I cannot wait for my first Test in charge, says Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber
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CAPE TOWN – Such is Jacques Nienaber’s excitement ahead of his first Test as Springbok head coach that he didn’t mind a sore throat to prepare for it.
Nienaber will have had to wait over 18 months to take charge of the national team for the opening Test against Georgia on July 2, after being appointed on January 24, 2020.
Covid-19 meant that the Boks were unable to take to the field last year, but they have a jam-packed programme in 2021, starting with the Georgia Tests, going into the British and Irish Lions series, which is followed by the Rugby Championship and the end-of-year tour to Europe.
“I just cannot wait! During this alignment camp we just had, my throat is actually sore in the evenings, as I am not used to talk such a lot, to think… The players challenge you mentally and they ask questions – it was so lekker! This is why we do it, it’s why I do it. I love… I enjoy working with the players, to implement plans and work them out, to see if it works – I cannot wait,” Nienaber said on Friday during an online press conference.
“I have much more butterflies for this press conference than I have for the first Test – I’m just joking. I have a lot of butterflies in my stomach.”
Nienaber said that the second alignment camp held in Johannesburg this week was a valuable exercise.
“At the first alignment camps, we discussed the schedule, but that changed a bit as the tour became clearer. We also did a bit of a reality check, as players, team management and an organisation, looking at critical areas that we need to be at a certain standard,” he said.
“We also let the players know our selection policy – how to be part of these Tests and tours. We also started drip-feeding some of the game plan.
“At the second camp, we looked at where we can improve, and how far we have come. Then at the end of the camp, we spoke about strategy and plans, how we will do things with the players, which was enjoyable.”
But now the real hard work starts. Nienaber will announce his first 45-man Bok squad next Saturday, June 5 for the Georgia Tests and Lions series, with director of rugby Rassie Erasmus saying on Friday that the best possible team will be selected against the Eastern European outfit.
Nienaber mentioned that he was monitoring the currently injured World Cup winners Lood de Jager, RG Snyman and Warrick Gelant, but he was adamant that the rest of the squad are all available for selection this year – except for the retired Tendai Mtawarira, Francois Louw and Schalk Brits.
With such a long international season, Nienaber mentioned that the Lions series only makes up about 25 percent of the 2021 Tests, so he needs to plan for the other tournaments and tours too.
“Our strategic objectives are to win, to first and foremost get performance; the second one is to transform, and the third one is to broaden our squad depth. We will select and try to get the balance to talk to all three of those strategic objectives,” the former defence coach said.
“So, to select a squad that is good enough to win – obviously against Georgia, there will be other goals and objectives we’d like to achieve in those games. But by achieving them, we need to perform and win; then ticking the transformation box. And not just ticking the box, but transforming the team because we believe diversity is good for us.
“As we could see during the World Cup, we really feed off that. And to get a broader squad.”