Jacques Nienaber’s tenure as a senior coach at Leinster began with a round of applause ahead of a team meeting on Monday morning. That was the extent of the fanfare.
A two-time World Cup winning coach with the Springboks, the first as assistant to Rassie Erasmus, the second as head coach, Nienaber arrived in Ireland last week but didn’t attend the province’s URC victory over his former employers, Munster at the Aviva Stadium, preferring to maintain a low profile ahead of his first pitch session in charge.
He was in periodic contact with Leinster head coach Leo Cullen and Sean O’Brien – the latter fulfilled the role as defence coach in Nienaber’s absence – while at the World Cup with South Africa in France. Over the weekend he enjoyed a meal or two with the province’s backroom team as part of the welcome process.
Forwards’ coach Robin McBryde confirmed that come Monday morning, Nienaber “got his hands stuck in right from the word go [at training]. He’s been doing his homework and learning the [rugby] language, so he’s hitting the ground running.”
The South African will bring his personality and rugby nous and there will undoubtedly be tweaks but as McBryde pointed out, “there probably will be [adjustments] down the road, but he’ll take his time. He’s been in regular contact with Seanie [O’Brien], so I think a lot of the language is in place already.
“He met everyone individually really, the majority of the staff come in pretty early in the morning so there were no doughnuts put on for us,” McBryde smiled. The Welshman understands the dynamic of walking into Leinster after a season has started having done so following the end of his commitments with Wales following the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
He said, “Everybody is different in the way they do It. I can only speak for myself. I got in touch with a couple of players I thought would be valuable, who had been here for a while, James Tracy, Michael Bent from a set-piece point of view, because initially I was just here to do the scrum.
“It was [a case of] get your feet under the table, learn the language, but by the time the Six Nations came around I did more of the lineout stuff; it was just gradual. Unfortunately, Covid struck then so it was a bit different from that point of view.
“He’s [Nienaber] arrived with a load of knowledge; he’s won two World Cups and everyone’s waiting for him to impart his knowledge. Rightly so, you’re willing to listen a bit more to someone with a proven track record.
“Ireland, France, New Zealand and South Africa, they were in a different league to the other nations. It will be interesting to see how he works. To get to know him through the language of rugby, I am just looking forward to that.”
Reintegrating Ireland’s World Cup contingent in the blue of Leinster hasn’t been seamless as was evident in a patchy performance in the victory over Munster, a process that McBryde hopes will be further accelerated when they face Connacht at the Sportsground on Saturday night.
“I think it was evident at the weekend that we were not hitting our straps, just a little bit off in whatever areas for whatever reasons. I don’t think that you can speed up that process too much. It was a great occasion; we knew that Munster were going to give us a tough time and they did that.
“From here on in I think that everyone has got over the break and we are looking forward rather than looking back. The reintegration of the international players was always going to be a tricky one. In fairness to the youngsters, the academy players, who have been given an opportunity and taken it, what you don’t want to do now is allow them to regress, you want to keep their development on that upward path.”
A standout player for Leinster at the weekend was young secondrow Joe McCarthy whose performance graph continues to rise sharply. He has the potential to become a mainstay in the pack for quite some time to come. McBryde enthused: “You see his raw, natural ability when he picks up the ball and runs. He makes ground, he is very good, very diligent in his work.
“He did give away a couple of penalties at the weekend so there is still work to do in managing his youthful temperament but yeah you wouldn’t want to change him for the world really. He is just hungry to learn and as you say I think he is going to be around for years to come.”