LONDON, 20 Sept – At the age of 34, prop Jaco Engels is the 'old man' of the Namibia team with an impressive professional CV.
And now RWC 2015 will fill in one of the few gaps on that CV. For, although Engels won the Currie Cup and Super Rugby titles when he played for the Bulls in South Africa, until this year he has never been part of a Rugby World Cup squad.
“It’s been one of my goals to finish my career off,” Engels said, as Namibia's squad prepared for their first match against New Zealand on Thursday. “I’ve achieved what I could in my career, and the World Cup was the last chunk of the cake.”
Engels was first capped for his country in 2013, playing in the side that beat Senegal 35-12, and now has 12 international caps. But 2013 was also the year that Engels gave up his professional career in South Africa.
“I was 32 or 33 and I thought I’ve done my bit professionally,” he explained. “I had to get my life after rugby into order. I emigrated to Namibia to start to make my life there.”
He added that professional rugby was starting to take its toll physically, and he realised that to achieve his World Cup dream he needed to take things a little more slowly.
Engels always hoped to make rugby his career, although he also has a law degree. He is now managing to use both skills, assisting Namibia Rugby on their high-performance development as well as working as conditioning and forwards coach at Windhoek Gymnasium School.
He said the change from professional to amateur had initially been a shock.
“In professional rugby you have a lot of off time; you train hard and you rest. I picked up 14kg because there wasn’t enough recovery.”
Fortunately, Namibia’s pre-RWC training camp has meant that Engels, as well as the other props, have all toned up.
“All the props are in the best shape of our lives,” he said. “We’ve all lost 15kg.”
Engels pointed out, with a grin, that collectively the weight lost by the Namibian props equates to the team’s lightest member, scrum-half Damian Stevens who weighs in at just 82kg.
DOING IT FOR THE LOVE
The Namibia team is now roughly half-professional with an age-range from 20 up to Engels at 34. Despite this Engels said all the players shared the same passion for their sport and had developed into a “close-knit group” at their training camp.
“Most of us don’t earn a living from rugby, so we do it for the love of it,” he said.
He pointed out that the sacrifices made by many of the Namibia players had been shared by their families, and making wives and girlfriends proud during the tournament was a motivating factor.
“They’ve also sacrificed a lot. The hours we put in were hours taken away from them,” he concluded.