Siya Kolisi in heartfelt speech to outgoing Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber

Colin Newboult
Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber and captain Siya Kolisi in 2023.

Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber and captain Siya Kolisi in 2023.

South Africa’s inspirational captain Siya Kolisi spoke at length over the influence Jacques Nienaber has had on his career following their Rugby World Cup semi-final triumph.

The two go way back after they first met 14 years ago following the flanker’s move to Western Province.

At the time, Nienaber was the defence coach at the Cape Town-based outfit and he helped mould Kolisi into the player we see today.

The back-row is now skipper under the Springboks head coach’s stewardship and they are preparing for a World Cup final against the All Blacks.

Set to move on

It will be Nienaber’s final match in charge of the national team as he prepares to join Leinster after the global tournament.

“I was 18 years old. I was contracted with the Cheetahs and then I was able to go to Western Province. That is when I met Jacques,” Kolisi said.

“He and coach Rassie [Erasmus] used to come to the institute, the Western Province academy. That is where our foundation as a group [began].

“When Jacques came it was the full contact there and you had to show who you are. Every time they came it was intense.

“I got to know him then and as I went on he became my senior coach and one thing I love about him is he goes far deeper than what is happening on the field. He got to know me, my family and why I do what I do. He speaks to us with human courtesy.

“They don’t encourage us to tackle hard, we all know what that is. He knows my kids by name, asks me how I am doing as a person and that is why I can go and give him everything on the field because he cares about the person, he cares about Siya from the township. For the teams, especially in big moments, he talks about each and every player’s journey.”

Nienaber joined the South African set-up after Rassie Erasmus was named head coach and director of rugby of the Springboks.

The 51-year-old played a key role in their 2019 World Cup triumph and was promoted to the head honcho role following that global tournament.

“It is so special to be known as a person not just as an object or a rugby player. That’s what he brings to this team. And the fact that he allows families to be around, how much he loves to see our kids running around,” Kolisi said.

“I know some teams are not allowed to have families, but that is what he creates, that family environment. I have enjoyed every single year that I’ve worked with him.”

Another side to him

Nienaber is also forthright, according to Kolisi, and is not afraid to criticise the captain when it is needed.

“The tough times too, when he comes and calls me out. He is always honest. I can’t explain how much I have enjoyed it,” the flanker added.

“He and coach Rassie [Erasmus] love the country. Wherever he goes, they are going to be lucky. The detail he puts in, it makes life so much easier.

“All I have to do is watch a screen to see what opportunities are there. He’s a special coach and a special human being, an amazing father and a great husband. I will always be thankful. When I first met him I couldn’t tackle.”

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