South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber has explained that the traffic light signalling system used by the Springboks staff during their Rugby World Cup matches is used to send messages related to injuries.
Assistant coach Felix Jones and Rassie Erasmus, who coached South Africa to World Cup victory four years ago and is now director of rugby, were seen holding up different coloured lights during their first Pool B encounter against Scotland in Marseille, with some speculation on social media that it was to tell the players whether to go for the posts or kick to the corner from penalties. They continued to do so in subsequent matches, including the crunch pool encounter with Ireland and the quarter-final win over France in Paris.
It was not the first time such a system had been used, with Erasmus having done so in South African domestic rugby the best part of two decades ago while coach of the Cheetahs.
The novel method of communicating with staff on-field did catch the eye, though, with Nienaber revealing that a previous visit to noisy stadiums had prompted a different approach.
“In terms of the lights, it started here probably when we played France in Marseille [in November 2022],” he said after South Africa got their World Cup defence underway with an 18-3 win over Scotland.
“I don’t know if you’ve been pitch-side but in this dome, the sound is phenomenal. You can’t hear anything.
“It’s for us, because there are a lot of [radio] channels we are working in and talking in, it’s sometimes tough for us to talk to our support staff. I think a lot of teams will have systems – is it red, is it green – for the extent of the injury or the knock and how serious it is. It’s just for us to communicate with support staff.”
Nienaber, Erasmus and Jones previously worked together at Irish province Munster before joining South Africa in 2017, and the head coach, architect of the defensive system that smothered Scotland, recalls using a similar signalling system there.
“I think you can do hand signals if you want,” Nienaber continued when asked if he had sought permission from governing body World Rugby before employing the system, “I don’t think you need permission from World Rugby. It’s a method. When I was at Munster, the call was red if it was a serious thing and we must consider a substitution.
“Amber is ‘listen, let’s give this guy five minutes to see if he’s OK’ and green is ‘it’s OK, he can go on’. It was something we used Munster in 2016 or 2017 and something we continue with.
“If we talk on a radio, we talk tactics. If we [also] talk to medical people about injuries, it just consumes the channels.”
Jones, capped 13 times by Ireland between 2011 and 2015, will leave the Springboks set-up at the conclusion of the tournament to join Steve Borthwick’s England staff.
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