As a nation Namibia is still relatively young, only gaining its independence from South Africa in 1990. Yet, as a rugby-playing entity, the sport has existed in Namibia since the early 1900s.
Unlike many tier two nations, Namibia have qualified for the last five World Cups and did the country proud in last year’s edition of the tournament.
Pundit Arena’s Paul Wassell caught up with head coach Phil Davies to ask him about the past, present and future of the team.
When asked why he took the job in the first place, Davies made it quite clear that he ended up with the position at the last minute:
“I was initially asked to be technical advisor for the team and then later head coach by World Rugby. It was a chance to help support the players going to the World Cup.”
Three months before the World Cup, Danie Vermeulen – Namibia’s then head coach – resigned amid an ominous cloud of controversy, more of which you can read about here.
Davies, then, stepped in at the last minute from his position as ‘technical advisor’ to lead the team to a World Cup. Faced with the daunting prospect of fronting up to both the All Blacks and Argentina, the Welwitschias heroically defended throughout their campaign and refused to allow their heads to drop even when confronted with ferocious waves of attack from both sides.
Moreover, Namibia were pipped to the post in their clash with Georgia, going down 17-16 and missing out on a first ever World Cup pool win. They also showed their quality against Tonga, losing 35-21 in a exciting clash that enraptured the neutrals at Exeter’s Sandy Park. The performances highlighted Davies’ inherent ability as a leader and a man-manager, bringing together a side that only a few months previously had looked in disarray.
Eddie Jones, England’s Grand Slam-winning coach, talked about re-establishing an English way of playing for his side, with a focus on the set-piece and pack. When asked how he would define Namibia’s traditional strengths, Davies was blunt: “Courage and flair.”
Whom better embodies that succinct hendiadys than Namibian captain Jacques Burger? A man who is universally admired across his country for his passion, ferocity, determination and a complete lack of regard for his own facial features. Burger is currently in his sixth season with Aviva Premiership league leaders Saracens and has been at the heart of their re-emergence as a genuine force in European rugby.
Indeed, the idea of team spirit is something that keeps Namibia fighting on despite seemingly impossible odds.
“We proved that with good organisation and spirit we can perform well on the world stage,” said Davies on his side’s World Cup performances.
Looking to the future, Namibia will have to make do without their talismanic captain, who has announced his retirement from international rugby.
However, steps are being taken to improve the country’s chances of competing consistently well on the world stage. The Currie Cup, South Africa’s biggest domestic tournament after the Super Rugby competition, will once again embrace the Namibian team under the guise of the ‘Welwitschias’ – its name derived from a type of plant that is common in the deserts of the country. The Namibians had previously been represented in the Currie Cup before gaining independence.
“It is very important to be involved in the Currie Cup,” said Davies, “because it will give the country great experience in order to grow the game.”
The strategy worked effectively for Argentina before their admittance into Super Rugby as the UAR entered a team known as the ‘Pampas XV’, an unofficial third team based around players involved in the country’s ‘High Performance Plan’. Any exposure to regularly competitive matches is just what Namibian players and coaches need, and for Davies having a core of players at home rather than spread across the globe will benefit the national side in the long run.
Namibian rugby encapsulates so much about Namibia. Like the country itself, it has had to fight to exist, to be given recognition and to be awarded the chances that would allow it to thrive. With the help of World Rugby and under the guidance of Davies, the first green shoots of progress are starting to emerge.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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Read More About: Argentina, aviva premiership, currie cup, danie vermuelen, eddie jones, exeter, Georgia, international rugby, jacques burger, namibia, Namibia Rugby, new zealand, pampas xv, phil davies, rugby world cup, rugby world cup 2015, rugby world cup 2019, sandy park, saracens, south africa, tonga, Top Story, UAR, welwitschias, world rugby