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Jacques Nienaber at Leinster: 'I don’t think they will buy me pints!'

By Liam Heagney
Jacques Nienaber, with Leo Cullen (left), at his first Leinster media briefing (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Former Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber has given his first media briefing since he arrived in Ireland to start work as the new Leinster senior coach following the departure to Racing 92 of Stuart Lancaster.

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It was October 28 in Paris when Nienaber led South Africa to back-to-back world titles, his team defeating the All Blacks in the final 12-11 at Stade de France.

He has since arrived in Ireland to link up with Leo Cullen’s squad six years after he exited Leinster’s provincial rivals Munster as their defence coach to take up a defence coach role back in South Africa under Rassie Erasmus, the then-head coach who is now their director of rugby.

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Nienaber has been straight down to business in Dublin since pitching up on their UCD training ground on November 27.

Following his first match involvement, last Saturday’s away URC win at Connacht, he has now given his first media briefing at Leinster ahead of next weekend’s Investec Champions Cup assignment at La Rochelle, the French team that won the past two finals against Cullen and co.

The South African, who originally struck terms with Leinster last April, turned up on Tuesday evening at their UCD training base HQ for a top-table briefing with Cullen.

He was in a jovial mood judging by this following Q&A interlude with RugbyPass as part of a busy 15-minute live content section before he went downstairs for an embargoed session with the written media.

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RugbyPass: Did you know Leo from your time at Munster?

Nienaber: Probably just a greeting when I was here and we spoke over the phone a couple of times when I was with the Boks regarding a player or two, but that’s it.

RugbyPass: With you as senior coach and Leo in charge, is he your new Rassie?

Nienaber: Yeah, we only know each other for a week and I know Rassie for 30 years, so I think eventually we will get to that level.

RugbyPass: You got stuck in straight away last Saturday, regularly issuing messages to be relayed to the players.

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Nienaber: Yeah, straight in the deep end… My English is probably more Russian-English, so it will take them some time to get used to my accent.

RugbyPass: How have you managed to move on so quickly from the Springboks job and do they compare?

Nienaber: I think the pressure that will come with the job and the expectations of Leinster will be similar to what I faced with South Africa. It’s just the whole Leinster environment and I think Leinster is not just an Irish team, there are a lot of people abroad worldwide that support Leinster, so it’s not just the county Leinster. It’s got a big world following. A lot of people look up to Leinster, even in South Africa. Just purely because of the way they conduct themselves on the pitch, the type of rugby they play, a lot of people enjoy it so there will be a lot of pressure from all over.

RugbyPass: What does it feel like to be in the blue of Leinster compared to the red of Munster the last time you worked in Ireland?

Nienaber: I think I will get more flak from the Munster supporters than from the South African supporters. With South African supporters we were open and honest, the move was announced way before the World Cup (in April), and like I said back then it was for personal reasons back then and like I mention now, I honestly think I would lose my family life if I kept on battling away at international rugby. I just feel like I need a little bit of a break from it. But yeah, I don’t know, we’ll probably find out when we go to Thomond Park in a couple of weeks [December 26]. I don’t think they will buy me pints!

Nienaber had begun the briefing by explaining how he was finding the move. “Settling in nicely,” he started in response to a question from RTE, the national broadcaster in Ireland. “I said it this morning at Leinster, I know where to get coffee now in a joking sense of way.

“I’m settling in and everybody over here has been awesome, from the management, the staff and the players. They make you feel welcome and they help you as much as possible, so I’m settling in nicely.”

Why had he made the switch from the Springboks to Leinster? “International rugby is a little bit different in terms of the duration of time that you are away. You only play 13 Test matches but for us, for South Africa, in this World Cup year I was away for six months and one day from my family and away from home and although there are more games that you play for a club, at least you are a little more frequently at home.

“I mean we are playing away this weekend (in France) but I’m at home during the week which is something that international rugby doesn’t give you. You are away and always away, you’re never at home so that is the first thing. I felt I needed a change from international rugby so I needed to get out of international rugby.

“But the bad thing if you get out of international rugby is the demands that the players will place on you, the demands that the staff will place on you, the demands that the supporters will place on you.

“When this opportunity came up with Leinster you get the best of both worlds – you get some more time with your family but you get the environment that will not tolerate mediocrity so as a coach you can’t drop your standards that you have delivered at international level and the players that you work with are international quality so they will make sure that you are on your toes.

“You can’t just spin a story, they will see right through you. That’s actually a nice challenge. The coaching group is massively experienced and the playing group is massively experienced so it was for me from a personal point of view a perfect fit.

“A little bit more family time but from a work perspective a massive challenge and there will be big demands on the job.”

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