Rugby reaching out in Africa

(IRB.COM) Friday 24 July 2009
 
 Rugby reaching out in Africa
Niger beat Ghana to retain the CAR Development Trophy title

Following Niger's recent win in Africa's Development Trophy and Morocco's success in the Northern Trophy, Zimbabwe and hosts Botswana will meet on the final day of the Southern Trophy in Gaborone on Saturday as the continent's rugby landscape continues to expand.

In 2002, 12 nations were involved in Africa's rugby tournaments and this year that number has grown to 36 Unions participating in various tournaments for both men and women and at various age brackets in both 15-a-side and Sevens.

"These tournaments are very important for Africa because most of the Unions taking part are non-IRB Member Unions," said Jean-Luc Barthes, IRB Regional Development Manager for the predominantly French-speaking Northern zone.

"Of the French-speaking Unions, there are six IRB Members and 16 non-members and many of those are not very well developed in rugby, so this kind of exposure gives us the opportunity to assess the development happening in each of the countries, to meet the people in the Unions, and see how they are working to try and spread rugby in their countries."

The standard continues to rise consistently in Africa and each year Barthes is more impressed by what he sees.

"In 2004 we had a tournament in Senegal and during the match I had to go on the pitch to ask the referee to play uncontested scrums and show some of the players how to position themselves in the scrum to avoid injury," he said.

"Today it's totally different, the players are well aware of the Laws of the Game, they know how to play their positions very well and the matches are often very interesting.

Combining competition and training

"This year we had very good matches in particular between Burkina Faso and Nigeria, and Niger against Ghana in the final, which was also a first final for Ghana."

Initially the focus in Africa, under CAR President Abdelaziz Bougja, was to build rugby's base through increased competition, and more recently that approach has been complimented by an additional focus on training.

By following and adopting the IRB's global training structures, Barthes has been able to introduce specific training and coaching pathways in each Union, helping them to produce better coaches, referees and players.

"Before, we were only really focused on competition, but now this new focus on training is making a big difference," added Barthes. "It's giving us good results and means that now rugby is played not only by a group of adult players, but by children also, and that is very important.

"Our main issue in Africa remains the lack of pitches. In most of the countries it's very difficult to play rugby. There are pitches but in many cases they are football pitches and often the governments are focused on football and do not want to share the pitches with rugby.

"Since I started in this job, people have always said 'we need balls and pitches' and the IRB has been able to help with the balls, but the pitches is still a problem."

A problem, however, that could be largely solved if Sevens achieves Olympic inclusion later this year for the 2016 Games. Barthes believes that the ultimate IOC endorsement would trigger tremendous change for Africa, bringing more support, more means and a "wonderful change for us and for the children of Africa".


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"These countries' governments will suddenly be more interested in rugby, and will assist to develop rugby," he said.

"Also, African countries will have a real chance to win medals - Kenya have shown that by reaching the World Cup semi finals - and African players have very good natural physical qualities to play Sevens.

"In the future you will see very good teams in the likes of Senegal, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Botswana - they can compete with the best."