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‘A special coach, a special human being. Leinster are lucky to have him’

NORMALLY, IF A player is asked to speak about their coach when they’re sitting alongside each other, it can be a little awkward.

Siya Kolisi isn’t normal when it comes to speaking effusively about team-mates and coaches, though.

The Springboks captain never holds back from praising those around him and so, when he was asked about head coach Jacques Nienaber on Saturday night, he delivered a resounding, glowing endorsement of the Leinster-bound man’s ability.

Nienaber will join Leinster after the World Cup and he could arrive with his second winner’s medal if the Boks can beat New Zealand in this weekend’s final at Stade de France.

Former Munster defence coach Nienaber was pivotal to the Boks’ success in 2019 and having taken on even more responsibility under boss Rassie Erasmus in the years since, he’s a driving force at this World Cup too.

It will be fascinating to see and hear what kind of impact Nienaber has on Leinster, given that he’s coming from a very different set-up. Nienaber will join Leo Cullen’s staff as the new senior coach, a job title previously held by Stuart Lancaster.  

The way Kolisi tells it, there’s no doubt that Nienaber is going to be a hugely positive presence when he arrives in Ireland.

“I was 18-years-old, I was contracted with the Cheetahs and then I got out, I was able to go to Western Province and that’s when I met Jacques,” said 32-year-old Kolisi.

“I was turning 19 and him and coach Rassie used to come to the Institute, which is like an academy for Western Province. Eben Etzebeth was there, Frans Malherbe, a lot of other guys who play professional rugby.


Ben Brady / INPHO
Kolisi alongside Nienaber in a team photo.

Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

“When Jacques and them came, it was normally the full-contact day, you had to show who you are. I remember every time they came, it was intense. I got to know him there already and then as I went on, he became my senior coach.

“One thing that I love about him is that he goes far deeper than what’s happening on the field. He got to know me, he got to know my family, he got to know my reasons why I do what I do.

“He speaks to us as a team, him and coach Rassie, they’re not encouraging us to tackle hard and all of that, we know what that is. He goes on who we are playing for, what’s driving us, and he knows my family. He knows my kids by name and he asks how I’m doing as a person.

“That’s why I can go and give everything for him on the field because he cares about the person. He cares about Siya from the township. He tries to bring him out of me every time I play.

“For the teams and especially in big moments, he sits and talks about each and every single player, he talks about our journey, and it’s so special to be known as a person, not just as an object or a rugby player.

“That’s what he brings to this team. The fact that he allows families to be around, how much he loves to see our kids running around… I know some teams are not allowed to have families but that kind of family environment is what he creates for this team.

“I’ve enjoyed every single year that I’ve worked with him. The tough times too, when he comes and calls me out, ‘Why didn’t you work there?’ He’s always honest.

“I can’t explain how much I’ve enjoyed it. It was tough when he went away [to Munster] for two years but when he came back again, we clicked.


Billy Stickland / INPHO
Nienaber will join Leinster after the World Cup.

Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“We didn’t have to learn each other again, him and coach Rassie just came in and changed things because they love their country.

“I know that wherever he goes, they’re going to be lucky to have him because of the amount of work he puts in, the detail he gets into, it makes life so much easier. All I have to do is just watch a screen and see the opportunities that are there.

“So he’s a special coach and a special human being, most of all, an amazing father and a great husband.

“We will miss him and I will always, forever, be thankful because I remember when I first met him, I couldn’t tackle. After that year, I had to learn how to tackle.”


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