Sunday 25 September 2016

Nienaber happy to take road less travelled as Erasmus' right-hand man

Published 08/08/2016 | 02:30

Rassie Erasmus, left, with his defence coach Jacques Nienaber. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Rassie Erasmus, left, with his defence coach Jacques Nienaber. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Earlier this summer, when Jacques Nienaber arrived in Limerick for his interview to become Munster's new defence coach, he found himself in a peculiar situation.

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While he was obviously eager to impress his potential future employers, he was wary of showing his full hand.

With the IRFU's performance director David Nucifora and Munster's CEO Garrett Fitzgerald among those on the interview panel, Nienaber remained unperturbed about what was at stake.

Soon after he was interviewed, Nienaber returned to his native South Africa where he refocused his attention on his primary task at hand - ensuring that the Springboks' defence was solid ahead of their Test series against Ireland.

There was leeway given from both sides but in truth, the panel had already known the calibre of coach that they had on their hands.

"It was quite funny with the questions because I had to say that I couldn't comment on that because it was something that we would probably use against Ireland in the upcoming Tests," Nienaber recalls.

"They said at the start of the interview that without giving any secrets away, they wanted to get my line of thought and my technical knowledge in terms of an analysis programme.

"It wasn't anything like they were looking for insider info. Every defence system has the same principles and building blocks. There's no special ingredient."

As soon as Rassie Erasmus was signalled as Munster's first choice to become their director of rugby, it was only a matter of time before Nienaber followed his old friend to these shores.

The reaction in South Africa spoke volumes for how highly both coaches are rated in their home country. Erasmus was seen as a front-runner to become the next Springboks coach but he opted for a fresh challenge, and Nienaber was of the same mind.

The pair's relationship began when they were teenagers and when they first met, little did they know that they and their families would end up in Limerick together.

"I have been working with Rassie for a long while now," Nienaber explains.

"We met in the army. Just after school, we went to the army together.

"We became friends in the army and after that we went to university. He stayed in the army a little bit longer but then we met up when I was working as a physio for our rugby club at the university. He started playing for them and that's how we started our relationship in terms of rugby.

"In all of the other teams that I have been involved with, in Super Rugby, he was the player and the captain and I was the physio. We are pretty much aligned in our way of thought."

Nienaber also worked as the high performance manager with the South African Rugby Union.

The offers to remain in his home country were not in short supply but like Erasmus, the time was right for a new challenge.

"When I think about it, the move wasn't even on the horizon in January," the 42-year old says.

"To be a complete coach, it would be nice to be involved in different scenarios and in a different country."

For his interview, Nienaber was handed a laptop with a video of Munster's defeat to Leinster last season. He was given two and half hours to study it and then asked to speak about what he would do differently.

That is about the extent of the major focus that Nienaber has put on the shortcomings of last season. Instead he is approaching his role with a fresh impetus.

"I didn't actually look at last season a lot. Obviously, I want to it a smooth transition for Munster," he says.

"If I have a set language that I used with other teams and if Munster have their own set language, we try and integrate that as much as possible.

"The players have to enjoy it, they have to believe it, they have to make the system their own.

"My challenge will be to find players' different attributes as quickly as possible.

"It doesn't always happen that quickly. My challenge will be to make the system part of the players and them part of the system and then try and enhance that."

Irish Independent

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