Ivory Coast's quest to repeat feat of 1995
By Ian Gilbert
When it comes to the Ivory Coast and sporting prowess, most people think of footballers such as Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue who have graced the top flight.
But the Ivorians are no slouches at rugby, and in the next few days “Les Elephants” of the oval ball variety will be vying for the chance to keep their dream of Rugby World Cup 2015 qualification alive.
Ivory Coast shape as the favourites to top the Africa Cup Division 1C tournament taking place in Botswana over the next week – an important staging post on the road to the next global gathering.
The strength of African rugby is concentrated at the southern end of the continent, with the heavyweights of South Africa flanked by Namibia and Zimbabwe, who have each notched Rugby World Cup appearances.
Ivory Coast is the only other African team to qualify for a Rugby World Cup, competing at the 1995 tournament in South Africa.
Although they failed to claim a victory, Ivory Coast steadily improved after a heavy defeat in their opening match against Scotland, scoring tries against France and finally Tonga.
The presence in their pool of France was appropriate as Ivory Coast’s rugby links with that country are strong: Les Bleus’ present captain, Thierry Dusautoir, was born in Abidjan, while former Test player Pepito Elhorga, most recently with Bayonne, also hails from the Ivory Coast.
The Africa Cup action in Gaborone sees six teams split into two pools: Ivory Coast, Botswana and Mauritius in one and Cameroon, Zambia and Nigeria in the other.
Each side from Pool A will play each side from Pool B over three match days, and the team that tops the combined standings will be promoted to Africa Cup Division 1B – and therefore stay in the qualifying mix for England 2015.
The teams arrived in the Botswana capital on Friday and action takes place on three match days – Sunday, Wednesday and next Saturday – at the University of Botswana Stadium.
Ivory Coast’s favourites tag reflects their current IRB World Ranking of 48th – with a fair gap to the next highest-ranked country in Division 1C, 74th-placed Zambia. Ivory Coast play the Zambians in their third and final game next Saturday.
Cameroon, at 79th in the world, will fancy their chances in the nine-game series, while Botswana will hope to make home advantage count.