This weekend, The Lions were scheduled to travel to Windhoek to play Namibia as part of their Lions Challenge, which is aimed at keeping their players match fit and raring to go by the time the Super Rugby Promotion/Relegation matches are due. Considering that this match is important for both Unions Variety Sports spoke at length to Namibian Rugby Union CEO Sybrand de Beer to get more clarity on why the match was cancelled. The conversation that followed was very informative and somewhat unexpected and highlights a Union in rebound with clear target’s to be achieved in their future. The one thing that Variety Sports found very surprising is how forthcoming NRU CEO de Beer was, not only in his discussion with VS, but also how willing he was to speak about the aspirations of our Rugby playing neighbours the “Biltongboere”.
Making the rounds on YouTube last year were highlights of the 2nd Tier match between Madagascar and Namibia in their Pool 1B Confédération Africaine de Rugby Championship Division clash. While that final scoreline of 57 – 54 in favour of the home side Madagascar was an upset and well worth noting all on its own, it was however the Haka style war dance that Madagascar did beforehand that was most memorable. What isn’t known though, is how this loss impacted a country that despite only having about 1200 amateur players to draw from, has been the #2 African country represented at the Rugby World Cup for 4 straight years (1999, 2003, 2007 & 2011) and what this means for their 2015 RWC 5 from 5 aspirations.
That result is not directly responsible for the cancellation of the Lions match this weekend, but the cancellation in itself is part of a broader picture as Namibia work towards qualifying for the 2015 RWC. By losing the match against Madagascar, Namibia missed out on an opportunity to gain promotion from Pool 1B to Pool 1A of the CAR Divisional Championship. As a brief outline as to why this is so important, you have to look at these pools and their match up’s as Africa’s way of deciding who will take up that all important final RWC slot next to South Africa as the second team from Africa. Only the teams competing in Pool A stand the chance of qualifying for the 2015 RWC. Namibia’s loss to Madagascar dented this aspiration, but thankfully for them the final qualification decider is only in June/July 2014 which means 2013 gives them another bite of the cherry to get into Pool A.
The media has reported on the Namibian Rugby Union being bogged down with accusations of gross mismanagement and corruption and threatened a player revolt due to non-payment of salaries which even at one stage forced the IRB to step in. Full details may never come out, and I for one don’t like to dwell on the negative and after my discussion with NRU CEO De Beer, have been informed that post 2011, the entire Exco stepped down and an entirely new Board was voted into power with De Beer as CEO, de Beer who incidentally was also a member of the RWC debut squad in 1999. With new Administrators with a proper Rugby playing background in charge a very optimistic future lies ahead of them, the NRU have set about rebuilding a tarnished image with stable management and are now fervently working towards getting Namibia to qualify for the 2015 RWC.
Which brings us to the cancellation of this weekends Lions match. Namibia as an amateur Union are well-known to not have the kind of resources available to them as South Africa. Most of their players are amateurs which means little or no off-season preparation. Namibia will this year once again be playing in Pool 1B, and they have to be promoted from this group to stand any chance for RWC qualification. The Lions match was scheduled as a warm up but with their players being largely unfit, this match would prove to be detrimental to their preparations. Namibia by way of the IRB do get grants that enable them to bring in High Performance and Conditioning consultants. SARU CEO Jurie Roux has even gone so far as to offer their services which means consultation with Rassie Erasmus and Stormers and WP defence Guru Jacques Nienaber himself will prove a vital cog in their qualification aspirations.
Namibia will now be using the months of January, February and March as vital time spent working on the condition of their players, where after match up’s with various SA teams such as the Varsity Cup Champs, SA U20/ U23’s and the SA Students are also in the pipeline. The match between the Lions has been deemed cancelled, but the NRU and SARU are looking at future dates to possibly play the match sometime in June which would prove a much better contest for both sides as the Promotion/Relegation match looms nearer for the Lions and Namibia prepare for their trip to Senegal to play against host’s Senegal, Tunisia and Botswana for the right to be promoted to Pool A from Pool B.
With this in mind, it clearly proves that the NRU are an organizational arm in repair putting the wellbeing and longevity of their players first. While this Lions match may have done much to generate some much-needed funds and also would do much to quench the thirst of a Rugby hungry Namibian public keen on top team matchup’s, it is their long-term plans that lie at the very heart of what they hope to achieve and this is what is being put first. For now Namibia does have High Performance and Conditioning consultants in place, but should they fail to make it to Pool A, the grants that they currently receive from the IRB will be revoked and this would be absolutely detrimental for a country as small as them.
I’m sure that many may want to comment that putting your players wellbeing first should be a no brainer for any Administration, and may even perhaps label the NRU as small town bumpkins that don’t know what they are doing, but for all of the NRU’s previous failings, is it any worse than the fiasco that is the Kings/Lions debacle? SARU have much more going for them than the NRU and the fact that the NRU are taking accountability for their failings and in conjunction with their players are working on putting that behind them, all I can say is that that is refreshing and that SARU could perhaps take a leaf out of their book.
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