Brian O’Driscoll hails ‘serial winner’ Jacques Nienaber’s impact and reveals Johnny Sexton’s Leinster role

Alex Spink
Split image of Jacques Nienaber, Brian O'Driscoll and Johnny Sexton.

O'Driscoll spoke glowingly about Nienaber and Sexton ahead of the Champions Cup Final.

Brian O’Driscoll has hailed the ‘serial winner’ behind Leinster’s march to the Investec Champions Cup final – and revealed the role talisman Johnny Sexton still plays despite hanging up his boots.

Leinster contest their third consecutive Champions Cup final on Saturday with O’Driscoll admitting it will need a “five-star” performance for the Irish province to add a fifth star to their jersey.

Jacques Nienaber’s impact

But he says Leinster’s decision to hire World Cup-winning Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber gives them their best chance of avoiding an unwanted hat-trick of three straight final defeats.

“The guy is a serial winner,” O’Driscoll said. “To be able to deliver a World Cup and a Champions Cup in the same year speaks for itself.

“To be able to give all of your focus, everything in you, to a World Cup and then pick up three weeks later and put a new defensive system into a team that already had a good defence, and still get them to a final.

“That is great coaching, that is great leadership, that is great man management. You tip your cap to that.”

It is remarkable that 30 weeks separate the Springboks beating New Zealand to retain the Webb Ellis Cup in Paris and Leinster lining up against Toulouse in club rugby’s showpiece at Tottenham – 284 days in which he has closed the chapter on one life-changing experience, introduced himself to a new environment and immediately set about reshaping the way one of Europe’s top three teams defends.

“Jacques is someone that clearly has a very accessible and likeable personality within any environment,” added O’Driscoll. “I think that’s a really good sign in a coach. Someone who is able to park the ego on his success and have a likability factor in any new environment you plug yourself into.”

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Johnny Sexton’s role with Leinster

If Nienaber has added huge value to the Dublin outfit, then the loss to retirement of captain, leader and, yes, legend Sexton has left a colossal hole to fill. Albeit he has not been allowed to disappear.

“Lads are still calling him right, left and centre for advice, for intel, for what do you think here?” said O’Driscoll. “It’s almost like he’s gone into a non-playing mentor role within the environment.

“It’s understandable that they still lean to him. He was their captain. And Johnny’s very accessible, very generous with his time and willing to impart any knowledge he has for the sake of Ireland or Leinster.”

That unbroken connection, the midfield great believes, will ensure Sexton retains a “strong enough alignment with the team” which, in turn, will help his transition from player to civvy street.

A decade on from his own retirement O’Driscoll knows well what those first few months feel like, when you step back from the spotlight and, in Sexton’s case, take up the role of commercial manager for a major glass and metal company.

“It’s hard, really hard,” he said. “You’ve been defined by something and you’re suddenly trying to redefine yourself. That is a challenge.

“I would never speak for Johnny because he’s his own person, but you’re torn on seeing your team go and excel without you.

“Of course, ultimately you want them to go well because they’re your team, your province, but a little bit of the ego is like, ‘Oh God could they not just miss me a little bit more than they have done’!

“That’s natural human instinct. If people think otherwise they don’t understand the mental capacity needed to be a competitor for long periods of time in professional rugby.”

O’Driscoll and Sexton are friends, they live close to each other, their sons play in the same rugby team. And the former is full of admiration for how the latter is coping with change.

“I think he’s dealing with it unbelievably well,” O’Driscoll said. “On the face of it a hell of a lot better than it feels I managed the same period.”

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Rebuilding the defence

After Leinster lost last year’s final to La Rochelle in heartbreaking fashion, giving up a 17-0 lead, head coach Leo Cullen took what he considered the necessary decision to rebuild the defensive side of their game.

“It was a brave call,” said O’Driscoll. “Because their defence was already pretty good. But Leinster now do look physically more imposing.

“That Achilles heel of getting pushed around by the more physically dominant teams is something they’ve taken on with this defensive system.

“To have a total rethink and build new foundations and change so much will have taken a huge amount of focus over the year and I have to say their attack game hasn’t looked as good and as fluid as in the last couple of years.

“It’s still good, still high quality. I just don’t think it’s as detailed as it was the last couple of years which, for me, was some of the best rugby I’ve ever seen Leinster play.

“I think Toulouse are just favourites because the firepower they showed in the first half of their semi-final against Quins I don’t think Leinster have come across this year.

“They will score tries but you could easily see both sides scoring three or four, minimum. There is pretty much zero between these sides. It’s who delivers in the big moments and what X-factor is able to stand up and perform on the biggest stage.”

Watch Leinster v Toulouse in the Investec Champions Cup final exclusively live on TNT Sports 1 and discovery+ from 1:30pm on Saturday. For more info visit

READ MORE: Champions Cup: What happens if the Leinster v Toulouse final ends in a draw?