Nienaber, who served as an assistant coach in the Boks’ triumphant 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign in Japan under the guidance of SA Rugby’s Director of Rugby, Rassie Erasmus, said the milestone date sparked great excitement, while at the same time highlighting the significance of getting their structures in place with an eye on their title defence.

The Boks have been drawn in Pool B with Ireland, Scotland and Spain, as well as a yet-to-be-determined qualifying team, and they will be based in Toulon for most of the pool phase of the competition.

“We have been counting down days for a while now, but the 500-day mark to the Rugby World Cup serves as a real reality check from a preparation perspective,” said Nienaber.

“We have a limited number of Test matches lined up before the international spectacle and we need to ensure that we make the most of each one of them, and learn as many lessons as possible so that we can get the necessary structures and systems in place before we leave for France.

“We will be based in Toulon for the pool stages of the competition – a beautiful city with world class facilities – but there is also enough for the players to enjoy when they have time off, which will be vital to create the mental balance needed in order for them to perform optimally.”

Nienaber added: “Next year will be the first time we face Ireland in the Rugby World Cup, while we faced Scotland in England in 2015 and way back in 1999, when we were also in the same group as Spain, and we are looking forward to it as a group.”

The clock is also ticking fast for the Springboks, with a little over two months before they face Wales in the Castle Lager Incoming Series opener at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria (on Saturday, 2 July), which will be followed by Tests in Bloemfontein (9 July) and Cape Town (16 July). 

This will be followed by the first two rounds of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship three weeks later, when the Boks take on the All Blacks in back-to-back Tests in Nelspruit and Johannesburg (Saturdays 6 and 13 August), before their tour to Australia and Argentina, where they will the Wallabies twice Down Under and the Pumas in Buenos Aires. The final round of the Championship is in Durban on Saturday, 24 September, against Argentina.

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Nienaber and his coaching team have been working hard behind the scenes to prepare for the international season, with the first of their two alignment camps being hosted in Durban earlier this month, and the second alignment camp will take place in Cape Town from Sunday 1 to Thursday 5 May.

“It was wonderful to see the players buying into our processes at the first alignment camp a few weeks ago, and we are hoping to build on this at our next camp,” said Nienaber.

“The international season is creeping closer, so the sooner we have the players and management on the same page in terms of our structures, the easier it will make things when we take the field at our first training camp before the July Tests.”