Kolisi lays on the praise for coach Nienaber
Selfless captain puts outgoing coach firmly into the limelight after lifting the Webb Ellis Cup for a second time
Paris — Siya Kolisi on Saturday night emulated New Zealand great Richie McCaw by lifting the Webb Ellis Cup for a second time, but typically the selfless captain took a step back and thrust outgoing coach Jacques Nienaber firmly into the limelight.
Kolisi captained the Springboks to a tense 12-11 victory over the All Blacks at Stade de France in SA’s second Rugby World Cup (RWC) triumph on French soil.
The victory brought to fruition a plan six years in the making when director of rugby Rassie Erasmus (then the Springbok coach) and Nienaber took over the reins of the Bok team.
The plan was for the team to peak at this RWC, but instead they shocked the world by winning in 2019, barely 18 months since the plan was formulated. The road to that triumph was bumpy and the one to this latest success had its potholes.
“It hasn’t been an easy journey. I can’t believe what we’ve achieved today,” a beaming Kolisi said. “The coaching staff have been ridiculous. I have worked with Jacques since I was 17 years old. I couldn’t tackle. When him and Rassie [Erasmus] used to come to training it was full contact. You had to show that you could do this.
“Since then, how he used to motivate us in games. We grew up around him — me and Frans [Malherbe], Steven Kitshoff and Pieter-Steph [du Toit]. As I said last week, he cared about us as people. He asks, ‘are you going to let your daughter down, your son down?’ It became far deeper than just a rugby game.”
Nienaber will leave the Bok job on a high. He will take up a coaching position with Irish giants Leinster, who are desperate to rediscover their trophy-winning touch. Nienaber will arrive in Dublin having recently touched gold.
Kolisi expressed his appreciation for what Nienaber has meant in his career.
“Jacques, honestly, it’s been a huge honour for me and a huge privilege, and your wife and the kids ... I appreciate you. We love you as a team, not as a coach, but as a person. You’ve taken it to another level. The way you speak to us — it’s not ‘make a big hit, make a tackle’. You talk to me as a person, as a father, a husband, as a son. It goes such a long way, so thank you. We honour you as a team. All the best. They will be lucky to have you wherever you go.”
Loosehead prop Ox Nché called Nienaber’s departure a huge loss before philosophically adding: “It is just life. You have to make those difficult choices.”
Naturally, after such a tight final Nienaber couldn’t wait to exhale. “Relief is probably the first word that comes to mind, in the sense of the special group of players we have. As a management and leadership group we always thought ‘we can’t mess this up’.
“From 2018 we thought we had the ability to win the 2023 World Cup. [The RWC win in] 2019 was probably something that hopped on along the way, but it is a relief for the players — they were good enough to do that.
“This is probably for our fans and for SA. I wish I could show you the number of messages we have received and what is going on in SA.
“We have 62-million people united, opening up communities to allow people to watch, an entrance fee of whatever they wanted to donate. People have bought green T-shirts for everyone. We felt every single bit of energy they gave us and, in the last three games, all one-point victories — that drove us.”
The Boks are formidable foes at the RWC. The Erasmus/Nienaber era has helped underline that. Since the kickoff of the 2007 RWC, the Boks have lost only two knockout matches.
They know how to win when it matters.
They may have won this RWC by only a slender margin, but that matters little to a team that is now fully endowed with the mental toughness to bend the arc of their history towards victory.
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