The Springboks have lost two not-so-secret weapons after World Cup triumph

Springbok Rugby team captain Siya Kolisi (L) President Cyril Ramaphosa (C) and Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber (R) greet the crowd as part of the trophy parade after the Springbok team won the 2023 Rugby World Cup, in Pretoria, South Africa

Jacques Nienaber (pictured) and Felix Jones were hardly the poster boys of the coaching staff of the Springboks, in part because Rassie Erasmus naturally attracted the spotlight. Picture: Kim Ludbrook/EPA

Published Nov 8, 2023


The good news that Rassie Erasmus is to revert to the head coaching role with the Springboks has camouflaged, for now, the loss of two key contributors to the gold medals at the Rugby World Cup in Japan and France.

It will be a case of you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone when the Boks resume playing next year.

Jacques Nienaber and Felix Jones were hardly the poster boys of the coaching staff, in part because Rassie naturally attracted the spotlight but mostly because they preferred being in the background with their noses buried in their laptops.

Of course, Rassie knows just how much detail the two uncovered on both their players and the opposition, and with both of them en route to the northern hemisphere, Leinster and the England national team are about to be enriched.

Don’t spill the beans, Jacques

While Nienaber will be involved at the provincial level at Leinster, one hopes not many trade secrets will filter up to the top as Ireland prepare for a revenge tour to South Africa. That tour has not been confirmed by World Rugby, but it is an open secret that the Boks’ traditional June opponents next year will be the only team that beat them at the World Cup.

Ireland will certainly feel they have a point to prove in that they beat South Africa, but the Boks won the Cup. The Boks have not beaten Ireland since 2016 and they will be determined to prove they are worthy champions of the world by snapping a three-match losing streak.

If attack coach Jones and the master of many trades Nienaber did so much “gopher” work for director Rassie, it stands to reason that he is going to have to think carefully about who replaces them. Teams need unsung heroes and it was interesting to hear what the Bok players said about Irishman Jones as the World Cup was drawing to a close.

“He’s an unbelievable coach and it has been a privilege to work with him,” said veteran Willie le Roux.

Bomb Squad member Kwagga Smith added: “He’s an amazing coach and person. All of us as Springboks are better players because of him.”

The fascinating part is that Jones is not much older than the players. He is only 36 and in 2015 he was fullback for Munster and had been capped on 13 occasions for Ireland when injury struck him down. He immediately switched to being an attack coach and struck an instant rapport with players because he knew what he was talking about and because of his obvious work ethic.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without his laptop,” Le Roux said.

“He helps us with our attack, our strike moves, the backs in general and I think the Springboks are going to miss him.”

‘The finer details’

Smith said: “He just looks so much into the small details. You always think you’ve got a good pass until he puts footage up and says, ‘listen, this is how you do it’.”

As for Nienaber, Siya Kolisi recently said that his combination of humanity and genius for detail made him an invaluable asset. “Jacques genuinely takes an interest in you, your background, and your family,” Kolisi said.

“You want to play for a guy that will greet you and the start of the tour and ask, by name, how each of your children is getting on, and he knows what schools they are at.

“People just have no clue how much work Jacques puts into preparing us for a game. For example, in a game I see an opponent coming toward me from the information I have been given, I have a very good idea of what he is going to do, off what foot he is going to step, and which way he is likely to pass.”

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