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Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have become inseparable as a professional duo.
Everywhere Erasmus goes, you’ll find his defensive guru with him.
It’s easy then to label SA Rugby’s decision to appoint Nienaber as the new Springbok coach as a job for a pal.
Admittedly, it’s a one for a very competent pal. Nonetheless, the appointment does feel a bit weird.
Nienaber is a qualified physiotherapist who just relentlessly added to his coaching repertoire and is now regarded as one of the ultimate authorities on defence.
But he didn’t play professional rugby and hasn’t ever held a coaching position higher on the proverbial hierarchy than a specialist coach.
He’s certainly not the first.
Ivan van Rooyen is a strength and conditioning specialist now in charge of the Lions. Titans CEO Jacques Faul in 2013 took a punt on Rob Walter, who was a fitness trainer and fielding coach of the Proteas, to become the franchise’s head coach and he was remarkably successful.
Let’s forget Nienaber’s credentials and rather explore arguably the real reason why he’s been put in the hot seat.
It’s simple: Nienaber’s appointment allows SA Rugby to gain the most out of Erasmus, who’s now merely its director of rugby.
It’s a dynamic that has become a massive headache for sporting teams across various codes, particularly in soccer.
Technically, a director of football/cricket/rugby is higher on the organogram than the coach. It’s why some franchises struggle in such a structure because there’s constant friction between who’s will gets imposed more.
Carlo Ancelotti might have a vision for Everton’s style of play, but it means little if his director of football Marcel Brands signs players not suitable for that.
Now, imagine Erasmus appointing a head coach like John Mitchell or Jake White. Would two such strong-willed rugby brains really be able to coexist for long?
Rather pick a trusted lieutenant like Nienaber, a smart coach willing to still implement the real boss’ vision.
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