By Ken Borland
It’s not as if the International Rugby Board has missed many opportunities to promote Rugby in the African continent but one of its key aims for 2014 is to make its development initiatives even more efficient.
The IRB introduced four new posts in Africa in 2013 with one Confederation of African Rugby (CAR) operational manager and three CAR regional development officers being appointed.
“One of the highlights of 2013 was the new workforce in Africa, those appointments brought a better organisation and efficiency for CAR,” said Jean-Luc Barthes, the IRB’s regional development manager for Africa.
“Now one of our major goals for 2014 is to make the Africa workforce, comprising three regional development officers, two regional training centres, an operations manager and the regional development manager, more efficient.”
CAR’s focus this year will on the final stage of African qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2015 with Kenya, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Namibia heading to the Malagasy island from June 26 to July 6. Those four nations will be playing for one spot, joining South Africa as Africa’s representatives in England.
Big year ahead for Namibia
Namibia, ranked second in Africa and qualifiers for the last four Rugby World Cups, will again be favourites to win CAR Division 1A and Sybrand de Beer, the chief executive of the Namibian Rugby Union, says being the continent’s second representatives is their goal for 2014.
“We had two highlights for the 2013 season for our senior national team. The first was to win CAR Division 1B in Senegal to be promoted to Division 1A for 2014. This means we are still in the running to make the World Cup and we’ll play the last qualification round for RWC in 2014 in Madagascar.”
“The second highlight was to win the Windhoek Draught Tri-Nations Series in November, where we beat Zimbabwe and Kenya. Both these teams, as well as Madagascar, will play in CAR Division 1A against us this year and the winner will be the African qualifiers for 2015. So that is our focus for this year. We also want to do well with our Under 20 team in the Junior World Rugby Trophy in Hong Kong.”
While those four leading nations focus their efforts on completing the journey to RWC 2015 in England, the IRB will be travelling many miles all through Africa in order to try and grow the game at every level.
We want 25 Unions involved in GIR
“The start of the IRB Get Into Rugby programme was one of the highlights of 2013 and we have set the goal of getting 25 Unions involved in 2014,” Barthes said.
“The improvement of the standard of the eight top Unions – Namibia, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Uganda, Madagascar, Botswana and Kenya – through the Leading Rugby programme and the partnership with the South African Rugby Union and the French Union are other goals, as well as building on the strong training programme implemented by the IRB regional training managers.”
While most attention is understandably focused on what the players are doing on the field, Rugby is also about all the support staff involved in the Game – strength and conditioning coaches, medical staff, coaches and match officials. The IRB is heavily involved in training all these people as well.
Denver Wannies, one of CAR’s regional officials in the Anglophone nations, points out that 2013 was a busy year in that regard with a strength and conditioning level two course being held in Johannesburg in May, a medical educator course held in Stellenbosch in September, as well as educator courses in Uganda, Kenya and Cape Town.
Level three coaches and match officials also came to Cape Town, for a seminar with most of the Currie Cup coaches and a few up-and-coming young referees.
Rugby is blossoming at a tremendous rate
“For 2014 we are having a number of first aid in Rugby courses in Zimbabwe, Namibia, Kenya and Uganda in the first three months of the year and a medical educator course in Namibia in May,” said Wannies.
“There will be a level two strength and conditioning course in Zimbabwe in February and a level two Rugby Sevens course in Morocco in March for all the women's national coaches with the men being catered for in Madagascar in June.”
Rugby in Africa is blossoming at a tremendous rate, thanks to the efforts of the IRB and the assistance of the South African and French unions, who have such an influence in their respective spheres in the south and west of the continent.
So the Springboks or Les Bleus may allow themselves a wry smile if they are one day beaten by the likes of Namibia, Zimbabwe, Madagascar or Senegal. Making those countries strong can only be good for the global Game.
This feature forms part of our Around The Regions series exploring the game beyond its traditional heartlands. Do you have an interesting story to tell about Rugby around the world? Let us know by emailing email@example.com.
By Ken Borland