Newly appointed Leinster senior coach Jacques Nienaber caused quite a stir in the rugby world when it was announced that he would be leaving South African Rugby to join the Irish province at the conclusion of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Joining the Springboks in 2018 alongside long term friend and colleague Rassie Erasmus, Nienaber would go on to win two World Cup titles, a British and Irish Lions series and a Rugby Championship title in a five-year span.
With the mission of defending the World Cup in France completed, the 51-year-old departed South Africa firmly entrenched as one of the greatest ever Springbok coaches and quite rankly a national icon.
No stranger to Irish Rugby having spent a season with Munster prior to return to South Africa, Nienaber’s arrival in Dublin has been met with excitement and expectation.
Speaking on what drew him to Leinster, Nienaber was emphatic in his expectations
“A lot of people might ask why are you moving from an international job back to a club job but I think the challenges that one will face with Leinster are massive and I think the expectations are massive.
“You certainly can’t turn to your squad and give any excuses in terms of the players and the skill set and the athleticism that you have to work with so I think the demands will be massive and that’s why its a nice challenge uh for me personally.
“That was part of the challenge you know I think to come into environment where I don’t think there’s a lot of place for mediocracy. When you look at Leinster from the outside and you look at the product that they deliver on the pitch. It’s clear that there is no place for any mediocracy and that’s the type of challenge I think as a coach that you want.
“That is not to say that I had any of that (mediocracy) in South Africa but just for a change up and getting our family over here and for some more personal reasons and that’s the reason we made the move as a family.”
Clearly family plays a major role for the former Bok boss, as he expanded on how much his family enjoyed their time in Ireland and that they were excited to return.
“We were always open and honest me and my family about our time at in Ireland we really enjoyed it but then things happened and I always say life happens and we went back and now we are back it’s a nice challenge with Leinster.” He said.
Discussing his views on the Leinster and Irish players’ as a whole, Nienaber highlighted how much he has enjoyed getting to know his new squad.
“It’s always nice when you’re on the other side I mean you don’t we always say you don’t know the team or the Personnel that you coach against you don’t know them personally.”
“But things change quickly like once you start working with them and you get to know them and I know I don’t know them well I just met probably I know them for five days now but people quickly get into your heart.
“Everybody’s been super nice and very welcoming so yeah looking forward to working with them. They are a classy outfit, a very class outfit both Leinster and obviously Ireland, so yeah looking forward to working with the players.”
Looking ahead to the imminent challenges ahead of Leinster with Irish rivals Connacht coming up next followed by the team who has beaten them in the past two Champions Cup finals La Rochelle. Nienaber is under no illusion as to how tough a run the Dubliners are in for throughout December.
“It’s always tough there (The Sportsground), I’ve been there twice with Munster. One was a tight win and one was a loss so I guess Connacht is always going to be a tough grind and we expect nothing less than that.”
“Then it’s back to Europe, I haven’t been part of the history against La Rochelle but I saw some footage of it over this past week building into Europe with some of the coaches and yeah it’s going to be massive Europe’s always massive so looking forward to that to them and then Sale. “
Currently in a rude bill of health, Irish Rugby is experiencing unprecedented highs both on and off the pitch. Despite a disappointing Rugby World Cup quarterfinal exit, the appetite for Rugby on the Emerald remains high. A point Nienaber was keen to stress as well as mentioning his respect for the Irish Rugby fan’s passion and knowledge.
“I know its massive I I’ve never been at the RDS with Munster we always played at the Aviva like they did last weekend and I mean to get 50,000 for it is massive and it just shows you how big the support base there is in Ireland.
“We experienced the Irish supporters when we played against Ireland in the World Cup. There was a lot of them there and they were vocal but always nice and they know their rugby. “
Finishing up his interview, Nienaber reiterated his excitement of the challenge that lay ahead saying, “From a personal and work perspective I think the challenge will be massive I think both from the demands from the coaching team but also the demands from the players I mean they are top International Players that have won a lot of accolades so they will definitely keep you on your toes.”
For Leinster, the signing of a coach and a person of the quality of Nienaber could well prove to be the catalyst to get a team that is a perennial title contender over the line.