VIDEO INTERVIEW: When will Nienaber and Erasmus be reunited?
In the much-hyped build-up to the World Cup Final between South Africa and New Zealand, the ‘hint’ slipped under the radar.
Yet, this past weekend the theme resurfaced: ‘Will Jacques Nienaber return to South Africa after his stint with Leinster in Ireland?’
Now, with the World Cup euphoria having settled, it is perhaps a good time to revisit the question.
And the answer lies in what Nienaber said on the eve of the Springboks’ 12-11 win over the All Blacks at Paris’ famed Stade de France.
Addressing the media in the Salle Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) meeting room in the quaint commune of Presles in the Val-d’Oise district in northern France, Nienaber responded to a question about his ‘last’ game as Springbok coach.
He pointed out that twice before he was in a position where it seemed his stay as a member of the Bok coaching staff had come to and end.
Yet, he returned for a third stint and won two World Cup titles in the process.
For the next three years (unless something dramatically changes in the interim) Nienaber will be involved in the Leinster structures, while Rassie Erasmus will continue as the Director of Rugby in South Africa for at least the next two years.
Having started out as a physiotherapist with the Cheetahs, Nienaber eventually joined the South African Rugby Union’s Mobi-Unit – as he and Erasmus continued to build on the foundation they laid as a combination back in Bloemfontein.
It is a ‘team’ that ensured Siya Kolisi twice lifted the Webb Ellis Cup, only the second captain ever to do so.
On the Thursday before the World Cup Final last month, Nienaber set of on a ‘reflective’ run – thinking about what the future might hold for him beyond Paris.
And he found his answer in the past.
(WATCH as departing coach Jacques Nienaber drops a hint that he might return to the Springbok fold in the not-too-distant future…)
“In 2011, when I was in New Zealand with the Springboks [as an assistant to then Bok coach Peter de Villiers], I thought I would continue [with the national team],” Nienaber said on the eve of the Grande Final at Paris’ Stade de France.
“[Then head coach] Heyneke [Meyer] went another route with John McFarland and they were very successful.
“At the time I thought: ‘Okay, I had seven games with the Springboks and it was unbelievable’.
“In 2016 I got another opportunity with the Boks [to work under Allister Coetzee], but then I had already signed with Munster.
“I then only had three Test matches with the Boks.
“So, when I left for Munster, I thought: ‘That’s it, I had 10 unbelievable matches with the Springboks’.
“Then we [Nienaber and Erasmus] returned in 2018.
“The point is, you actually don’t know the future.”
Nienaber, who turned 51 just under a fortnight before the Final, said at the time he was not ’emotional’ at all about the possibility that it could be his last game as a member of the Springbok squad.
“You can plan life as much as you want, but life has its own way.
“For me, I just focus on how you should approach the game,
“Any day can be your last day.
“I enjoy every single minute of it – stay in the now and the moment.
“Rather than thinking this might be the end or this is the end, just stay in the moment.”
So, it should not have come as a surprise that Nienaber has already been linked with a return to the Springboks once he completes his contract with the Irish province, Leinster.
Nienaber’s contract with Leinster runs until June 2026, one month before the start of that year’s Test calendar.
And with Erasmus set to take on the responsibilities as coach ‘for the foreseeable future’, it is not beyond the realm of probability that Nienaber will be back for another crack at World Cup glory in 2027.