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Is this the end? No one knows - Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber

Cheslin Kolbe with Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi and Jacques Nienaber of South Africa celebrates with fans during the 2023 Rugby World Cup South Africa Arrival at the OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg

By the end of the year, the Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber will be in Ireland to take up his coaching role with Leinster, while captain Siya Kolisi moves abroad to play for Racing 92 in France. Seen here: (lefto to right) Cheslin Kolbe, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi and Jacques Nienaber of South Africa. Picture: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Published Nov 1, 2023


It was a time of celebration, and a time of great joy, of memories made, friendships forged, a time of many challenges, of comrades walking the road to triumph, a time of setbacks, of battling against the odds, of Tests won and Rugby World Cups set on the line and retained.

And like all times of misery and woe, delight and exuberance, it must come to an end … for now.

The next few days will be the last halcyon days of Jacques Nienaber and Siya Kolisi’s inspired championship-winning partnership.

Hereafter, by the end of the year, the Bok coach will be in Ireland to take up his coaching role with Leinster, while captain Kolisi moves abroad to play for Racing 92 in France.

Embracing the jubilation

They get to tour the major centres of South Africa first though, embracing the jubilation of a nation over the next few days, starting in Gauteng on Thursday.

Upon arrival back in the country on Tuesday, however, Nienaber reflected with a pragmatic smile and contained pride about the journey that led to the Boks winning their fourth Webb Ellis Cup.

“It has been an unbelievable privilege,” the 51-year-old said.

“Siya is 32 now,” he continued, before asking Ox Nche to help out with the maths of a career fulfilled in the most extraordinary of ways.

“When did we start? How long has it been?”

“Fourteen,” Kolisi answered, with Nche echoing the answer.

“It’s been 14 years that we have been working together. It sounds long.

“It is more than a third of Siya’s life and it is the fortunate thing that I had being involved that long with this group at different levels.

“I knew them from when they were naughty ... when we all were naughty. Now they are husbands, they are fathers, they are unbelievable with their kids and are family men.

“What legacy will they leave?” Nienaber mused thoughtfully.

“They didn’t change. The Siya I met when he was 18, is still the Siya he is now. The Cheslin (Kolbe) that I met, he has never changed.

“Fame never got to them. They never became entitled and that is the legacy they will leave.

“When you become a Springbok, there is Eben (Etzebeth) the person and Eben the rugby player and they never became the title.

“Siya never became the Springbok captain. He always stayed Siya and that is the beauty of this group.”

Boks in strongest position ever

Nienaber departs the Springboks job in arguably its strongest position ever, winning 27 of his 39 Tests in charge and with two World Cup medals to display and a British & Irish Lions Series victory to brag about.

Having started his career as a physiotherapist in Bloemfontein, Nienaber would be forgiven for being stunned regarding his journey to this moment.

“In 2011, I was lucky to be with the Boks for seven Tests and I thought I would never be involved again. In 2016, I was involved for three Tests against Ireland but I had already signed with Munster.

“When I left, I thought that it was an unbelievable 10 Tests with the Boks. Now I am here and a lot of people think it is the end.

“But one thing that I have learnt is that we plan our lives and think I want to be there in a year’s time, or there in a year’s time.

“Life has its own plans. Right now, it is the end with this group but whether it is the end with the Boks, no-one knows.

“If I come back, I must be relevant, I must be good enough, the players must want me here, the people must want you here. If that all happens, it will be an unbelievable honour.”

Succession planning

Although the future is bright, who will follow in Nienaber’s footsteps remains undecided.

“The succession planning,” Nienaber explained in Afrikaans, “I will obviously leave to Mark (Alexander) and Rassie (Erasmus) and the leadership group.

“I can promise you it will be intense for the remainder of the year and there will be a proper handover.”

It was a sentiment shared by SA Rugby president Alexander, who said: “I think we will do the wash-up of the tournament first, and then we will talk about where we will go next – but there is no rush.

“We have a director of rugby that can fill in during the meantime. We are taking our time to look at the other coach within the system and then we will decide. There is no big rush … We are building capacity within the organisation.”


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