By Frankie Deges
Namibia’s return to the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy stage in northern Chile next month has created something of a frenzy in the East African nation according to head coach Jood Opperman.
“There has been a lot of media interest, so much that I had to ask journalists to ease off on the players as we build up to travel to Chile,” admitted Opperman, who was a prop in Namibia’s first Rugby World Cup match back in 1999.
The 2013 edition will be Namibia’s first appearance for four years, having had to watch as Zimbabwe represented Africa in the last three tournaments in Russia, Georgia and the USA.
Namibia, though, ended that run by winning the Confederation Africaine de Rugby (CAR) Under 19 Championship in Harare last year, beating Kenya, Tunisia and then their hosts 44-22 in the title decider to secure their place at JWRT 2013.
Their best finish on the JWRT stage was fifth in both 2008 and 2009. In the inaugural tournament in the Chile capital Santiago in 2008, Namibia recorded two wins and two defeats, beating Korea on the final day in an exciting play-off.
"A very special team"
A year later, the Namibians had a positive tournament in Nairobi. Having narrowly beaten hosts Kenya and overwhelmed the Cayman Islands, their five-point loss against eventual finalists the USA and a combination of scores prevented them from playing for third.
Instead they had to settle for fifth place once again, beating Papua New Guinea 48-43 in one of the most memorable matches in the tournament’s young history.
“Ours is a very special team,” Opperman said of the side he will take to Antofagasta for the 28 May to 9 June tournament.
“They have been in the coaching system now for a couple of years and Vince Dreyer, the team’s assistant coach, has been with them since Under 18, taking them to the Craven Week in South Africa in past seasons.”
Although this Under 20 side won’t have big stars – “it is about how they play as team and not so much the individual players” – there are a handful playing in South Africa.
Inside centre or fly half Daniel Arries has been with Lions Under 19s, tighthead prop GD Orlam is with Maties (Stellenbosch University) Under 20s and captain Gerard Lotter was a hooker at the Western Province Academy. “They are very good prospects,” insists Opperman.
Namibia's future on show
Opperman, a passionate classic saxophone player in his time away from rugby, expects his team to play positive rugby as “we like to run the ball” and will put the finishing touches to a squad he believes is good enough to “aim for the final” at a training camp in Cape Town en route to Chile.
The former prop believes that the class of 2013 will figure prominently in the next two Rugby World Cups, providing the Welwitschias can negotiate the tricky path they face to England 2015 and qualify for a fifth successive tournament.
“At least 40 per cent of the squad in 2015 will come from this team. And looking forward to 2019, I’d say 70 per cent will have played in the Under 20s this year.”
The Namibians understand the challenge waiting for them in Antofagasta is not easy with matches again former winners Italy, hosts Chile and JWRT debutants Portugal in Pool A with the top side progressing to face the Pool B winner in the final.
“They (Italy) play in the Under 20 Six Nations and will be the biggest opponent. Next up will be Chile who playing at home will be a hard task and Portugal closes the pool matches that promise to be huge tests for us,” admitted Opperman, a risk assessor at a golf course.
“Most of our players are still at school and about 40 per cent will be available this year for the CAR Under 19 championship. Having said this, I am sure we can win the tournament. But for that, we must take it game by game.”
Namibia results on the JWRT stage
2008 – Santiago, Chile
Romania 28-26 Namibia
Chile 20-6 Namibia
Namibia 25-14 Cook Islands
Fifth place play-off: Namibia 36-29 Korea
2009 – Nairobi, Kenya
Namibia 22-17 Kenya
Namibia 104-7 Cayman Islands
USA 29 -24 Namibia
Fifth place play-off: Namibia 48-43 Papua New Guinea
By Frankie Deges