ImagespFormerly a French colony, it is not hard to understand how rugby first sprung up in the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar in the 1890s, but the sport is now the most popular in the country and the national sport of the Madagascan people.
It has over 22,000 registered players, over 410 clubs. The highest level of domestic rugby, the ‘Top 8’ regularly attracts crowds of over 8,000 and international fixtures can see attendances of up to 30,000 people.
It is only because of Madagascar’s poverty that the nation does not have a professional set-up.
Although the team has yet to qualify for a Rugby World Cup, it has beaten qualifiers like Namibia in the past and it is hoped that sooner rather than later that ‘Les Makis’ (or the ring-tailed lemurs) will make it to a major tournament in the future to establish themselves as one of the top emerging nations in the world.
Madagascar are currently 41st in the world rankings, having previously jumped up 14 places after a succession of victories in their African Cup campaign.
Rugby scouts across the globe would do well to keep a keen eye on the nation as although still amateur, the sheer size and depth of Madagascar’s player pool must produce individuals of real quality, despite no professional experience.
Yet for anyone not familiar with the Malagasy language, it will be a considerable challenge to learn the names of the players for a competitive tournament. Take a look at the team’s squad from 2014:
Bienvenue Mananja Rasoa
José Rakoto (c)
Rabemananjara Jean Willy
Rakotonirina Jean de Dieu
Rabearilala Toussaint Boniface
This would be a significant challenge for even the most dedicated of sports commentators!
However, joking aside, Madagascar is a wonderful rugby nation with real passion, enthusiasm and determination. Let us hope that one day they make it to a Rugby World Cup.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
Heineken Rugby Club celebrates and rewards real supporters who make the game what it is.