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'I played for my schools second-team': The humble beginnings of rookie Springboks boss

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

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Rookie Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber has insisted he won’t fall prey to the trap of getting too worked up and disillusioned about any negatives that affect his squad in the lead-up to next month’s keenly anticipated Test series versus the Lions. 


The former defence coach was promoted to the head coach role following South Africa’s triumph at the 2019 World Cup. However, Nienaber has yet to take charge of a Springboks Test match as the pandemic kept them on the sidelines throughout 2020 and they will only make their return to action when they host Georgia on the first weekend of July in preparation for facing the Lions.  

It was last weekend when the 46-strong Springboks squad was announced for those matches but that announcement has since been clouded by setbacks to key personnel. Duane Vermeulen, the 2019 World Cup final man of the match, had to have an ankle operation on Wednesday following an injury sustained playing for the Bulls while Damian de Allende and RG Snyman are being treated for burns they received for a fire pit accident in Ireland.   

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RugbyPass is sharing unique stories from iconic British and Irish Lions tours to South Africa in proud partnership with The Famous Grouse, the Spirit of Rugby
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RugbyPass is sharing unique stories from iconic British and Irish Lions tours to South Africa in proud partnership with The Famous Grouse, the Spirit of Rugby

As a boss new to his role, it would be understandable if Nienaber spent his squad training week in Bloemfontein cursing his luck and feeling pessimistic, but he insisted he is not wired that way and won’t be overwhelmed by the setbacks that go hand-in-hand with the job of being Springboks boss.

Asked by RugbyPass how he handles bad news, Nienaber said: “Coaches’ pathways have different things. As a coach, I never played rugby at an international standard, not even at the school first-team standard, but I loved rugby and I participated, I played for my schools second-team.

“I’m not a great rugby player but my pathway, being a physio, is you handle what you have to handle. It doesn’t help that you sulk over things. You must make the next plan. If you take the treatment on a player that I do today and I reassess him tomorrow and it didn’t work, you can sulk and say I didn’t do the right treatment or you can go at least now I know what doesn’t work and then you can take another route. 


“They call it clinical reasoning in physiotherapy or in medicine. That’s how you sometimes abide by trialling a certain treatment, you make an assessment and you think it is that. You start treating it and then you see how it goes. I don’t want to give a long-winded answer but I’m pretty much the type of guy, because of that background, that it is what it is. 

“Can I change it? No, I can’t. What I can do is I can talk to Duane and say, ‘Be positive. Listen, I have heard things. I have consulted with Jesse (Kriel). He was sat in front of me on the plane when he started talking and said Jacques, I’ve had that similar injury’. He almost cheered me up. 

“That is the nice thing with the Boks in terms of how we do things. To jump on a call with Duane and say I have just had a chat with Jesse and he had the same injury in 2019 just before the World Cup. I am that type of guy. Bad news, we can’t change destiny, it is what it is. You must find a way, accept it, move on and make new plans.”



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