It was the worst kept secret in South African rugby. The graduation of Jacques Nienaber was confirmed on Friday when he was unveiled as the new Springbok coach.
He’s part of a revised coaching panel, that will report directly to Rassie Erasmus, South Africa’s director of rugby.
He tends to shy away from the limelight, but Nienaber has been around the block with Rassie Erasmus a few times. At the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Nienaber revealed that the pair first met while they were in the army together.
Their paths crossed again at the University of the Free State and they’ve rarely separated since.
Nienaber was working as the physio of the university team – the same team Erasmus captained. While being prodded, stretched and mended on that bench, Erasmus and Nienaber would talk up a storm.
As soon as the 47-year old’s playing career ended, he became a coach.
That was the start of a coaching relationship that has had a positve impact wherever they went.
Erasmus explained during the RWC 2019: “I brought Jacques in as a conditioning coach right away. His passion, knowledge and work ethic around defence was evident even back then. He’s very good with people and in terms of communicating what he wants. He gets the message across brilliantly.”
They have worked together at the Cheetahs, Stormers, Munster and eventually the Springboks. Within a few months, South Africa achieved what few would have believed even in their wildest dreams: they won the Rugby World Cup.
But if you think the pair are in agreement all the time, you’d be wrong.
“Our partnership does not end when we leave the rugby field, sometimes we have a meal and a drink together,” Nienaber told AFP recently.
“We sometimes disagree over tactics, but we share the same aim of making teams consistently successful. I first met Rassie when we were army conscripts and our rugby relationship began at university where he was the team captain and I was the physio.
“Rassie is a superb tactician and a great person to work with. It helps a lot that neither he nor I suffer from ego problems.”
It’s now up to Nienaber, Erasmus and the new coaching squad to build on the continuity they have both put at the centre of their philosophy.
Mzwandile Stick will continue as assistant coach while Deon Davids has been appointed forwards coach. Daan Human – the Bulls’ scrum coach – takes up the same role with the Springboks on a shared basis. Felix Jones will also stay on with the side but in what SA Rugby called a ” European-based coaching consultant” capacity.
Springbok coaching team
Rassie Erasmus – Director of Rugby
Jacques Nienaber – Head coach
Mzwandile Stick – Assistant coach
Deon Davids – Assistant coach
Felix Jones – Assistant coach
Daan Human – Scrum consultant