Jacques Nienaber may have the ‘title’, but Rassie Erasmus will still be the de facto head coach of the Springboks.
Nienaber, who was named as the new Springbok coach on Friday, after Rassie Erasmus held the job for the past two years and took the Boks to World Cup glory in Japan last year, has never previously held a head coaching position.
However, both Nienaber and Erasmus explained that not much has changed in the set-up, even though Nienaber will take charge of the ‘day-to-day’ matters of the national team.
“Jacques is highly experienced and has worked with the Springboks on three separate occasions now, so knows exactly what the job is about,” Erasmus said.
Nienaber played a crucial role as defence coach when the Springboks won the World Cup a record-equalling third time in November, beating England 32-12 in the Final.
Starting out as a conditioning coach, the 47-year-old defence is credited for much of the Springboks’ tactical successes in the Final in Yokohama.
Erasmus fronted up to the media to explain how Nienaber new title will impact on the Springboks.
“Everyone knows, when I was appointed as Director of Rugby a few years ago, it was to work with the coaches and different departments,” Erasmus told a media briefing.
“When Allister [Coetzee] moved on, then the focus was solely the Springbok team and the World Cup. We all realised it was impossible to do both jobs and by appointing a head coach now it will free up myself now to be a little bit more strategic.
“When I mean strategic, I am definitely not going to have an admin job where I sit in the office,” Erasmus said – a statement he had previously made about his ongoing involvement with the national team.
“If I can give you an example. My role for example with the Junior Springboks, it wouldn’t be to help them win. That would be the job of the Junior Springbok coach. My job would be for the Junior Springboks to be holistically developed so when they come out on the other side of the Junior Springbok campaign, they must be better equipped to be better Springbok players.
“I would not have the knowledge to be a better coach than [Sevens coach] Neil Powell and those guys. They are the knowledgeable guys and the best [Sevens] coaches in South Africa. My job would be to help them get the right players released for the Olympics and the various tournaments.
“In every department, I know a bit about the technical stuff, but it would be more to make sure the systems we have serve what we want to achieve on the field and those systems are aligned so that we don’t only win the World Cup every 12 years.
“I can go on. I can’t tell the referees how to referee. But the way they plan and integrate with that plan will be one of my KPIs [Key Performance Indicators] there.
“Obviously my responsibility with the Springboks will be for them to win,” Erasmus said, adding: “So yes, having a guy like Jacques with all his experience there [with the Springboks], I will still be part of the management team.
“I will be there, in the coach’s box, with him.
“I will be accountable if the Springboks don’t win. I will be part of the team selection when we select the team.
“However, having him there working more on the day-to-day things and giving me more time to focus on the strategic things, that was the thinking behind the whole system.”
Nienaber said he will continue the same formula of invocation that Erasmus had brought to the squad in the lead-up to the World Cup.
“The main thing for us is continuity,” the new ‘coach’ said.
“Continuity for me will be to drive the goals we drew up in 2018 when we came over to the Springboks,” he added.
“It will be for us to win and keep on winning consistently. But with winning the big thing will be to focus on transformation, to focus on creating squad depth and to focus on giving experience to players to fill a pipeline which will continuously drive getting good results for the Springboks.”
Erasmus always wanted someone he could trust and Nienaber is that ‘trusted sidekick’.
Erasmus underlined the bond between the two men and reiterated that he will be involved every step of the way, while always looking out for what is best for Bok rugby.
“Jacques and have worked together since 1990 in the army. We understand each other and debate things extensively. We will always do what is right for Springbok rugby.
“Just as Matthew Proudfoot and I did the maul last year, he didn’t do it alone. I coached alongside him on the rolling maul. We did the scrums as well. We will sit together in all the meetings. I will help him plan.
“You know scrums don’t function without line-outs, and line-outs don’t function without attack. Attack doesn’t function without defence. Defence doesn’t function without the breakdown. To tie all those together, we are lucky to have him as a qualified conditioning coach, a qualified physiotherapist and one of the best defensive coaches in the world.
“And then in the last six, seven years he has been in many roles in a lot of the teams that I have coached with him. For sure, if I feel the mauling is not good enough, I will step in. If we differ on team selection, we will have a robust discussion to get the best for the Springbok team.
“If the Springboks don’t win, the buck stops with me. I have to take responsibility. That is how hands-on I will be.”