Namibia’s Mission Impossible

Namibia will rely heavily on a clutch of South Africans when they meet the Boks at Newlands, writes Gavin Rich in the Sunday Argus.

The visiting team is coached by former long serving Griquas scrumhalf Hakkies Husselman, and apart from assistant coach John Williams, who last year coached the Valke to Vodacom Cup success, former Bok assistant coach Alan Solomons is back in town and has been helping the Namibians prepare over the past few days. So too has former Springbok prop Robbie Kempson, while Gareth Wright, ex-Western Province, South Western Districts and Sharks flyhalf, is offering expert advice to the kickers.

But the Namibians are going to need all the help they can get against what is expected to be a full-strength Springbok team that will be eager to put into practice what they have been working on over the past couple of weeks.

Some 18 years ago, when they played in the Currie Cup as South West Africa, you might have expected Namibia to put up a decent fight in this first ever Test match between the two neighbouring countries.

Indeed, in their final year in the competition, 1989, they managed to finish third in competition behind eventual winners Northern Transvaal and beaten finalists Western Province. They had such well known names as the Stoop brothers and Gerhard Mans, a try grabbing wing who continued to play for Namibia for several seasons after independence.

Since then though the player base has shrunk dramatically, and if the Namibians do get clobbered by a score similar to their worst ever defeat – the 142-0 loss to hosts Australia at the 2003 World Cup – the dramatic imbalance in resources must be taken into account. Namibia currently only has 19 clubs, and there are only 1,100 players in the country.

On top of this, the Namibian administration has made it more difficult with the manner in which they sacked the two previous coaches, and Husselman has only been in charge of the Namibians for four months.

“It has been a bit quick for me, I was initially hoping to be able to work as an assistant for quite a while before taking over, but that is the way life goes,” says Husselman. “I do have good back-up staff though, and we have benefited a lot from the expertise of the assistant coach as well as the input of guys like Alan Solomons and Rob Kempson, who have given us some good pointers about things like scrumming and running lines.”

The Namibians were pleased to welcome Kees Lensing to their camp on Saturday. The powerful loosehead, whose career appears to have gone backwards since he moved to Durban to join the Sharks, was the star of the Namibian team that pushed the South African A side, which included a number of strong Springbok contenders, in Windhoek in 2003.

There are other former Currie Cup players such as Jane du Toit in the Namibian team, but they are still missing Skipper Badenhorst, the Sharks hooker. “Rudolf (Straeuli) is not releasing him just yet. I don’t know what the story is there, but we are expecting Skipper to join us by the 18th of this month,” says Husselman.

With so much weighted against the Namibians, who have never won a World Cup match in two appearances in the main event (in 1999 and 2003), it is understandable if Husselman sounds like he is prioritising damage limitation when he answers the question about what he hopes to get out of the game.

“We are a tier 3 nation and we are playing a tier 1 nation so obviously it is going to be a very different challenge to what we are used to. At best we can expect about 30% ball possession, and the other 70% of the time we are going to have to defend. This is what we are going to face in our big World Cup games, so we must get used to it, we must see how well our defensive system holds.

“If we do well at Newlands then we will know we are on the right track. I also want to test our line-out against what must surely be the best locks in world rugby. One of the things we have been struggling with since we arrived in Cape Town is the weather. We have been training on very muddy fields and we are not used to that.”

Namibia are in the same pool as France, Argentina and Ireland, and will obviously be pinpointing their clash with Georgia as the one they need to win to break their World Cup duck. They have done well in RWC qualifying tournaments, however, and they go to France on the basis that they beat Morrocco in a home and away play-off to decide the African leg of the qualifiers.

Their recent defeat to the South African Student side does not augur well for them, but Husselman has explained that his team were missing several frontline players that day and were also in heavy training mode so were not really ready at that stage to play a match.

By Gavin Rich, Sunday Argus