Nienaber ... a Bok coach with voluntarily clipped wings?

2020-01-24 16:14
Jacques Nienaber
Jacques Nienaber (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Look, there's a reassuringly strong chance it will be a harmonious relationship.

As it may need to be.

Friday's widely anticipated, finally confirmed new Springbok head coach and notable defence guru by reputation, Jacques Nienaber, is earmarked to maintain his lengthy, extremely close alliance with World Cup 2019-winning predecessor and now entirely dedicated director of rugby Rassie Erasmus.

That much has immediately come through - loud and clear - in the official SA Rugby announcement.

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The duo have walked many rugby roads together, including at several different regional stations in South Africa and abroad for a while, too, at Munster.

Both 47, the pair were even born just 20 days apart in late 1972.

Springbok enthusiasts will find all that good to know ... particularly after perusing the borderline unorthodox parameters of Bloemfontein-born Nienaber's post, as 14th head coach of the national team since return from the relative wilderness in 1992.

The striking feature, amidst what seemed at instant glance quite a mouthful of new-agey spin, is the significant extent to which Erasmus will remain active in the day-to-day machinations of the Springboks.

Or put it this way: I have never previously been aware of a Bok coach, upon installation, being involved in quite such a buck-sharing, it would appear, arrangement with the director immediately above him.

Nienaber is "promoted to the headline role", although Erasmus will still "carry the responsibility for Springbok performances".

In the words of Erasmus, latched onto the media release: "Jacques will be responsible for the Test match preparation and day-to-day team operations but ... I will be with the team for the majority of the time and in the coaches' box with Jacques at matches.

"I'll still be responsible for the strategy and results with Jacques taking operational control."

There is even an admission from Nienaber himself that "it's a big step up for me ... (but) in many ways it will also be business as usual".

It is difficult to imagine any gnarly, well-travelled head coach like an Eddie Jones, Steve Hansen or our own Jake White or Nick Mallett, for example, being so willing to have a superior breathing in such close range to his neck.

But maybe that's the whole point, and simply a deadeye honest acknowledgement by Nienaber that he is quite prepared to have the RWC 2019 mastermind intimately involved - yes, even largely like before - while he painstakingly cuts his teeth and develops his personality as a head coach for the first time at any level of the game.

As long as they sing routinely enough from the same song-sheet, against that terms-and-conditions backdrop, then all should be relatively dandy, especially with the additional SA Rugby insistence that continuity is a key aspiration after the heart-warming events in Japan last year.

Why would Bok fans wish for anything else at this point, really?

Nienaber has always come across as a bookworm of rugby, if you like, more than any kind of big-personality barnstormer, and is already on record as saying ego doesn't count among his major preoccupations or drivers in life.

It is only in more recent times, in fact, that he has begun to get reasonably regularly shoved in front of massed media microphones and recording devices (that will come with increased pace now), after several years in which his often Midas-like touch in fine-detail defensive strategizing was willingly carried out in background near-anonymity.

For those possibly fearing, not without some validity, that a "stopping" rather than offensive-minded expert like Nienaber pulling overall strings now might stunt the Boks' growth as an entertainment-driven force, minds can be largely put to rest, I think.

The current high-speed, high-lying and highly synchronised Bok defensive methods have become, in themselves, potent attacking instruments because of the ambush-like way they can dismantle opposition front-foot plans in a flash and create scoring opportunities at the other end from fractured play.

In that respect, the Boks of Erasmus' very recent primary charge - with such thrilling, wide-awake counter-strikers as Cheslin Kolbe, Makazole Mapimpi, Willie le Roux and Lukhanyo Am very much still to call on - have had no problems crossing the "wash" with regularity and precision.

So no, Jacques Nienaber ought not to be a debilitating ball and chain.

It's business predominantly as usual, remember ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  jacques nienaber  |  rugby


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