Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber’s contribution cannot be underestimated and his captain, Siya Kolisi has echoed this statement.
The Springboks will tell you that playing in the green and gold jersey is all the motivation they need but a significant thread woven into this World Cup final week is that Saturday is Jacques Nienaber’s last match in charge.
Nienaber’s players cannot speak highly enough about him and I’m sure they will talk about giving him the rousing finale he deserves before he moves on to Dublin to take up a coaching position with Leinster.
Nienaber’s first involvement with the Boks was as assistant coach to Rassie Erasmus when the latter came in for Allister Coetzee in 2018. A year later the Boks won the World Cup in Japan and Erasmus handed the head coach reins to his old friend and partner in coaching since they were young men at the Cheetahs almost two decades ago.
But Covid-19 meant the Boks did not play for 18 months and Nienaber’s first match in charge was a tenuous Test against Georgia in Pretoria that was played under bizarre conditions, with South Africa still in the grip of the pandemic.
— Springboks (@Springboks) October 24, 2023
Two and half years and 38 Tests later, Nienaber’s final Test could not be a greater contrast — a World Cup final against the All Blacks at a heaving Stade de France in Europe’s City of Lights.
Of course, Rassie has still been hands on but Nienaber’s contribution cannot be underestimated. His captain, Siya Kolisi, on Saturday night gave a fascinating insight into what Nienaber means to the Boks.
“I was 18 years old when I first met Jacques,” Kolisi said after the semi-final defeat of England. I was contracted with the Cheetahs and then I was able to go to Western Province. That is when I met Jacques. He and coach Rassie used to come to the Western Province Academy.
“Jacques’ sessions were always full contact and you had to show who you are. It was intense and he basically taught me how to tackle. I got to know him then and as I went on he became my senior coach. The one thing I love about him is he goes far deeper than what is happening on the field. He got to know me, my family, and why I do what I do. He speaks to us with human courtesy.
“He knows my kids by name, asks me how I am doing as a person and that is why I can go and give him everything on the field because he cares about the person, he cares about Siya from the township. For the team, especially in big matches, he talks about each and every player’s journey.
“It is so special to be known as a person, not just as an object or a rugby player. That’s what he brings to this team. And the fact that he allows families to be around, how much he loves to see our kids running about. I know some teams are not allowed to have families, but he insists on a family environment.
“I have enjoyed every single year that I’ve worked with him. The tough times too, when he calls me out. He is always honest. I can’t explain how much I have enjoyed it.
“The detail Jacques puts into our preparation is phenomenal. It makes life so much easier. All I have to do is watch a screen to see what opportunities are there. He’s a special coach and a special human being, an amazing father and a great husband. I will always be thankful. When I first met him I couldn’t tackle.”