There was a somewhat bittersweet feeling amongst Springbok fans after South Africa had won the World Cup, given that Rassie Erasmus was about to step down. Indeed, many incredulous supporters from the rainbow nation voiced their very understandable concerns about the perils of fixing what isn’t already broken.
The decision was final, though, and the World Cup-winning coach would revert back to his role of technical director for the Springboks as Jacques Nienaber, the former defence coach, was tasked with leading the Boks.
On the surface, it did indeed look like a spectacular own goal and you were left feeling like the Boks had unnecessarily shot themselves in the foot whilst standing on the summit of world rugby. What many people don’t know is that Erasmus and Nienaber have been a double act for a lot longer than is generally reported in the media.
Of course, it has been well documented that they worked together at the Free State Cheetahs, the Stormers, and Munster, but that is just half of the story. Their journey together actually started in the South African army whilst they carried out their national service as young men; from there, they would then go to the same university. Erasmus stayed on a bit longer in the army before putting down the guns and picking up the books at university. Nienaber jokes about this and says it is because ‘Rassie was a better tactician,’ – not many will argue with that after the Boks won the 2019 World Cup.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) October 24, 2019
The good news for the Springboks is that they aren’t going to lose the tactical nous that Erasmus has. Without a doubt, it will be a unique as well as trying setup as Nienaber now has to report to Erasmus but given how far back these two go, you can easily imagine that their relationship has been built on disagreeing and being objective; some would argue that you can’t achieve success otherwise.
Nevertheless, the bond that they share will be tested like never before when the Lions touchdown in South Africa next year for their 2021 tour. What’s interesting is that despite the Boks being world champions, they are not the favourites to win the three-match series and instead find themselves at longer odds of 6/5 in rugby union betting to beat Warren Gatland’s men.
This try, in the Rugby World Cup final, was sensational from Cheslin Kolbe. pic.twitter.com/DXZFGG3DTz
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) November 3, 2019
That does give you an indication of the type of pressure that the new South African rugby coach faces and, if you think that winning the World Cup will be enough to satisfy this rugby-mad nation, then think again. They will expect a repeat of the Lions’ 2009 tour where the Boks took the series 2-1.
The good news for South Africa is that these two men have literally sat in the trenches together and know how to get out and win the battle. It will be a baptism of fire for Nienaber and there are indeed raging storms coming in from the Northern Hemisphere, but with his good friend standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him, they should be able to not only weather it but thrive.