Nienaber: Transforming is a verb

Coach Jacques Nienaber says the Springboks subscribe to a philosophy of creating an environment where ‘all feel welcome’.

In a snippet from the latest SA Rugby magazine, Nienaber chatted to CLINTON VAN DER BERG about the unexpected challenges faced since the Boks won the World Cup back in November.

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Besides discussing the planning and preparation that has gone on behind the scenes, Nienaber also touched on the culture of inclusivity that has been created at the Springboks.

Several hours before being interviewed by SA Rugby magazine, Nienaber had been boosted by a wide-ranging conversation with Siya Kolisi, South Africa’s commanding captain.

They shot the breeze, talking about this and that, but Nienaber came away from their discussion thinking mostly about transformation and their shared views.

While many consider the knotted issue of race to be the elephant in the room, Nienaber offers an eloquent and elegant dimension to the raging debate of our time. He’s bought into SA Rugby’s strategic imperatives and government’s frequent nudges, but it’s the way he talks about the softer, more nuanced realities that point to a man with his head and his heart in the right place.

‘Look, we respect and follow the government guidelines on transformation, but things go deeper than that. Transforming is a verb, it’s an active thing. It’s about creating an environment where players are valued and respected, irrespective of colour or religion or background.’

In a practical sense, he gives the example of a Xhosa player for whom English may be only the fifth or sixth language. ‘The management delivery cannot happen only in Afrikaans. We must create an environment where all feel welcome, where their language is spoken too.

‘The same thing must happen on the team bus. You can’t just have boeremusiek blaring. If some want kwaito, that’s beautiful. The players must be comfortable and know their behaviour won’t be frowned upon. There will be no limit on players’ freedom of expression.’

Given how the game has grappled with transformation over the years, notwithstanding the glories of 2019, Nienaber’s view is exciting and deeply reassuring. Rugby still has much to do to accelerate change, but if the Boks are the marker of change, bringing along the die-hards ought to be far easier.

*The full version of this article can be found in the latest SA Rugby magazine, now on sale!

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Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images

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