Thirty magical minutes highlight Namibia's steady progress

The Welwitschias’ wait for a first win at a World Cup continues, but departing coach Davies has laid foundations for a brighter future.

TOKYO, 14 Oct - Typhoon Hagibis denied Namibia their best shot at finally achieving a victory at a World Cup when Sunday's match with Canada in Kamaishi was cancelled.

Instead, their unenviable winless streak extends to 22 matches, with defeats by Italy, South Africa and New Zealand in Pool B at Rugby World Cup 2019.

If that last match turns out to be the final international appearance for several of this squad, the 23rd and lowest-ranked side in the tournament, it will stand long in the memory. 

For half an hour the Welwitschias went toe-to-toe with the All Blacks, playing with courage and flair, which coach Phil Davies had promised they would deliver.

He will no doubt rue the missed opportunity to play Canada, only one place higher in the world rankings. The silver lining is the match was scored a draw and with two points Namibia have doubled their previous best haul of one point at RWC 2015 for a losing bonus point against Georgia. 

Head coach

The first Namibia coach to last a full World Cup cycle, popular Welshman Davies departs with the squad in a stronger place. He reduced their average age to 26 years old, installed former prop Jaco Engels as scrum coach and is mentoring retiring players, such as Eugene Jantjies and Darryl de la Harpe, to take coaching roles within the national setup.

His selection and tactics to flood every breakdown and play with width from the start caught the All Blacks off guard for 30 minutes and he had rotated well to have virtually his best XV available for their final pool match with Canada. 

Player of the tournament

Two-metre tall London Scottish second-row Tjiuee Uanivi, pictured above, stands head and shoulders above most, but in Japan he stood out against some of the best second-row players in the world.

The 28-year-old bossed the lineout against South Africa and New Zealand and played every minute of Namibia’s three matches, ably deputising for injured tour captain Johan Deysel for the Italy tie.  

Hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld and scrum-half Damian Stevens - shown below with Aaron Smith of New Zealand - deserve special mention, too. Van Jaarsveld racked up an elite level 15 carries, 15 tackles and two turnovers on the field, while Stevens kicked three penalties from three against the All Blacks and scored 14 of Namibia’s 34 tournament points. 

Memorable moment off the pitch 

Wherever Namibia went they earned plaudits. In Machida, west of Tokyo, they won the hearts and minds of hundreds of young Japanese fans when they were invited to join the team for a skills practice. One family recently back from a safari in Namibia, even came bearing the gift of a stuffed toy Pikachu for fly-half Cliven Loubser after he scored three points against the Springboks.

Memorable moment on the pitch

Stevens leaping with glee over the try-line to score Namibia’s first points and first try at RWC 2019. A close second, technically not on the pitch, was Davies’ sheer joy and surprise when Stevens nailed a difficult penalty to take the lead against the All Blacks. For five minutes, Namibia were in dreamland.  

What next?

After five years in charge, Davies is moving on, but under his reign Namibia have started to get their house in order. They have established a national academy and a high-performance centre at the national stadium in Windhoek, providing a daily training environment for the national players.

To develop the game further, Davies has challenged the Namibia Union to increase the number of clubs playing in their domestic amateur league from seven to 10 over the next four years and to increase their playing pool from 900 to 4,000. 

But for real progress, Namibia would benefit hugely from a professional league on par with Major League Rugby that has recently been established in North America and more opportunities to compete with Tier 1 opposition. 

Quotes of the tournament 

"It's been an amazing journey. I’ve been very proud to represent Namibia and be the coach of a fantastic group of players. When I first came and we were doing scrum sessions at 5.30 in the morning I was sold on them. The commitment and effort they’ve put in has been phenomenal. The last two World Cups have brought pride, passion and respect to Namibian rugby." – Davies reflects on the legacy he leaves after five years in charge. 

"These boys don't realise how good they are. Namibia has real talent. The boys have big heart and some big balls. This is something they'll cherish for the rest of their lives." – Hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld on the admiration he had for his amateur teammates who stood up to the challenge of the All Blacks.

"I don't know. I was just closing my eyes and running. You might only get these opportunities once in your life so you've got to make the most of them. We had nothing to lose and that's how I tried to play." – Fly-half Helarius Kisting’s explanation of how he was running New Zealand ragged for 30 minutes. 

How did they do?

Lost to Italy 47-22

Lost to South Africa 57-3

Loss to New Zealand 71-9

Drew with Canada after match cancelled

Namibia by numbers

175 – Across three matches at RWC 2019 Namibia conceded 175 points, one more than in the four matches played during their 2015 campaign.

 100 – Second-row Tjiuee Uanivi was the only Namibian to play 100 per cent of their three World Cup matches.

14 – Eugene Janties became the first Namibian to play at four World Cups, taking his number of tournament appearances to 14. However, he has lost every one, meaning he now holds the tournament record for most losses, beating the 13 defeats Romania's Ovidiu Tonita endured. 

2 – With their cancelled clash with Canada ruled a draw, Namibia earned their record points haul at a World Cup despite losing every game they played. Perfect pub quiz ammo. 

RNS sr/djk