New Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber is renowned as a defence master who is quite intense when he talks rugby.
But after the Boks received the Laureus Team of the Year award in Berlin on Monday night, the 47-year-old showed that there is a lighter side to him too.
“It’s a tough gig to follow – I mean, you are No 1 in the world. I said to them, I made a joke and I take it with all respect: I’ve been head coach now for probably two months, and we’re winning stuff! So, at this stage, it’s quite nice,” he said with a smile.
But the feel-good factor of the 2019 Rugby World Cup triumph and winning the ‘Oscar’ of sport on Monday was quickly put into perspective, as Scotland are looming as the Boks’ first opponents of the new year in July.
Captain Siya Kolisi spoke about how his team are trying to inspire the nation and bring hope to South Africa, but coach Nienaber knows that just making insightful speeches and becoming a global force in sport won’t keep the Boks on top forever.
He would be relieved that he has some time to settle into his new post – with Rassie Erasmus fully focused on the director of rugby role – before Scotland run out at Newlands on July 4.
But then it’s about what happens on the pitch that will be vital, not the glory of November in Yokohama.
“Our biggest challenge is, everybody spoke about hope and inspiring and stuff like that, but the fundamental of that will be results. It will be a pie-in-the-sky (situation) if we are No 7 or eight in the world,” Nienaber said in the German capital.
“So, the challenge for us is the consistency – putting in performances on the training field week after week; and then translating that over and getting results on the field. The moment we lose that, you can want to inspire as much as you want, but that gives you the platform.
“But luckily, the nice thing is that we’ve got a special group of players that have worked unbelievably hard for 18 months (to win the World Cup).
“We said we don’t have 18 months, but 600-and-odd days and had to make every day count to get a change in our team.
“And they are keen to take on that responsibility. So, I am looking forward to – and I think they are too – the challenge that lies ahead.”
Despite being the head coach now, Nienaber said the way the Bok management operate won’t change much as they have always had a “transparent” way of coaching where each person gives input on other areas of play.
So, he will still be in charge of defence and the exit strategy, but will also have to have a “helicopter view” of the attack plans as an example.
Kolisi’s team mixed their power game with a bit of finesse in the World Cup final in particular, which is something fans will be hoping to see more of against Scotland.
But Nienaber feels it will take time to get back to the level reached in Japan.
“Our first challenge is that one must understand that it took us 20 weeks to get to that standard or deliver that product, if I can call it that, in the (World Cup) final,” he said. “And what I saw now in the Six Nations, everybody didn’t start how they finished in the World Cup. I’m not saying they started poorly – it just takes some time to get rhythm again.”