Jacques Nienaber opens up on his relationship with Rassie Erasmus after leaving Springboks

Colin Newboult
Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and head coach Jacques Nienaber during the Rugby World Cup.

Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and head coach Jacques Nienaber during the Rugby World Cup.

Former Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber admits that it is “different” having left Rassie Erasmus to join Leo Cullen at Leinster.

The duo have dovetailed superbly over the years and took South Africa to successive Rugby World Cup titles in 2019 and 2023.

They also worked together at the Cheetahs, Stormers and Munster in what has proven to be a fruitful relationship.

Move to Ireland

However, Nienaber decided to depart the Boks following the recent World Cup triumph to sign for Irish province Leinster, working under their boss Cullen.

Erasmus has remained with the national team set-up and has taken on the role of head coach to go alongside his position as director of rugby.

“Rassie is like a brother to me. It’s different without him,” Nienaber told Rapport. “It’s not like it’s necessarily negatively or positively different because it’s not Rassie.

“If you change teams or countries, things are done differently and you have to adapt. It’s the challenge I enjoy.

“It’s always nice to have Rassie there, because he supported me and understood me. It’s also not a case of Leo not supporting me.

“Rassie and I have known each other for about 30 years and Leo and I have known each other for about 30 days now. We are still getting to know each other.”

Nienaber revealed late last year that continuing with the Springboks was simply not an option after the World Cup, with the 51-year-old desperate for more family time.

“I just felt I had lost a lot of time with my family. That’s why the decision was made between January and February,” Nienaber explained.

“My wife said: ‘Listen, I don’t think we can do another four years of this.’ The kids said: ‘Dad, we need you at home,’ and that’s why when the opportunity came up again with Leinster, I was nervous because I didn’t want to lose that cutting edge being challenged. I didn’t want to lose that because I feel that makes you a good coach.

“That’s why this job for me was a perfect fit, I’m going to be challenged as a coach tremendously. There’s going to be big expectations, but at least I have some family time as well.”


Nienaber also stated last month that there was no ill-feeling towards him from either Erasmus or SA Rugby after he decided to choose Leinster over the Springboks.

“They were happy with it,” he said. “They gave me their blessing, and then, when the opportunity came up, we announced it as quickly as possible because it was never for me [that] I didn’t want to work in South Africa anymore.

“There were other offers from other internationals. It wasn’t for me to change, or to move, or to come north. It wasn’t anything like that. It was just that I needed to get away from international rugby. That was the reason.”

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