Rugby World Cup Pool B: Meet the head coaches in charge of each nation

Dylan Coetzee
Head coaches Jacques Nienaber (Springboks), Andy Farrell (Ireland) and Gregor Townsend (Scotland).

Head coaches Jacques Nienaber (Springboks), Andy Farrell (Ireland) and Gregor Townsend (Scotland).

The Rugby World Cup is ever so close and is set to be the most competitive edition of the global showpiece yet. There is still so much to discuss ahead of the action. Next up is a closer look at the coaches in Pool B.

South Africa – Jacques Nienaber

The Springbok head coach has possibly the most interesting journey to taking the helm of such a big team. As a player, his rugby never extended beyond Grey College in Bloemfontein’s first team.

His first involvement with a team after high school was as a physiotherapist for the University of Free State and in 1997 he joined the Cheetahs. This period was key as Nienaber had started working with Rassie Erasmus in both of those set-ups – a partnership which would prove to be crucial for his future.

By 2004, he transitioned to strength and conditioning coach at the Cheetahs with Erasmus moving to head coach a year later alongside his partner.

When Erasmus was drafted in by the Stormers in 2008 he took Nienaber with him as his defence coach. From 2011 he would double up with a role assisting the Springboks at the World Cup that year. He also worked with Erasmus as part of a Mobi-Unit which helped coaches around the country.

Erasmus would take a role in Ireland with Munster and Nienaber kept the trend and joined him as defence coach in 2016. Not long after the struggling Boks called on Erasmus to pull them out of a slump and the same as always applied with Nienaber joining as defence coach.

South Africa achieved a remarkable World Cup win in 2019 after which Nienaber was named as head coach of the Springboks – his first-ever head coaching position. The tactician is now about to lead the side in their World Cup defence in France.

Accolades

British & Irish Lions Series: 2021

Ireland – Andy Farrell

The England-born coach had a very successful career as a dual international for the country. The bulk of his playing days were spent in rugby league with Wigan where he made a whopping 370 appearances between 1991 and 2004 and also represented Great Britain and England.

He signed for Saracens in 2005, making the switch to rugby union and went on to play for England at the 2007 Rugby World Cup where he primarily featured at centre before he hung his boots in 2009.

He stepped into the coaching fray a year later as skills coach for Saracens. He was then drafted into Stuart Lancaster’s England set-up as an assistant coach. After impressing in that role he was brought on to the British & Irish Lions coaching team as defence coach in 2013.

After the 2015 World Cup, Eddie Jones changed his entire coaching staff on arrival which saw Farrell moving to Ireland as the team assistant under Joe Schmidt. Farrell was then named as Schmidt’s successor after the 2019 tournament where he has been in charge ever since.

Farrell has created a very powerful Ireland team littered with achievements including a three-match Test series win in New Zealand, world number one status and a Grand Slam to match. He will be hoping his side break the poor run Ireland has had in past World Cups.

Accolades

Six Nations Grand Slam: 2023
Six Nations Triple Crown: 2022

Scotland – Gregor Townsend

A true Scotland rugby man through and through. Townsend, who played in several backline positions including fly-half, centre and full-back, had a lengthy playing career lasting 17 years with stints around the world for teams like Northampton Saints, Brive, Castres, Montpellier and the Sharks. He also represented Border Reivers in two different spells. This culminated in a whopping 82 caps for Scotland and two for the British & Irish Lions.

His second stint at Border Reivers was at the end of his career and he operated in a player/coach capacity. However, the club was disbanded in 2007 two years after his return. This opened the door for an assistant job with Scotland ‘A’ before a similar role with the national side in 2009 where he stayed until 2012.

Townsend’s first head coach role was with Glasgow Warriors where he spent five years from 2012 before he stepped into the top job in Scotland in 2017 where he has been since.

The coach has created a fearless Scotland team that continues to improve and break boundaries, making them an interesting watch during this year’s tournament. Townsend earned a spot on the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa as an assistant.

Tonga – Toutai Kefu

Despite being born in Tonga, Kefu never represented his country during his playing days but instead played in Australia. He was a powerful number eight that earned over 100 caps for the Queensland Reds in eight years, which in turn led to an impressive 60 Tests for the Wallabies.

He left Australia in 2004 and finished his career off at Kubota Spears in Japan, retiring in 2010.

Almost immediately he stepped into the coaching fold with the top job for Sunshine Coast Stingrays in the Queensland Premier League. It helped him get an invite to be an assistant coach for Tonga at the 2011 World Cup including a memorable win against France in the pool stage.

In 2012, Kefu returned to his former club Kubota Spears in Japan as head coach where he spent the next four years until 2016 when he was offered the head coaching role with the Tongan national side.

Since then, he has developed the Tonga side quite well and he is looking to make the most of World Rugby’s eligibility changes which allow players the chance to represent two different nations provided conditions are met. This has seen the likes of Charles Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa amongst others to play for the side.

Romania – Eugen Apjok

The coach was a full-back during his playing days and managed three caps for Romania after representing CSM Stiinta Baia Mare, a club he would form a life-long connection with.

Two years after his final Test Apjok transitioned from player to coach as CSM Stiinta Baia Mare in 2003 where he would lead the team to a ridiculous eight titles in 15 years.

In 2011, he worked with the Romania national team as assistant where he helped the team qualify for the 2015 World Cup.

Apjok took over the team late in 2022 and is looking to lead the Oaks in a very difficult pool in this year’s tournament.

READ MORE: Rugby World Cup Pool A: Meet the head coaches in charge of each nation