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Jacques Nienaber explains reasons for joining Leinster in first media conference

BY Philip Bendon  ·  Wednesday Dec 6, 2023

Leinster Rugby and blue-chip talent go hand-in-hand, the Dublin-based URC powerhouse are rightly regarded as one of the very finest set-ups in professional rugby today.

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With a direct pipeline to several of Ireland’s top Rugby playing schools, the Leinster machine churns out high-quality talent at an unmatched rate.

Given the pedigree of the players involved, it is unsurprising that top-line international players and coaches would be drawn to the province.

Thus, when it was announced that the now two-time Rugby World Cup-winning head coach Jacques Nienaber would be joining the set-up, the fanfare surrounding the move was perhaps somewhat underwhelming.

Of course, the announcement came as the world was focused on the upcoming Rugby World Cup, yet even still securing a coach of Nienaber’s pedigree was hands down the biggest coaching move of the year.

Speaking to the Leinster media for the first time this week as the men in blue gear up for the titanic challenge of facing the team who has defeated them in the past two Champions Cup finals in La Rochelle. The former Springbok boss revealed the thought process behind his move to Dublin.

“I just felt I had lost a lot of time with my family,” he said.

“That’s why the decision was made in January/February. My wife said, ‘Listen, I don’t think we can do another four years of this’.

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“The kids said, ‘Dad, we need you at home,’ and that’s why when the opportunity came up again with Leinster, I was nervous because I didn’t want to lose that cutting edge, being challenged . . . I didn’t want to lose that because I feel that makes you a good coach.

“That’s why this job for me was a perfect fit. I mean I’m going to be challenged as a coach tremendously.

“There’s going to be big expectations, but at least I have some family time as well . . . Not to say that I’m on a holiday, it mustn’t come out like that.

“I explained it like that to Rassie (Erasmus), to our CEO at SARU, I said, ‘Listen guys, this is the decision, this is what I’m going to do’.

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“They were happy with it. They gave me their blessing and then when the opportunity came up, we announced it as quickly as possible because it was never for me, I didn’t want to work in South Africa anymore.

“There were other offers from other internationals. It wasn’t for me to change, to move or to come north, or anything like that. It was just that I needed to get away from international rugby.”

Focusing on the talent at his disposal, it was clear that Nienaber was already impressed by the Leinster players.

“They’re used to Andy (Farrell) and the international environment they’re in at a high standard,” he explained.

“That’s what I expected when I took the job, and that’s why I wanted to take the job. It’s not an international environment, but it is an environment that will be as challenging as an international environment.

“That’s what I expected, and that’s what I’m getting. Players that know what they want and that are demanding in a good way.

“The demands are high. Even the coaching group, the coaches that you work with, their demands are high, and that’s what I meant when I said that when I walked into this environment and you look at them when they play, I don’t think mediocrity is something they will endure, so the product I have to deliver as a coach should not be mediocre.

“It doesn’t mean there won’t be failures, you must be well-prepared as much as you can in the time frame that you have available.”

With a new environment comes a new challenge, of course, and as the 51-year-old noted, what worked previously will not necessarily work now.

“I don’t think you can copy and paste because the skill set and the athletic ability that the South Africa players had is different to the Leinster players. The athletic profile here is different,” he said.

“The key thing for me is to find out what we have and how we can utilise that with a system that I have in my head. It won’t necessarily be the way that we defended with South Africa, or with Munster for that matter.”

Given his winning pedigree, Nienaber’s addition as a direct replacement for Stuart Lancaster who departed for Racing 92 was a significant coup for Leinster and could prove to be the final percentage point needed to clinch their first Champions Cup since 2018.

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