Five memorable Springbok wins on Jacques Nienaber’s watch

The Springboks were at their best in their quarter-final win over France at the Rugby World Cup. Photo: Dan Sheridan/INPHO/Shutterstock via BackpagePix

The Springboks were at their best in their quarter-final win over France at the Rugby World Cup. Photo: Dan Sheridan/INPHO/Shutterstock via BackpagePix

Published Oct 26, 2023


Jacques Nienaber will end his Springbok head coach reign on Saturday when his team face the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup final in Paris (9pm kickoff).

As his team look to clinch a second consecutive Webb Ellis Cup – he won it as an assistant coach in 2019 under Rassie Erasmus – we looked at five of the Boks’ most famous wins under their outgoing coach ...

October 21, 2023: SA v England, World Cup semi-final, Paris

After selecting an unchanged squad that drained themselves a week before in the quarter-finals, questions were asked if the Boks would be mentally ready for the English, who had an easier run to the knockout match.

For a big chunk of the semi-final, it looked as if the Boks had run out of steam, and that England would finally get their revenge for the 2019 and 2007 final losses against South Africa.

Nienaber had depleted his bench after the substitutes already started rolling in from the 31st minute.

But that bench – with prop Ox Nche and flyhalf Handré Pollard at the forefront – managed to turn the game around.

Nche helped the Bok scrum to win the penalty that Pollard converted for the onepoint win over the English, and a third consecutive knockout match victory over the 2003 champions.

October 15, 2023: SA v France, World Cup quarter-final, Paris

This was the big hurdle that the South Africans had to overcome – beating the host nation in front of a sold-out Stade de France.

Another one-point win, but a brilliant one that showed the type of rugby the Boks started perfecting under Nienaber’s tutelage.

They managed to do something that even the All Blacks could not do during the pool stage – silence the French crowd and beat the hot favourites.

SA showed the necessary mental strength and managed to get themselves up in the important moments – even after Eben Etzebeth’s yellow card shortly before halftime.

That tenacity and resilience is another trait that developed brilliantly under Nienaber.

August 25, 2023: SA v All Blacks, London

Who would have ever thought, after being trumped in Auckland by the same New Zealand, that the Boks would come back mere weeks before the World Cup kickoff and thump the Kiwis?

And that with a replacement bench split of seven forwards and one backline player. On top of that, the reigning world champions didn’t even have their best team at their disposal.

But this game underpinned the depth the Boks built during Nienaber’s tenure. Imagine taking on the All Blacks with only one backline player on the bench. Before that success, some would’ve considered it ludicrous.

Others called for it to be banned immediately.

But that type of out-of-the-box thinking became even more vital in the Nienaber era as the Boks continued their dominance.

August 6, 2022: SA v All Blacks, Mbombela

This was a significant 26-10 win in a game where New Zealand were kept tryless for about 78 minutes of the contest – something that doesn’t really happen in modern-day rugby.

But just like what occurred at Twickenham this year, happened at Mbombela Stadium in August last year.

Nienaber’s Boks kept the All Blacks under the pump from the kickoff, and demonstrated that an accurate and intensely physical start is the key to toppling them.

What was significant about the Mbombela win was that the Boks lost influential Faf de Klerk early on, and that replacement – being just as good as the starter – shone brightly in the contest as youngster Jaden Hendrikse took his opportunity.

It was also one of the best Bok defensive displays – Nienaber’s forte – in a Test match.

August 7, 2021 : SA v British and Irish Lions, Third Test, Cape Town

Deja vu is what a lot of headlines read after the end of the third Test, and Nienaber’s first series win in charge.

Morné Steyn, as he did in 2009, kicked the Boks to an epic 19-16 win over the Lions with a last-gasp penalty.

It was Nienaber’s debut series and also just his fourth Test as the head coach of the world champions. He had to wait more than a year after his appointment to coach them in a Test, and after beating Georgia, they also claimed two of the three Tests against the Lions.

The third Test, played during a third Covid-19 wave, really put Nienaber on the path as the man in charge of the Boks, and it braced him for the trials and tribulations of that responsibility.

It was a magnificent series under trying conditions, but the Boks eventually showed signs of the team they would become under Nienaber with the nail-biting win.