Cheetahs and Bulls scrum coach Daan Human should be the only surprise when SA Rugby announces Jacques Nienaber as Rugby World Cup-winning Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus’ successor this week, City Press has been reliably informed.
With Bok defence coach Nienaber set to be promoted to head coach in place of director of rugby Erasmus – and former Southern Kings head coach Deon Davids to replace England-bound forwards coach Matt Proudfoot – Human is the nearest thing to an unexpected name in the world champions’ revised coaching staff.
The four-cap Springbok, who would have played with Erasmus at the Cheetahs in his formative years as a loose head prop, has earned the shot with the work he did at the Bulls, where his improvement of Lizo Gqoboka and Trevor Nyakane helped turn them into an unstoppable front row in last year’s Super Rugby competition.
Human possibly also benefited from South Africa-born former France prop Peter de Villiers, who did the Bok scrum coaching job under Heyneke Meyer and Erasmus before taking up Scotland’s offer.
Either way, he has an extensive playing record, having also turned out 26 times for the Stormers and a whopping 169 times for French club side Toulouse from 2004 to 2012.
His calling card as a coach has been an informal touch based on the players’ preferences as opposed to just technique.
Another appointment should be Irishman Felix Jones, who was roped in to replace attack consultant Swys de Bruin not long before the World Cup last year.
The former Ireland international and Munster attack coach will now be employed full time instead of as a consultant whose responsibility was to identify potential weaknesses in the opposition’s defence.
The appointments represent Erasmus winning the battle to get his own people in to replace him to carry on the culture inculcated over the past two years, and to maintain the alignment of thinking established in that time.
As much as this is a victory for a man who could do no wrong last year, there has been a fair bit of grumbling within rugby structures about the relative lack of progress regarding interviews and in hiring staff to new positions.
While Nienaber’s rabid rush defence was instrumental to the Boks winning the World Cup, the fact remains that the former physiotherapist has not been a head coach before.
The feeling has been that SA Rugby might have cast the net wider by advertising to see which heavyweight coaches might have been interested in coaching the newly minted world champions.
That said, the swift appointments mean the Bok management squad can work on getting ready not only for the international season ahead, but also to prepare for next year’s British and Irish Lions tour.
As it is, late last year they took British and Irish Lions officials around the venues at which the games will be played and, as of this week, they’ve been busy organising themselves for the Boks’ season this year.
They have been helping the Super Rugby franchises to get ready for their new season, with Nienaber and Erasmus, in particular, doing the rounds at all four unions and offering help wherever the teams felt they needed it.