Jacques Nienaber. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/JUAN JOSE GASPARINI
Jacques Nienaber. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/JUAN JOSE GASPARINI

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has highlighted three areas of focus as he sets out to fill the boots of predecessor Rassie Erasmus.

Nienaber‚ who was appointed as coach of the Rugby World Cup (RWC) champions in January‚ will target consistency‚ transformation and building squad depth as the areas that will help keep Springbok rugby in rude health.

“We will strive for consistency. To get to the top is one thing‚ but to stay at the top is a tough thing. We want to put out performances that are more sustainable‚” Nienaber said during a webinar hosted by the Wits Institute for Sport and Health (Wish).

While the Boks won the World Cup in 2019 and became the world’s top-ranked team to the delirium of many South Africans‚ the team had been wildly inconsistent in the years leading up to the tournament.

Seven of the eight defeats they suffered under Erasmus as coach occurred in 2018. They turned things around spectacularly in 2019.

Apart from inheriting a team that won 65% of their Tests under his predecessor‚ Nienaber is also all too aware of his transformation obligations.

Building squad depth

“We also want to transform as much as possible. I think everyone could see [that] when this team came back [from the RWC]. I think we are the people’s team. We try and be as diverse and as open as we can. We embrace diversity‚” said Nienaber.

Perhaps feeding into the stated objective of making the Boks a more consistent force on the international stage‚ Nienaber knows he will have to embark on a path of renewal leading up to the 2021 series against the British and Irish Lions as well as the 2023 RWC in France.

“We want to build squad depth and make the squad bigger. We may have a team that might be‚ and I don’t want to say, ‘too old’ to go to the next World Cup.

“We are looking at guys like Duane [Vermeulen], who may be in the twilight of their career. We must make sure there are plans in place that will fill the voids if those players finish. That will be the challenge for us to create squad depth.”

Nienaber has found himself in the unique position of taking over a team and imparting his battle plans and strategies remotely because of Covid-19 restrictions. It is a complication he can do without as he tries to allay fears in certain quarters that his CV‚ which is blank in the credentials column as player and head coach‚ will not prove a liability.

Nienaber conceded that former players have an advantage when they go into coaching, but said it erodes unless they apply themselves.

“I’d say the knowledge and experience that they have will serve them well for the first three or so years. You have to keep up with the game and stay up to date with the trends. If you don’t‚ you will no longer have that edge.

“If you haven’t played the game at the highest level you have to find other ways of getting the players’ respect. Players who have played 80 or 100 Tests for the Springboks will always have that respect. Players will look at that guy and say, ‘this guy has done it’.

“I have to earn that respect with knowledge‚ good work ethic‚ and with being honest.”