Newspaper article International New York Times

One Win at Rugby World Cup Could Change Everything for Namibia

Newspaper article International New York Times

One Win at Rugby World Cup Could Change Everything for Namibia

Article excerpt

The captain believes that if the country can get its first win at the sport's biggest event, it will secure a steady diet of games, which will help it improve.

International rugby's big hitters, like New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland, will arrive at the World Cup with dreams of winning the Webb Ellis Cup.

Then there is Namibia.

While it heads to England with aspirations that are far less lofty than a world title, just one victory could have long-lasting consequences, said Namibia's captain, Jacques Burger.

Namibia enters the tournament, which kicks off Friday in England, ranked 20th in the world and is easily the minnow in the 20-team event.

Its 31-man roster includes a handful of professional players -- one of whom is Burger, who plays for Saracens in England -- along with farmers, engineers, insurance professionals and a dentist. It is an eclectic mix and a far cry from the highly paid and star- studded New Zealand team that Namibia will face in its opening match Sept. 24.

But the next six weeks will be as important for Namibian rugby as it will be for the All Blacks, although for far different reasons. The All Blacks are the favorites to win the tournament. Namibia is just desperate to win its first game at a World Cup so it can prove it should be considered for inclusion in second-tier rugby's annual tournaments.

Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Japan, Canada, the United States, Georgia and Romania all play in tournaments funded by World Rugby, the sport's governing body.

This year the Namibian team minus its professional players took part in South Africa's second-tier domestic competition, the Vodacom Cup. There have been reports that starting next year, Namibia could be part of a revamped Currie Cup, South Africa's top provincial competition, but that has yet to be confirmed.

At an international level, Namibia plays in the Africa Cup against teams like Zimbabwe (27th in the world), Kenya (28th), and Tunisia (40th).

Namibia, also known as the Welwitschias, has won the past three Africa Cups to cement its spot as the continent's second-best team behind South Africa, ranked third in the world.

This year, to help prepare for its fifth appearance at the World Cup, it was invited to play in the four-team, World Rugby-funded Nations Cup for the first time since 2011.

Burger said Namibia would not improve unless it started playing the other second-tier nations regularly.

"The only thing that will get us into these tournaments is our performances at the World Cup, because it's the only time we get a proper showcase and people can see what we can do and what we have. It's all in our hands at the moment," said Burger, who was named one of the top five players at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand despite Namibia's suffering four severe defeats.

"No disrespect to any of the African teams -- there are some really good athletes and the competition is quite close -- but you need to play against better teams all the time to get better," he said. …

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