New Bulls defence guru Joey Mongalo credits Jacques Nienaber and John McFarland in helping shape his coaching style. He believes the Springboks will be even stronger with Nienaber now operating as head coach. The Bulls under Jake White are looking to revisit their glory years of the late 2000s.
Jacques Nienaber may not have followed a conventional path to the Springbok coaching job, but his background as one of the world's most respected defence coaches leaves the national side in a uniquely strong position moving forward.
That is the view of Joey Mongalo , who is set to join the Bulls as Jake White's defensive guru next month after nearly a decade at the Lions.
READ: Mongalo's timely return to 'heartbeat of SA rugby'
While Mongalo is just 35 and admits he has much to still learn, Nienaber has completed a development that has seen him and Rassie Erasmus build a reputation as one of the most respected coaching duos in world rugby.
While they are in very different places in their careers presently, Mongalo and Nienaber do have something in common in they both took the road less travelled to enter the coaching world.
Nienaber started out as a physiotherapist at the Free State Cheetahs over two decades ago before making the move into strength and conditioning and then, eventually, specialising in defence.
Mongalo, meanwhile, started out as a team manager for the Golden Lions U-19 side and was pushed into the world of defensive coaching by Hans Coetzee, the coach of the junior Lions at the time.
It was the beginning of a journey that would consume Mongalo and, over the years, he began studying other defence coaches operating in South African rugby.
One of those was Nienaber, while another was John McFarland at the Bulls, who had coached Mongalo during his playing days at Loftus Versfeld.
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"I've got a world of respect for Jacques. If people knew how much work that guy puts into his preparation ... it's scary," Mongalo tells Sport24 .
"I'm still challenged to get to that level of preparation. When defence coaching was really in its infancy, him and John McFarland were the two guys I really looked up to in South African rugby.
"As I started coaching myself, I watched Jacque's progress at the Stormers and his move to Munster with Rassie."
Mongalo believes that having a defence coach operating as a head coach will only strengthen the Boks, while he also pointed to Nienaber's unique use of his physiotherapy credentials over the years.
"It's interesting how he gets to use his physiotherapy to be on the field and coach. I think that's one massive advantage that I don't think people have always assigned. We're in a box, but he gets to literally run on when there is an injury. It's a massive plus point. If I was 25, I would probably go and study physio too," Mongalo says.
"I think it's quite a powerful place for a head coach to be a defence coach. Defence is an aspect of the game where you can really tap into the psyche of the team, so if you're the head coach and you get to work in that space, I think the Springboks will be even better."
While Mongalo has had to work extremely hard to build up his reputation in the game, he still clearly remembers Mcfarland's initial impact on him.
"The way he did defence stuck with me. We won quite a few trophies in the junior system and the way he coached defence with his passion and preparation was probably my first glimpse of what a defence coach should do. I think he spent 13 years at the Bulls," he says.
When he does join White at the Bulls, Mongalo will be stepping into a franchise that is investing heavily in returning to the glory years of the late 2000s when the Bulls won three Super Rugby trophies in four years.
The expectations will be high, and Mongalo knows that.
"I've accepted that there will always be pressure as a defence coach. When a team makes a mistake on attack, it is a knock-on and a scrum, but when they make a mistake on defence, it's a try," he says.
While there is no clarity yet on exactly when rugby will return to South Africa, Nienaber and Mongalo will be working closely together in the months and, hopefully, years to come.
As part of the Springbok alignment plans, members of the Bok coaching staff will continue to spend time with the franchise coaches when they can.
While it is another opportunity for Mongalo to learn from those around him, turning the Bulls into a title-challenging outfit will be the main priority.
"We welcome that," he says.
"The more alignment we can get, the better.
"I don't think it will be 100% alignment, because then we're not coaching what we necessarily want to coach, but there will be enough alignment so that both we can benefit and the Springboks when they go into that system."