Springbok defence coach Nienaber admits the All Blacks keep him awake for hours

Jacques Nienaber (Defence Coach) of South Africa during the South African national rugby team training session and fan engagement at Shiranami Stadium on September 12, 2019 in Kagoshima, Japan.
Jacques Nienaber (Defence Coach) of South Africa during the South African national rugby team training session and fan engagement at Shiranami Stadium on September 12, 2019 in Kagoshima, Japan.
Image: Steve Haag/Gallo Images

“Yes‚ especially the All Blacks‚” Springbok defence coach Jacques Nienaber replied animatedly.

“They keep me awake for hours. (I have) lots of coffee‚” admitted Nienaber the extent to which his job requires him to decode the opposition’s attacking intent and potency.

In an age where players and coaches reach for the clichéd ‘we only look at ourselves’‚ Nienaber’s candour is sobering and refreshing.

In the build-up to Saturday’s Rugby World Cup (RWC) Pool B match against the All Blacks‚ the Bok defence coach has had good reason to be sleepless in Tokyo.

He has seen developments in the New Zealand attack that has been advanced over time‚ and of late.

“The one thing that stood out for me is they are getting a different shape in general attack‚” Nienaber took the first steps down a rabbit hole that defence coaches in particular will find enlightening.

“I think people talk about a one‚ three‚ three‚ one. They maybe have a two‚ three‚ two system. You can see they are trying to utilise their forwards a little bit differently‚” said Nienaber‚ who has been a loyal lieutenant in the career of Bok head coach Rassie Erasmus.

Does that mean the All Blacks will bring something new to the Yokohama Stadium on Saturday?

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“Without a doubt‚” enthused Nienaber.

“New Zealand always have some innovative plays. That is always the nice thing for me. I can’t wait to see what new they are going to bring.

“I think they just got better at what they are trying to do. I think I saw the new shape more consistently in the end of year tour last year‚ especially against Ireland.

“When we played them in Wellington we saw more of it. They got better. They are moving in a direction and they are still kind of finding out where their skill set will fit into this new attacking style.

"I think they are beginning to understand what kind of can of worms they opened. Where will everybody slot in and where will everybody be positioned in that system?”

It isn’t just the All Blacks who have had to amend the way they go about breaking down defences. Nienaber stressed teams have had to evolve out of necessity.

“Attack got so good they found ways to break down the old system. In rugby defence usually follows attack. We had to change. I don’t think we know where we are currently‚” he said about the globe’s coaching collective.

The Boks too have had to embrace a more attack minded approach. They too have come to realise you can’t beat the world’s top teams without developing ways of scoring tries.

However‚ some of their greatest success against the All Blacks have been built on a bedrock of uncompromising defence but Nienaber sprung to the defence of the team’s evolution.

“We don’t want to be known as a team that is defence orientated‚” he frowned.

“We are trying to get the balance (right). In the Rugby Championship we are trying to score tries. We want to attack but sometimes you can attack without the ball and with it.

He stressed the team’s potency in attack has not come at the expense of defence.

“When I was at the Stormers that was probably the one mind set that I have changed was to be a little bit more into each other’s department.

"It is not just defence is my department and I look after that. I was like that‚ definitely. That is the one thing me as a coach has evolved. It must be a balanced thing‚ it can’t be lopsided.”