South Africa

Jacques Nienaber: Alignment camps a reality check for Springboks

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

The Springbok coaches and management on Wednesday wrapped up the first
round of strategic alignment camps.

The camps took place with selected players around the country as the Boks shifted their preparations for the 2021 Test season into a
higher gear.

Head coach Jacques Nienaber, his assistants and
the rest of the management staff, met with a number of players in Johannesburg
(Lions and Bulls), Durban (Sharks), Cape Town (Stormers) and Bloemfontein (Cheetahs) during a series of camps over the
last week.

Rassie Erasmus (director of rugby), Felix Jones (assistant
coach) and Andy Edwards (head of athletic performance) joined the proceedings

Via a press statement, Nienaber described the sessions as “extremely productive and just
what was needed” to start the next phase of preparations as the Springboks gear
up for a return to Test rugby.

The demanding 2021 schedule includes the much-anticipated Lions Series, the Rugby Championship and the
traditional end of the year tour to Europe.

SA Rugby was forced to withdraw the Springboks from all
international participation in 2020 due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic,
meaning the last time the Boks played was the Rugby World Cup final against
England on 2 November 2019 in Japan.

Speaking after the conclusion of their final session in
Bloemfontein on Wednesday, Nienaber said he was very satisfied with the outcome
of the first round of alignment camps.

“The players haven’t been together [in a Springbok setup] for more than 500 days, so there was a lot of excitement, as you can imagine,”
said Nienaber.

“Just meeting face-to-face was absolutely great, because I
haven’t seen some of the players since the Rugby World Cup victory tour parade
in November 2019.”

Nienaber described the camps as a reality check for the
Springboks, and explained they had very specific goals in mind for the opening
round of meetings.

“It was reality check for us in terms of where we were in
2019 and where we are currently in 2021, and where we have to turn our focus
towards and improve during our preparations,” said Nienaber.

The Bok coaching brains trust wanted to get four specific
areas of information across to the players.

“Firstly, we shared general information around commercial
and marketing engagements, because this is a British & Irish Lions tour and
a bit different from your normal tour,” said Nienaber.

“It was also good opportunity to work through our various team
protocols again, with the Test calendar and the effects of the pandemic in
mind, but we gave them a schedule with as much detail as possible.”

With the squad being apart since the end of 2019 and
expected to hit the ground running against the British & Irish Lions in a few
months’ time, it was vital to get everyone in sync as soon as possible, said Nienaber.

“I would say the big part of these assemblies was the
reality check exercise, to see where we are as a team, not just the players,
but also the whole management – with that steering our focus to the areas we
have to improve,” Nienaber added.

“And another major objective was for the players to have a
clear understanding of exactly what is required of them to be considered for
Springbok section.”

With the local camps and sessions with players based in
Ireland completed, the attention now turns to the rest of the overseas-based
Springboks. Those in Japan will meet Nienaber and his fellow
coaches online on Thursday, and next week is the turn of the players based
in England and France.

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