The Namibia captain Jacques Burger says Japan’s shock victory over South Africa ‘shows that nothing is impossible’. Photograph: Nigel Marple/Reuters/Corbis
By Sean Ingle for The Guardian
The World Cup’s worst-ranked team, Namibia, believe they will not be overawed when they face the “ultimate challenge” of playing the All Blacks at the Olympic Stadium in London on Thursday.
Twelve years ago the Namibians suffered the biggest defeat at any World Cup when they lost 142-0 to Australia, and they have lost their last 15 matches in the tournament. But their inspirational flanker and captain, Jacques Burger, says his team, ranked No20 in the world, have taken encouragement from their build-up and Japan’s victory over South Africa.
“It would be stupid not to be inspired by that match,” said Burger. “Personally, I didn’t see it coming. I thought it was unreal. But it shows that nothing is impossible. In rugby the underdog doesn’t normally come through. But Japan never looked like they were out of depth, and [they] were able to frustrate the Springboks. We need to take a lot away from that and keep believing in ourselves.”
Yet that belief does not stretch as far as thinking they can push the All Blacks. As Burger admits: “It’s the ultimate challenge in rugby, but I am pretty confident we’ll give a performance. Realistically we can’t really look at the scoreline. We should obviously try to win, that’s the way we play, but it’s all about what we can take away from the special moments during the match – like keeping them for 10 minutes on our goal line, or putting together a couple of sets of play, or breaking their line and scoring a great try.”
Few of the Namibian squad play at the highest level of the game, and 10 of them still play as amateurs. Burger referred this week to it being handy that their number included a dentist, among engineers, diamond traders, farmers and construction workers.
But the head coach, Phil Davies, says that while the gulf in class will be enormous, the difference in fitness might not be as big as is widely assumed. Advertisement “The lads are such an enthusiastic rugby bunch, they love the game and training,” the Welshman said.
“We have come together as a squad in different guises. Some of the guys play at home in Windhoek, others like Jacques, Chrysander Botha, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Renaldo Bothma, are playing professional rugby. We have had to blend a squad and team spirit with guys from varying situations but the boys have worked ever so hard, particularly the non-professional guys who have been getting up at 5am in the morning to train,” he added.
“I never thought as a professional coach in years gone by that I would be taking a scrummaging session at 5.15am. We know we will be under pressure but hopefully if we do our jobs well we can put some good stuff together and give a good account of ourselves. Rugby is about challenges and this is a mighty one for us.”
J Tromp, D Philander, JC Greyling, J Deysel, C Marais, T Kotze, E Jantjies, J Engels, T Van Jaarsveld, J Coetzee, T Uanivi, PJ Van Lill, J Burger (capt), T Du Plessis, L Damens