Zimbabwe in, Nam out

It is the first time in many years that Namibia has failed to qualify for the Under 19 World Cup. Last year they hosted the African qualifying tournament and beat Zimbabwe 25-22 in the final.

Namibia topped Pool One, which also featured Tunisia and Kenya, to qualify for the semi-finals of the event.

In their pool matches, Namibia beat Tunisia 29-14 before dismissing Kenya 56-5 at the two-week-long tournament.

Namibia coach Hermann Rust said that Morocco’s heavier pack of forwards had proved decisive in the match.

Zimbabwe qualified directly for next year’s IRB Under-19 World Championship when they dominated the Moroccans 10-3. The Zimbabweans will now represent Africa along with South Africa in Ireland.

Zimbabwe had earlier overcome the host nation 23-21 during the group stages before upstaging Tunisia 41-3 in the semis. In the final, Zimbabwe had to contend with a partisan crowd to triumph 10-3, when they again met Morocco.

South Africa team manager Lindsay Mould was, however, impressed by the shift in standards among Africa’s developing nations.

“I was in Namibia last year and I have to say that from what I’ve seen here this year, the standard of rugby has improved and has genuinely surprised me. Yes, we are also here in a developmental role and have done some coaching clinics, but our boys also know that they have been in some tough games of rugby,” Mould said.

Namibian Rugby Union chief executive officer Christo Alexander pledged to keep the players busy with tours and local tournaments “since this is the first time we have encountered such a loss”.

There is a strong likelihood that this might be last Under-19 World Cup as the International Rugby Board has indicated shifting the age limit to 20 as from next year.

“We lost out to better teams but if the age restrictions are changed to Under-20 and Under-18, we will be fortunate because we will just keep the same team and use it in the qualifying games of the Under-20 because they have the experience and the knowledge of how it is to miss the World Cup,” said Alexander.

The loss of the Under-19 has not been the only problem bedevilling Namibian rugby. The senior national team left with a seemingly depleted team for the 2007 Rugby World Cup qualifier against Kenya.

“Our captain Kees Lensing will not be available for the match after picking up a groin injury. Where will I find another prop in this country to replace him at this late stage?” coach Johan Venter lamented before the team’s departure for Nairobi.

Lensing was captain of the first leg in May when Kenya lost 84-12 in Windhoek. However, the East Africans have managed to rebuild and are a threat especially when playing at home, having beaten former African champions Tunisia, 25-21. Although all the three teams still have chances of qualifying for the African qualifying final of the 2007 Rugby World Cup, Namibia risks losing out if it fails to hold Kenya, because the Welwitchias have already lost to Tunisia, 24-7.

Griqua-based prop, Jane du Toit could not be released for the tie by his club as the request came “a little too late” for him to replace Lensing. However, Venter managed to secure the presence of five other South Africa-based players in lock Nico Esterhuysen and flankers Pieter van Lill and Thinus du Plessis ‘ all with Stellenbosch University, centre Luwayne Botes (Johannesburg University) and prop Johnny Redelinghuys of Griquas.

September 2006
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