle and served in the Royal Navy before joining Leicester as a player when he took up a teaching post in Nottingham.
He was good enough to play 147 first-team games for the club and make appearances for three County representative sides before the opportunity to make a more lasting impression came from the suggestion of team-mates Colin Martin and David Matthews.
By 1968, White had become unofficial club coach though, as history records, the role was not without some criticism from members of the committee who thought it was vaguely ‘unsporting’ and from senior players used to working by themselves in that era.
White took on the challenge, developing the role and his skills alongside captains including Graham Willars and Wheeler.
Despite the national cup success with Tigers, he was overlooked for the England job but eventually joined the RFU as one of its new technical administrators in the South-West.
Looking back on his time at Welford Road, White said simply: “If I have given every player the opportunity to play to his potential, I am satisfied.”
Alongside the Cup Finals, the memorable wins over Fiji and Aussie giants Randwick, and the style and the competitive confidence of his teams, there is a lasting legacy in the standards set for the club and in the development of teams which included future England coaches Woodward and Cusworth, as well as Wheeler, Smith, Dodge, Robin Cowling and others who also coached at a high level.