The Jacques Nienaber team talk that had Munster players straining at the leash
"That was his first week in. I was thinking, 'This lad means business'."
Many rugby fans were left wondering, for a couple of months, how Leinster planned to replace influential head coach Stuart Lancaster, after his move to Racing 92 was announced. Leinster went out against got themselves World Cup-winning coach, Jacques Nienaber.
Conor O'Brien, who played five seasons under Lancaster, told House of Rugby how much of a loss Lancaster will be to Leinster. Meanwhile, Greg O'Shea gave the Munster perspective of Leinster bagging the world-class Nienaber.
"Definitely there will be an effect because Stuart is such an important cog in the wheel," said O'Brien. "He is, in effect, the trainer, in the old fashioned sense. He's out there, each day, training them.
"I don't know what the arrangement is or if they want to keep the blueprint that Lancaster had, with regards to how they're trained or what the mindset is... I don't know if he will be allowed do whatever he wants and put his own stamp on things. I presume a part of his negotiations may have been that he'll do it his way but he'll have to play within that Leinster ethos."
"That was always the thing that Stuart had with us - that you train like dogs," O'Brien added. "That training was almost harder than matches. That's the way it always was and that's the way, I imagine, it will stay, even after he leaves. You're fairly humble every Tuesday morning when you come to train."
Greg O'Shea will be following the Jacques Nienaber arrival closely and monitoring what changes the South African brings to the four-time European champions. O'Shea recalled a pre-season training drill [LISTEN from 38:20 below] that sums up the Nienaber coaching mentality, and how it fired up the Munster players beyond belief.
Greg O'Shea on Jacques Nienaber coaching style
Greg O'Shea was part of the Munster academy and senior squads for a couple of seasons when Jacques Nienaber was coaching there, under Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus.
The former Ireland Sevens star recalls how the South African was quick to make his mark on a squad that was seeking to challenge for silverware again after a tough couple of seasons, following on from high profile retirements from the likes of Ronan O'Gara, Marcus Horan, Denis Leamy, David Wallace and more.
"He's all about mind-set," O'Shea stated.
"Jacques was a strength and conditioning coach, then he qualified as a physio and then started learning the ropes with Rassie. Every team Rassie was involved, he's brought Jacques with him. Still, Jacques went and became a fully qualified physio, so he was able to be along the side of the pitch for the games, running on with water and treating players but he's a coach, too."
O'Shea feels that Leinster tempting a coach of Nienaber's stature away from his native South Africa demonstrates the sway, and stature, of the province.
The 50-year-old was first with Cheetahs before moving on to Western Province and, by extension, the Stormers. He was also involved with the Springboks but arrived over at Munster as assistant coach in 2016.
"I remember that first week at Munster, after he first came over," said O'Shea. He brought everyone for a rucking session and brought everyone in a huddle before the first drill."
O'Shea recalls that Nienaber asked the players to visualise their nearest and dearest in harms way, over the far side of the ruck. He asked what each player would do to get past the breakdown defences and over to the other side of the ruck. "That's the mind-set you have to have," Nienaber told the Munster players. "You have to do everything you can to get to the other side of that ruck."
Conor O'Brien playfully asked if Munster went out, in their first pre-season outing under Nienaber, and got 14 red cards. "It's that controlled aggression is always the issue for many South African teams," O'Shea observed. "They always go out with this hate for the other team."
"Everyone started fighting in training, the first couple of weeks," said O'Shea. "They had to just calm it down."
"Do you know who took to it like a duck to water?" he added. "James Cronin. The first session, he went at Dave Kilcoyne, and hurt him."
It will be interesting to see if Jacques Nienaber brings out that rucking speech when he arrives at Leinster, after the World Cup.
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