Rugby experts back Welwitschias

By Michael Uugwanga

THE Welwitschias’ will open up their Pool B World Cup campaign against Italy on 22 September before they face two-time world champions South Africa on 28 September and reigning world champions New Zealand on 6 October. The Welwitschias’ last group match will be against Canada on 13 October.

This will be the Welwitschias’ sixth straight appearance at the global rugby showpiece but they are yet to record a win at this level. However, this is likely to change, according to local rugby experts, who are confident that the Welwitschias have what it takes to win their first match at the Rugby World Cup.

Johan Diergaardt, a former coach with the Welwitschias, strongly believes that the current team is capable of beating Canada and Italy.

Diergaardt was the Welwitschias coach between 2008 and 2011, after succeeding Hakkies Husselmann, before he lost his job to Danie Vermeulen, who was then replaced by current coach Phil Davies in 2015.

His success with the senior rugby national team, which he led to the 2011 Rugby World Cup, where the country lost all its group matches, came when the team won the African Cup Rugby Trophy in 2009 and the International Rugby Board (IRB) Nations Cup in 2010, in Romania.

“The current squad is a blend of young and experienced players. This is perhaps the best team we ever had in the country. Against Italy it will be very tough as Italy will be favourites, but we still do have a chance.

“The last game against Canada is perhaps the one that I am sure of that we’re going to win it. The match against New Zealand and South Africa will need lots of encouragement and belief from the players and the coaching staff,” said Diergaardt.

Former Welwitschias captain Jacques Burger, who is arguably one of Namibia’s most successful rugby players, is however worried about the team’s current form heading into the World Cup.

The Welwitschias did not have proper preparations, such as test matches, due to lack of funding and the absence of the Africa Gold Cup that was cancelled because of the termination of the contract between Rugby Africa and Kwese Sports, which has left a huge gap in the 2019 budget.

Namibia managed to play two warm-up matches against South African franchise, the Southern Kings, in Windhoek and in Walvis Bay, respectively, beating Kings 28-22 and 21-17 before departing for Japan.

Jacques was at three world cup tournaments, in 2007, 2011 and the 2015 edition, which was also his last appearance for the national team. “Against Italy will be very tough as the Italians play in the Six Nations Cup against stiff opponents and they have strong development structures. To be realistic we have to look at the Canada match as the one we really have to win but it will not be that easy,” Burger said.

He also shared his moment against New Zealand at the 2015 edition in a match which he describes as the best match he ever had played in the national colours. Namibia was in Pool C at the 2015 World Cup alongside New Zealand, Argentina, Georgia and Tonga.

“The match against the All Blacks was the best match ever in my career as we played against the best team in the world with the best players in the world. We played against top players that many of our players looked up to and the try we scored was memorable, thanks to Johan Deysel.”

Another former Welwitschias great, Tinus du Plessis, a squad member of the 2007, 2011 and 2015 campaigns is backing the Welwitschias to have a good World Cup campaign this time around. He thinks the team could only get better if they put up a good show in their opening match against Italy, whom he thinks are beatable if they have a bad day.

“[The] Italy match will be very tough but on their bad day we can beat them. Overall I think we can do (beat) Canada. At times it seems that we always do good against top oppositions and struggle against lower teams.

“The current squad is younger than the one of 2015 because the average age of the 2015 squad was like 31 compared to the current one that has lots of players aged 26 and 27, which is very good for the next two world cups to come. I am very much confident that we will do better at this World Cup,” said du Plessis.

The 2019 Rugby World Cup will start on 20 September in an opening match that will see host country Japan taking on Russia.