Springboks coaches explain why ‘Ireland have been the best team in the world’

Jared Wright
Former Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber, an image of Johnny Sexton and coach Felix Jones.

The coaches explain Ireland's success and how it differs from South Africa.

Rugby World Cup-winning Springbok coaches Rassie Erasmus, Jacques Nienaber and Felix Jones have revealed what they think has made Ireland such a successful team.

The trio of coaches worked together at Munster before Erasmus and Nienaber returned to South Africa to lead the Springboks and later recruited Irishman Jones to join their coaching staff.

After successfully leading the Springboks to back-to-back Rugby World Cup titles, Nienaber returned to Ireland and joined Leo Cullen’s staff at Leinster while England recruited Jones.

More skilful the All Blacks?

In another snippet from the interviews not used in the Chasing the Sun 2 documentary series, the trio explained what they believed made Ireland such a force in World Rugby, with Andy Farrell’s side claiming a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2023 and entering the World Cup as the number one ranked side.

South Africa and Ireland clashed in the pool stages of the World Cup in France last year, and with the second episode of Chasing the Sun 2 focusing on that match, Jones spoke highly of his fellow countrymen.

“The Irish players are incredibly skilful, probably up there with New Zealand, if not surpassing New Zealand now with their skill,” Jones says in the Betway exclusive clip.

“And I think they’ve developed so much depth and so many world-class players in a number of positions, and are not just reliant on one or two guys.”

The luxury the Springboks have that Ireland don’t

Erasmus and Nienaber then explain the dynamics of the Irish Rugby set-up and how it differs from South Africa.

“Ireland’s biggest thing is they’ve got four provinces and not a lot of rugby players,” Erasmus said.

“The Irish team is, I would say is 70 or 80 per cent Leinster and Leinster plays together in the URC and the Champions Cup. It’s not new guys that you have to bring together and have to coach every single time; half the team that will come here now [the World Cup] or when we play them in June will be Leinster-based players.”

Nienaber added: “I think they’ve got 160 contracted rugby players, we [Springboks] have 400 or 600 professional rugby players.

“So we have the luxury that when a player struggles with the catch pass, or he struggles to pass to his left, you kind of work with him a little bit but if he doesn’t get better, here’s a new prodigy coming through so we just select him and that guy is out again.

“So that’s the first thing, they [Ireland] do precision farming.”

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Having played and coached in the Irish structures, Jones knows the set-up in detail.

“The pathways in Ireland are really well developed, they’re really streamlined, they’re really efficient, and guys come through as really complete players with really rounded skill sets,” he explained.

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Maximising their potential

But Nienaber believes that is partly down to the level of detail the coaches give to their players.

“The thing that probably struck me the most when I was in Ireland was the amount of detail that they will coach the players,” the former Bok head coach said.

“It is microscopic detail, when I was here in South Africa before I went there, I didn’t go into a tenth of the depth of detail and microscopicness that they would.”

Jones concluded: “They are maximising all of their possible strengths. So, I think that’s probably why Ireland have been the best team in the world over the last two or three seasons.”

While Ireland would go on to claim a narrow 13-8 victory over South Africa in the pool stages of the World Cup, they would not be able to progress past the quarter-finals for the first time in the tournament’s history.

They succumbed to a 28-24 defeat at the hands of New Zealand but bounced back in 2024 to claim another Six Nations title.

Farrell’s charges will head to South Africa this July for a highly anticipated two-Test match series against the back-to-back World Cup winners.

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