Nienaber explains Bok approach to managing referees

Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber has explained the Springboks’ good-cop/bad-cop approach to managing referees ahead of the British & Irish Lions series.

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One of the Springboks’ standout strengths at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan was the way in which they stayed on the right side of the referee’s whistle.

It was in stark contrast to some previous World Cup campaigns where the Boks had fallen foul of the referee’s interpretations and it had ultimately cost them.

Ahead of the upcoming B&I Lions tour, Jacques Nienaber has again stressed that good discipline would be a major area of focus for his Springbok side. He elaborated on a ‘good-cop/bad-cop’ system that the Boks use in order to get the most out of referees.

‘I’m an Afrikaans guy, from Bloemfontein. And my cultural background is not one where you challenge or even question authority. My father would say to me on Sundays, “you’re to be seen, not heard”.

‘So, for us Afrikaans guys it isn’t normal to go to a referee and ask questions; we just accept the decision. That’s why we created the role of the “bad cop”, not to challenge the referee, but just so players feel they can ask questions.’

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The Bok coach at length explained there was nothing manipulative about the system, instead suggesting that it was created to empower players usually uncomfortable asking questions of authority to do so.

‘Being the bad cop is like putting on a suit and playing a role. And your role is to try and understand from the referee why a decision has been made.’

Nienaber suggested that the ‘good-cop/bad-cop’ dynamic doesn’t just apply to referees but to all areas of the game.

‘If you’re the good cop for the rucks, then it is your job to make sure every time a player makes a good clean-out that you tell him he’s done a good job.

‘If you’re the bad cop, then you take responsibility for making sure that the rucks are functioning and encouraging players to do so.’

The influence of referees on the outcome of rugby matches has recently been highlighted with the new interpretations of the tackle laws increasing the number of red and yellow cards.

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It is something Nienaber is aware of and the Boks will be ready for.

‘There’s an element of destiny with red and yellow cards. But we’re going to give destiny a hell of go! So, we’re going to prepare as hard as we can and try to be as disciplined as we can.’

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