Welwitschias set sights on Japan

By Timo Shihepo

WINDHOEK – After retaining the Africa Rugby Gold Cup for the fourth consecutive year, Namibia’s national rugby team, the Welwitschias set their sights on qualifying for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. 

Two weeks ago the Welwitschias brushed aside Kenya 45-7 to win the 2017 Africa Rugby Gold Cup and cement the country’s dominance in African rugby.

This comes after some heavy wins against Tunisia, Senegal, Uganda as well as a nail biting win against Zimbabwe.

It’s a familiar setting for the Welwitschias year in, year out when competing against African rugby teams but when the real test beyond the African borders is presented, the team always fumbles.

They fumble so much that ever since the Welwitschias qualified for the Rugby World Cup first in 1999 (they have qualified for the world cup ever since), they have still not won or drawn a match. They only have a point to show off in all those World Cups. That point came in 2015 when the team narrowly lost to Georgia, 17 – 16.

That seems to be about to change, however, if activities put in place by the Namibia Rugby Union (NRU) are to be believed. The NRU has formulated a master plan for all the rugby national teams starting with the under age group.

“The way forward is to continue our development over the next 12 months as we build towards World cup qualifying next March 2018,” head coach Phil Davies told The Southern Times in an interview, this week.

NRU’s plans to establish a National Academy during 2017/18 which will be used to prepare players for the professional game.

It has also proposed high performance structures for the next four years aimed at retaining the expertise of head coach Phil Davies and Wayne Proctor.

The team has also taken massive risks in this year’s Africa Rugby Gold Cup, choosing to give youngsters an opportunity ahead of the tested and tried players such as Theuns Kotze.

The plan almost backfired against Zimbabwe when the Welwitschias almost lost because Eugene Jantjies could not convert the tries.

“During the Rugby Gold Cup, we missed the right boot of Theuns Kotze but I think that is the strategy that the selectors were using to make sure that the young boys get the necessary exposure going into next year’s qualifiers and 2019 World Cup,” former Welwitschias captain Jacques Burger told The Southern Times.

One player who seems to have utilised his chance is Cliven Loubster who against Kenya scored a try and added four conversions to take his personal tally to 13 on the day.  It was the same thing against Zimbabwe with the Welwitschias running out of time, Loubster came off the bench to convert two tries that sealed the game with literally just four minutes remaining.

“The competition in Africa is getting stronger, many countries like Uganda and Kenya have big playing populations and are getting better. Our selection policies are always about picking our best team, it is also about building depth and bringing experience to our playing squad.  This year we are starting to unearth some very talented under 20 players and they performed very well, during the competition we capped 12 new players.”

Davies said Namibia competes really well given the fact that it only has about 1200 registered rugby players.

Davies also said he is committed to the Welwitschias and the NRU job despite reports in the media linking him with a return to his native Wales.

“My contract is through until 2019 with the NRU and during these 12 months I will have spent five years and five months in Namibia. Even when not in Namibia I’m continuously working for the NRU when at home in Wales.”

He said everyone in the country is working hard to grow the game and always keen to improve Welwitschias World ranking.

Welwitschias have played eight test matches so far this year and won six. The NRU is also looking to add a few more matches before the end of the year in order to improve the rankings.

In the Gold Cup, Namibia has beaten Tunisia 53-7, Senegal 95-0, Zimbabwe 31-26 and Uganda 48-24, while Kenya has had an equally impressive run, beating Senegal 45-25, Tunisia 100-10 and Zimbabwe 41-22.

Davies said the team faced many challenges in the Gold Cup, he however said the boys showed great spirit and determination in all matches in order to go unbeaten.

Namibia’s last match victory was worth 0.67 of a rating point, taking them on to 61.40 points. They stay in 21st place with Kenya still four places back in 25th. The Gold Cup tournament returns next year with the winner qualifying for Rugby world cup 2019 as Africa 1 and join defending champions New Zealand, South Africa, Italy and the repechage winner in Pool B.

“We have played in the last two Nations cup tournaments and have competed well and will continue to try and play test matches inside and outside Africa in order to improve,” said Davies.

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