Thu. Feb 20th, 2020

What the appointment of Jacques Nienaber means for Springbok rugby

Former physio and defence coach Jacques Nienaber has been named as the Springboks next head coach but what does that mean for South African rugby.

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SA Rugby have finally been able to confirm the appointment of defence coach Jacques Nienaber as the new Springbok head coach.

The appointment comes as no surprise with Nienaber essentially being hand-picked by outgoing coach Rassie Erasmus who returns to his role of Director of Rugby.

Delays to the announcement are understood to have been administrative in nature, and the decision to appoint Nienaber secures Erasmus’ legacy.

Springbok Structures will thrive under Jacques Nienaber

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Defence Coach Jacques Nienaber during the South Africa training session at Paul Roos Markotter Stadium, Stellenbosch on 2 June 2016 ©Luigi Bennett/BackpagePix

Erasmus went on a drive to modernise the Springboks approach to the game with his long-time friend Nienaber by his side through 2018 and into the highly-successful 2019 season.

Nienaber has helped Erasmus reform the Springbok team’s structures starting with how they line up defensively, and his work was a cornerstone of the Rugby World Cup triumph.

The Bok defensive guru has already consulted with South Africa’s Super Rugby franchises, with the Stormers and Sharks inviting him to watch them train.

It is clear that his appointment is part of Director of Rugby Erasmus’ vision for South African rugby. 

Nienaber may have been hand-picked by Erasmus, but quite who is the master and who is the student has never been clear in their interactions.

It was on Nienaber’s physio bed that Erasmus was first struck by the vision of the man named to succeed him as Springbok coach and it is quite possible that some of his best ideas came from the trusted confidante.

Nienaber never played the game professionally, but his skills as an organiser, planner and communicator more than make up for that perceived gap in his CV.

As a physio and then defensive coach Nienaber has an excellent grasp on two of the pillars of Springbok success. Defensive organisation and conditioning will continue to be at the heart of Green and Gold preparation as Nienaber succeeds Erasmus.

The close working relationship between the two will continue despite the visible withdrawal of Erasmus from the Springbok fold as he takes on the more significant challenge of helping restructure South African Rugby.

No top-level coaching experience

There will be some who question Nienaber’s credentials, given that he has never directed a franchise or professional club. Still, Erasmus and SA Rugby clearly have faith in the former assistant’s ability to make the step-up. In some ways, the appointment of Nienaber mirrors the All Blacks decision to name Ian Foster as the successor to Steve Hansen. Nienaber and Foster bring a fresh perspective while maintaining continuity for rugby’s superpowers.

Nienaber will have the immediate task of keeping the Springboks on top of the World Rugby tree while seeing the best consistently depart from South African rugby. He will need to maintain a good working relationship, not only with the four franchises but also a multitude of clubs in Europe and Japan to ensure he makes the most of the talent available.

There is every reason to be positive about the appointment of Nienaber, who is widely hailed as one of the best rugby brains in the world right now.

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