Nienaber and Gatland’s fortunes can plummet or soar on back of second Boks-Lions Test result
Head coaches Jacques Nienaber and Warren Gatland go into Saturday’s second Test between the Springboks and the British & Irish Lions with contrasting fortunes beckoning.
There is a huge amount at stake for both‚ albeit on opposite sides of the performance spectrum.
Gatland can lay serious claim to the unofficial title of best coach in the world should the Lions pull off a win and secure a Test series on South African soil with victory at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.
For Nienaber‚ who is still trying to get a proper grip on the coaching reins‚ it may be a matter of coming out of this series unscathed.
Having spread his coaching expertise from his native New Zealand to England‚ Ireland and Wales‚ Gatland has wide popularity‚ although that is not a contest he is trying to win.
He arrived in South Africa with vast experience in the Lions’ set-up. He was assistant to the astute Ian McGeechan here in 2009 but has held the reins since.
Gatland has lost just two of the seven Tests he has presided over the Lions as head coach and victory here will put him firmly in the pantheon of greats like All Blacks slayer Carwyn James.
The Kiwi is indubitably a highly decorated coach. He won three Premierships‚ a Heineken Cup and a Challenge Cup with Wasps‚ as well as an Air New Zealand Cup with Waikato.
As Test coach he has chalked up four Six Nations including three Grand Slams with Wales‚ a Lions series win in Australia and a drawn series in New Zealand.
The only jewel missing is the Webb Ellis Cup and of the coaches who claimed that trophy only Jake White and Steve Hansen remain active as head coaches. Rassie Erasmus might have trouble explaining why he should be included on that list.
Nienaber‚ somehow‚ needs to emerge from Erasmus’s shadow.
The lines‚ however‚ are blurred. When Nienaber was appointed Erasmus‚ the national director of rugby‚ was quoted as saying: “I’ll still be responsible for the strategy and results with Jacques taking operational control. The structure allows the director of rugby to spend more time on other aspects of the role.
“Jacques will be responsible for the Test match preparation and day-to-day team operations but‚ as the director of rugby‚ I will be with the team for the majority of the time and in the coaches’ box with Jacques at matches.”
They are joined at the hip and Nienaber‚ when he was appointed‚ reminded that they had coached together for almost two decades.
Unfortunately for Nienaber his credentials are being put to the blowtorch very early in his career as head coach. When he signed up for the job he would have had 18 months to prepare for the Lions series but the pandemic hit and the Boks were mothballed until they dusted themselves down in a one-off against Georgia.
He has not had adequate opportunity to mould and shape the team to his vision‚ although some will argue that is an already shared one.
A series defeat for the Springboks‚ especially if it arrives as early as the second Test‚ will he a huge blow to a coach desperate to show that he belongs.
The last time a Springboks coach suffered the ignominy of series defeat against the Lions in his first actual season in the coaches’ box was in 1997.
Although high on energy and intent Carel du Plessis’s team blundered their way to a 2-0 deficit and the die was pretty much cast on his time in charge of the Boks. Shipping 55 points in Auckland as part of three successive defeats in the Tri-Nations later that year sealed his fate.
Nienaber‚ of course‚ still has breathing space but it is in an environment that has become increasingly toxic.