NAMIBIA ON THE RWC STAGE
Since they made their Rugby World Cup debut in 1999, Namibia have played 19 matches and lost all of them – a record they will be looking to put right in Japan next year after securing their place in Pool B alongside defending champions New Zealand, South Africa, Italy and the as yet unknown Repechage Winner.
For the past decade and a half, Namibia have been Africa’s ‘other’ team on the Rugby World Cup stage, operating firmly in the shadow of the two-time world champion Springboks. The status quo is unlikely to change any time soon, but the Welwitschias are heading in the right direction under Welshman Phil Davies with England 2015 their most competitive showing to date.
Namibia's first exposure to the harsh realities of life at the highest level came against Fiji in Beziers at RWC 1999. Six tries and 43 points were conceded before the break as Fiji threatened to run riot. However, second-half tries from Heino Senekal, Namibia’s first in a Rugby World Cup match, and Mario Jacobs restored a semblance of pride in a 67-18 defeat. Three Ugo Mola tries in 13 minutes did for Namibia in a spirited second outing against France before a veil was drawn on their debut Rugby World Cup with a 72-11 defeat at the hands of Canada.
Even though Namibia emerged from their maiden Rugby World Cup campaign with three defeats from three and a points difference of -184, captain Quin Hough ensured they bowed out by scoring at least one try in every match – something eight of the other nations had failed to do – when he crossed the Canadian line early in the second half.
Led by Sean Furter, Namibia began RWC 2003 with a 67-14 defeat to Argentina. Five days later, Namibia lost 64-7 to Ireland in rain-soaked Sydney, which at that stage was Ireland’s biggest ever Rugby World Cup win. Next up, Australia more than doubled the margin of victory in overpowering Namibia 142-0 at the Adelaide Oval. The Wallabies raced past the century mark inside 53 minutes – far quicker than the likes of Don Bradman had managed at the famous cricketing venue in the past – and went on to score 22 unanswered tries as Namibia fell off tackle after tackle. A 37-7 defeat to Romania completed another Rugby World Cup whitewash.
Perhaps Namibia’s most memorable Rugby World Cup performance came against Ireland at the Chaban Delmas Stadium in Bordeaux at RWC 2007. Trailing 27-3 with 59 minutes on the clock, Namibia, inspired by quick-witted right winger Ryan Witbooi, rallied for the final quarter of the match and launched a series of devastating assaults on the Irish line to put the Welwitschias within 10 points of the Irish. However, Jerry Flannery’s late try put paid to any hopes that Namibia had of pulling off the greatest of all RWC shocks.
The rest of RWC 2007 was, however, a bit of an anti-climax for Namibia. A 19th-minute red card to Jacques Nieuwenhuis for a high tackle on Sebastien Chabal helped to condemn them to an 87-10 defeat to France – the largest win in Les Bleus’ history – while the next game against Argentina was equally one-sided with Los Pumas running out 63-3 winners. Namibia then signed off in disappointing fashion with a 30-0 defeat against Georgia.
Wins over Senegal, Zimbabwe and Tunisia in qualifying ensured Namibia, captained by star flanker Jacques Burger and coached by Johan Diergaardt, made it through to their fourth consecutive Rugby World Cup in 2011. Drawn in another ‘Pool of Death’, Namibia were no match for South Africa, Wales, Samoa or even a Fiji side in decline and ended the tournament without managing to break their duck.
After scoring two tries against both Fiji and Samoa, Namibia were nilled for the third time at a Rugby World Cup when South Africa put 87 points on them without reply. Namibia bade a weary farewell to RWC 2011 after an 81-7 loss at the hands of Wales, although, as parting shots go, second-row Heinz Koll’s run in from halfway was not a bad way to sign off.
Last but not least
At RWC 2015, Namibia were the last of the 20 teams to enter the fray, the Welwitschias having to wait six days to show the world their new-found resilience under Davies. In losing 58-14 to New Zealand in their opening game, Namibia brought up the unwanted record of conceding 1,000 points at Rugby World Cups but the game at the Olympic Stadium was not the landslide many had feared with the All Blacks winning 58-14.
The third of Theuns Kotze’s penalties saw the fly-half become only the second Namibian player to score over 100 points in a calendar year, but the highlight was undoubtedly a fine second-half try from Johan Deysel.
While Namibia’s 35-21 loss to Tonga ensured their Rugby World Cup duck continued, the Welwitschias did manage to score three tries in a match for the first time in the tournament’s history. Johan Tromp was the first to cross before the inspirational Burger dotted down twice as Namibia continued to serve notice to their opponents that they weren’t to be taken lightly.
Georgia secured their maiden Rugby World Cup win against Namibia at France 2007 and the Africans were hoping to repeat the favour when the sides met at Sandy Park in Exeter. Two penalties by Kotze saw them hold an historic first-half lead before Georgia stormed back through Mamuka Gorgodze and Lasha Malaguradze. Kotze’s late try made for a grandstand finish but, in the end, Namibia had to settle for a 17-16 defeat and the consolation of their first-ever Rugby World Cup point.
Tromp, JC Greyling and Eugene Jantjies scored in Namibia’s farewell fixture against Argentina, but they were well beaten 64-19. It was not the way they wanted to finish but it still did not tarnish what had been the Welwitschias’ most competitive tournament to date.
Four players – Jacques Burger, Eugene Jantjes, Johnny Redelinghuys and Tinus du Plessis – joined Hugo Horn in making a record 11th RWC appearance at RWC 2015
Theuns Kotze’s 35 points at RWC 2015 is the most by a Namibia player in a single Rugby World Cup campaign. He also became Namibia’s all-time leading points scorer during the tournament
Johan Deysel’s try against the All Blacks at England 2015 was the moment that had neutrals celebrating as fervently as Namibia's players and coaching staff. The centre sprinted through two defenders with a quick turn before spinning past another to score in the 51st-minute at the Olympic Stadium in London.
It doesn’t get any worse than a tournament record 142-0 defeat, in which nine team and individual records were broken by an Australian side that ran in 22 tries in the RWC 2003 encounter.
“We gave some stupid tries away, but we did well and stuck to our guns. It is a dream come true to score against the All Blacks.” – Johan Deysel.
The Welwitschias have played more Rugby World Cup matches without registering a win (19) than any other side in the history of the competition
The opposition have reached the half-century mark in 11 of Namibia’s 19 matches on the Rugby World Cup stage