World Cup winners become opposition for SA sides as focus shifts

rugby28 November 2023 05:57
By:Brenden Nel
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Siya Kolisi © Gallo Images

After two months of unadulterated rugby glory and passion, Springbok fans may find life a little different when looking at their World Cup heroes now that club and franchise rugby has taken centre stage again.

The arrival of Jacques Nienaber at Leinster on Monday, being photographed with coach Leo Cullen in his new role as assistant coach has upped the discussion levels on social media and that, coupled with a few other shifts - including the likes of Siya Kolisi’s debut at Racing 92 will see Springbok heroes in other roles in the coming months.

While watching Bok heroes playing for overseas clubs and franchises is nothing new, the double move of Kolisi and Nienaber adds some extra spice to the upcoming matches, as both were instrumental in the double World Cup winning streak that took the Boks to double glory in Japan and France.

Nienaber’s intimate knowledge of South African players, their strengths, weaknesses and the mindset of the Bok players will be an invaluable addition to Leinster’s coaching corps, especially as the Irish powerhouse has missed out on trophy glory over the opening two seasons of the Vodocom United Rugby Championship after dominating the old Pro14 league.

And while Kolisi’s Racing92 don’t face the South African franchises in the opening rounds of the Investec Champions’ Cup, they will pose a significant threat should they get to the playoff rounds of the competition. Kolisi made his debut in Racing’s win over La Rochelle to put them top of the French Top 14 this weekend, with six wins in their opening eight games.

The other significant move from a World Cup winner is, of course, Steven Kitshoff’s move to Ulster - a massive blow for the DHL Stormers and a significant change for fans to get used to.

Nienaber is likely to settle in as a key figure for Leinster, who sit just behind Franco Smith’s Glasgow Warriors in second spot on the URC log and are likely to see themselves as massive title contenders - both in the Champions’ Cup and URC this season.

It is clear that Nienaber has already won the respect of many of his fellow coaches with his no-nonsense outlook, as assistant coach Robin McBryde said on Monday to Irish media.

"He was introduced in the meeting. There was a round of applause, not much fanfare other than that,” McBryde said, adding that Nienaber had received a slab of Guinness chocolate on his desk as a welcome.

“He got his hands stuck in right from the word go at training, he’s been doing his homework and learning the language; so he’s hitting the ground running.

“There probably will system changes be down the road, but he’ll take his time. He’s been in regular contact with Seánie (O’Brien), so I think a lot of the language is in place already.

“He’s arrived with a load of knowledge, he’s won two World Cups and everyone’s waiting for him to impart his knowledge. You’re willing to listen a bit more to someone with a proven track record as recently as the World Cup.”

It will be fascinating to see how the local franchises, so used to working with Nienaber over the past six years, adapt to having him as a foe now with an Irish franchise.

Nienaber helped plot the Springbok cause alongside Rassie Erasmus and as part of the mobi unit for the most part of more than a decade, and as Springbok coach for the last four years.

And now he will be a massive threat to the SA franchises hopes of toppling Leinster’s league run and their own hopes of title glory in the URC.

Kitshoff may have something to say about that as well, as he made his debut for Ulster off the bench last week against Glasgow Warriors.

But in his case, while a prop can make a massive statement in the setpieces, he is unlikely to have such a profound effect as Nienaber, and will join a long list of Springboks or former Boks who are a threat for their clubs when they face South African opposition.

In the Champions’ Cup Kitshoff’s first opposition will be a familiar face in Bath, who have Johann van Graan coaching them and Thomas du Toit, his Bok teammate in the front row.

Of course, other Boks that may face South African franchises across the Champions Cup include Handre Pollard and Jasper Wiese at Leicester, Jean Kleyn (and RG Snyman when fit again) at Munster and Trevor Nyakane - Kolisi’s teammate at Racing 92.

Leicester face the DHL Stormers in their opening Champions Cup clash while Racing open against Andre Esterhuizen’s Harlequins on December 9.

Other World Cup winning Boks in France include Marvin Orie at Perpignan and Cobus Reinach at Montpellier. Perpignan face the Emirates Lions in their opening game of the EPCR Challenge Cup while the Lions also face Montpellier in round 3 of the Challenge Cup.