Nienaber 'hits the ground running' on first day at Leinster

HE MAY HAVE only arrived at their training base for the first time today, but Jacques Nienaber is already making his presence felt in his new role as Leinster’s senior coach.

Thirty days on from guiding South Africa to their second consecutive Rugby World Cup title as a head coach – having previously served as an assistant to Rassie Erasmus for their 2019 success in Japan – Nienaber has finally assumed a position that was vacated by Stuart Lancaster at the end of the province’s 2022/23 campaign.

While he would have been forgiven for taking a hands-off approach after only just touching down on Irish soil, Leinster’s scrum coach Robin McBryde has revealed that Nienaber was immediately in the thick of things in UCD as the eastern province prepared for a visit to Connacht this coming Saturday.

“He has turned up this morning, very unassuming really. There was no big fanfare. He was left a slab of Guinness on his desk as a welcome to Ireland! It was pretty low key. Just a round of applause when he was introduced to the squad,” McBryde acknowledged at a Leinster media briefing today.

nienaber 'hits the ground running' on first day at leinster

Nienaber arrives for training with Ryan Baird.

“He has pretty much hit the ground running, he has obviously done his homework with regards to the language that we use here at Leinster. So he has been able to get into the rugby straight away really around the training field. He wasn’t on the touchline very long, he was on the training field and hitting the ground running.”


Back in 2019, McBryde was part of the coaching team for Wales’ narrow loss to South Africa at the semi-final stage of the World Cup. For him, there are a couple of key elements that have helped to make the Springboks such a formidable outfit in recent years under the tutelage of Erasmus and Nienaber.

Just the cohesiveness around the team, they always seem to be on the same page. There’s obviously a clarity that they’ve got as a squad. Doesn’t matter who takes the field, it’s the same level of consistency.

“Week in, week out, irrespective of who’s playing for them, and the ease that they are able to make those replacements without having an effect on the performance,” McBryde added.

Whereas the 7/1 bench split that South Africa used in their final win over New Zealand – and their pool stage reversal to Ireland – was a major talking point at this year’s World Cup, the decision to select six forwards and two backs for their run of knockout games in the 2023 edition of the tournament also provoked much discussion.

For his side’s 21-16 victory against arch rivals Munster at the Aviva Stadium last Saturday, Leinster head coach Leo Cullen chose the latter bench split for the second time this season. In their opening game of the new URC campaign – a 43-25 defeat to Glasgow Warriors in Scotstoun Stadium – openside flanker Will Connors donned the number 23 jersey amongst the replacements and was one of six forwards to be introduced off the bench.

Having started in the back-row for that game, Penny found himself in a similar position to Connors on the weekend just gone. He also benefited from a 6/2 split that Cullen used for a European Champions Cup game against Racing 92 at the Aviva last season and the former St Michael’s College student could well benefit if this becomes a regular occurrence during Nienaber’s time with the province.

nienaber 'hits the ground running' on first day at leinster

Nienaber with Leo Cullen and Sean O’Brien.

“There’s a lot of back-rows, so I’m always happy when it’s a 6/2 anyway. It’s something that a lot of teams are looking at, at the moment. It obviously allows your forwards to give their full for 60 minutes and then unload your bench,” Penny said at today’s media briefing.

“I’m happy enough with it. It’s making sure that some forwards are happy with covering the wing if you do fall into that situation, but it’s worked well for us whenever we have done it.”

Given he is a player with aspirations of pushing on into the international Test arena, Penny is understandably eager to learn as much as he can from someone who has two World Cup wins on his coaching CV.

Their defensive work was seen as a key factor behind the Springboks securing these back-to-back Webb Ellis Cup triumphs and Penny is fascinated to see how Nienaber evolves this side of Leinster’s game in the weeks, months and years to come.

“Obviously he was pretty successful with South Africa and they’d obviously be a team that put a lot of pressure on the breakdown. I’m hoping I can learn some stuff from him as regards to defensive breakdowns and also learning how they have made their defence so impressive over the last few years,” Penny said.

“I think it’s probably the main area we can put a lot of focus on. It’s obviously great to have Jacques, who can help to orchestrate that.”

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