The South African took an unconventional route to coaching, as Jon Cardinelli explains
Who is Jacques Nienaber: Ten things you should know about the Springboks head coach
Jacques Nienaber has held various coaching positions with Free State, the Stormers, Munster and South Africa.
Nienaber and Erasmus – the South African director of rugby – will continue to work closely during the series against the British & Irish Lions and in the lead-up to the 2023 World Cup.
Here are a few more facts and stats about the ‘new’ man at the helm of the world champions.
Ten things you should know about Jacques Nienaber
1. Nienaber was born on 16 October 1972 and grew up in Welkom, a small town in the northern Free State.
While he attended Grey College, a famous rugby school in Bloemfontein that has produced 46 Springboks, he wasn’t – by his own admission – a particularly good rugby player. Endurance sports, such as running and cross country, were Nienaber’s forte.
2. Nienaber studied physiotherapy at the University of the Free State. He never intended to be a rugby coach. His greatest ambition as a young man was to serve as the physio to the national team.
3. Nienaber is married to Elmarie, who is also a qualified physiotherapist. The couple have two children, Carlo and Lila.
4. Nienaber met Rassie Erasmus during their military conscription days in the early 1990s. After Nienaber qualified as a physiotherapist, he worked with various sports teams such as Free State and the Cats – a Super 12 franchise comprised of Free State and Golden Lions players.
His role evolved, and he was soon given an opportunity as the strength and conditioning coach at the Cheetahs. Nienaber learnt a great deal from Erasmus during those years, and eventually made the transition to defence coach.
5. Erasmus recognised Nienaber’s potential as a coach from an early stage. After he accepted a director of rugby position at the Stormers in late 2007, he included Nienaber on his coaching staff.
He subsequently took Nienaber with him to Munster in 2016. When the Springboks came calling in late 2017, Erasmus made sure that Nienaber would have a prominent role on the South African coaching staff.
6. The Stormers developed a fearsome defensive reputation thanks to Nienaber’s input. The Cape franchise qualified for the 2010 Super 14 final, and topped the table after the league phase on the back of a dominant defensive showing.
Nienaber worked with the Springboks as a consultant ahead of the 2011 World Cup, and had a brief stint with the national side in early 2016 before moving with Erasmus to Munster.
In 2018, he was given a permanent role with the team and allowed to develop a system that would ultimately win South Africa the 2019 World Cup. The Boks conceded just four tries over the course of the seven-game campaign.
7. Nienaber continues to practice as a physiotherapist. In fact, it was due to his status as a medical professional that he was given access to the field during the World Cup. This allowed him to communicate and relay tactical messages to the team at crucial stages of a contest.
8. Nienaber was appointed Springbok head coach in January 2020. The man himself has admitted that he has never been a head coach before – not even for a club side.
However, Erasmus and the powers that be have been grooming Nienaber for the position for some time. Such a promotion from within the ranks is a first for South African rugby.
9. Following his appointment, Nienaber joked that he would never get used to players calling him ‘Coach’. He’s walked a long road with individuals like Duane Vermeulen and Siya Kolisi, and they know him simply by his nickname, ‘Nienas’.
10. Nienaber’s first season at the helm was meant to include Tests against Scotland and Georgia, a full Rugby Championship campaign and an end-of-year tour to Europe. The Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant restrictions forced the Boks to miss the entire 2020 season, though.
Nienaber’s first Test in charge, some 18 months after his appointment, will be against Georgia in July.
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