Amateur Welwitschias to take on Springboks

By Michael Uugwanga

PERHAPS many Namibians are still wondering why the Welwitschias are still struggling to win a match at the Rugby World Cup, despite the team appearing at the global event on six straight occasions, with South Africa (Seven) the only African countries to have appeared more often than the Welwitschias.

Namibia had been at the 1999, 2003,2007,2011 and 2015 and now 2019 Rugby World Cup.

The Welwitschias are currently in Japan where the World Cup is taking place and lost their opening match 47-22 to Italy on 22 September in Pool B. They will now take on South Africa’s Springboks on 28 September in a match in which no-one rates Namibia’s chances high against the two-time world champions.

The Springboks will want to get back to winning ways following their 23-13 defeat to the All Blacks of New Zealand in their group match.

Namibia’s journey to World Cup appearances has been down to their impressive run in the Africa World Cup qualifiers, where they have been untouchable due to their superior performance in the regional qualifiers against the likes of Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Tunisia and Senegal. However, the question remains as how a team that is ever present at the World Cup has still not won a single match?

Some of the reasons why Namibia has been failing to transform their African form to the World Cup success are due to lack of competitive matches against top rugby nations and also the fact that most of Namibia’s rugby players are full-time employees and farmers, while most of the players are amateurs playing in the Namibia Rugby Premier League (NRPL).

At the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Namibia’s starting XV against New Zealand had the likes of Jaco Engels (prop) - coach and consultant at Windhoek school, Tinus du Plessis (flanker) - foreign exchange broker, Johan Tromp (full-back) salesman at an outdoor cycling shop, while the replacements were Louis van der Westhuizen - student, Raoul Larson - student teacher, Janco Venter - engineering student, Rohan Kitshoff - mechanical engineer at a brewery, Eneill Buitendag - insurance broker , Johnny Redelinghuys - construction firm boss , Darryl de la Harpe - manager of his father's cylinder company, AJ de Klerk - farmer, Danie Van Wyk - engineer at a diamond mining company and PJ van Lill - a dentist who played professional rugby at Bayonne, France.

Namibia is a Tier 2 rugby nation, ranked 23rd in the world, compared to Tier 1 rugby nations, such as New Zealand and South Africa, who nevertheless find themselves up against largely amateur-staffed teams such as Namibia at World Cup tournaments.

Despite the team having more professional players this time around, there are still some amateur players who will be taking on a South African squad that only has top professional players in their ranks.

The Namibian amateur players that will face South Africa are Obert Nortje, Louis van der Westhuizen , AJ de Klerk, André Rademeyer, Desiderius Sethie, Adriaan Booysen, Wian Conradie, Thomasau Forbes , Prince Gaoseb, Max Katjijeko, Rohan Kitshoff, PJ Walters, Chad Plato, Johann Tromp, Darryl de la Harpe, JC Greyling, Justin Newman, Janry du Toit, Cliven Loubser and Eugene Jantjies.

A well-known local sport expert and former sport commissioner, Ndeulipula Hamutumwa said despite Namibia being very good at identifying talent in various sport codes, such as Rugby, Football, Athletics, Netball and many others, the athletes had not been well prepared mentally, but only physically.

One example of this is the lack of investment into athletes and the late distribution of funding towards athletes ahead of major events, with one such example being that of the Welwitschias who only got their preparation money from government on 10 September, while their first match took place on 22 September.

Government gave the team N$13.7 million instead of the N$20 million the team needed, while Namibia Breweries Limited (NBL) with their beer brand Windhoek Draught Beer, who are the main sponsor of the team would not reveal the sponsorship amounts.

“One needs to have a long-term athlete development plan and athlete support system. From the athlete support system you need a (national) team, coaches, managers, tournaments, competitions, dieticians, physiotherapists, massagers, facilities and high performance centres.

“Athletes need at least to be 60 percent mentally fit and 40 percent physically fit. Our athletes (rugby players) are fit because they do the running in training but they are not mentally fit because most times the athletes receive their funding a week or so late. For example, we need to look at the sponsors of the Springboks and you will find that some of these sponsors are also in Namibia,” said Hamutumwa.