Ireland Tests ‘very, very personal’ for new Bok defence guru Flannery

New Springbok defence coach Jerry Flannery (right), seen here with attack coach Tony Brown, acknowledged he has a tough act to follow in Jacques Nienaber. Photo: ASHFAK MOHAMED Independent Newspapers

New Springbok defence coach Jerry Flannery (right), seen here with attack coach Tony Brown, acknowledged he has a tough act to follow in Jacques Nienaber. Photo: ASHFAK MOHAMED Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 17, 2024


JERYY Flannery is as Irish as they come.

Born in Galway, schooled in Limerick and having played for Connacht and become a Munster stalwart, the former hooker – who is the new Springbok defence coach – went on to earn 45 Test caps for his country between 2005 and 2011.

He then went on to gain a master’s degree in sports performance and became a strength and conditioning coach at Arsenal Football Club in London, before turning his hand to rugby coaching at Munster and Harlequins.

He spent some time with the Boks in Pretoria last year ahead of the Wallaby Test, and being a close friend of then SA assistant coach Felix Jones, and having worked with Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber at Munster, it all added up to him coming on board full-time with the world champions this year.

But now the 45-year-old Flannery faces the toughest test of his coaching career: Facing his beloved Ireland.

Asked by Independent Newspapers in Cape Town this week whether he will try to learn the SA national anthem ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’ ahead of the first Ireland Test on July 6 at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, Flannery giggled:

“Should I? I didn’t see Felix singing it! But I’m trying to get buy-in here, so if you think I should...

“I got told I’ve got to learn Afrikaans in two years – I reckon I can get it down in a year. Daan Human (Bok scrum coach) said to me if I can learn one sentence every day...

“I can speak Irish and English, and if I can add Afrikaans in there, I think I will be a winner.

“It’s obviously going to be very, very personal for me. The nice thing as well is that because we haven’t beaten Ireland since 2016, it’s a big milestone for the group.

“And it’s about me controlling myself that week. But it is very personal for me, which I think is good because you care then – and I think when the players feel you care, they will go, ‘let’s do this’.

“I had all these conversations with Felix last week!”

Flannery acknowledged earlier this week that he has a tough act to follow in Nienaber as the Bok defence coach, but said: “I can’t be Jacques, but I can be Jerry.”

He has been impressed by Ireland’s Six Nations campaign, and feels there is still a role for the fetcher or “jackler” in the modern game, but knows the Boks will have their work cut out to earn their first win over the Irish since 2016.

South Africa last beat them 19-13 in Gqeberha in June 2016, which was followed by a 38-3 defeat in Dublin in November 2017, a 19-16 loss in Dublin in November 2022 and last year’s 13-8 result at the World Cup.

Erasmus said this week it is something the Boks need to “rectify”.

“It’s a big challenge because genuinely when I watch them, I go Ireland are really one of the best sides in the world – so fit, so skilful, so many layers to their game... It’s not about just stopping one thing,” Flannery said.

“The thing that stood out for me is how Ireland hit the ground running immediately, and I think that is the benefit of the Irish system – the players come out of Leinster, and then you drop in the best players of the other three provinces, and they hit the ground running straight away.

“They looked so fit, so cohesive against France. Conversely, I thought France looked slow out of the blocks, and Ireland punished them.

“When we talk about defence is evolving, the micro details are about how the referees are refereeing the breakdown. If you watch Ireland very carefully, they have been one of the best teams around that – and that’s why teams find it hard to break them down defensively.

“They are the best at adapting to how the referees are officiating the breakdown. There is always going to be jackal space, and it is (about) making good decisions – you don’t have too many bodies in the breakdown, because it compromises your width and spacing.

“When you defend, you want to defend to get the ball back – not just to wait for the opposition to make a mistake. There are definitely opportunities there.”

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