Springboks are not truly representative of African rugby; African rugby is struggling

Springboks are not truly representative of African rugby; African rugby is struggling

By Associated Press

HARARE: Once again, Africa is home to the Rugby World Cup champion.

The Springboks beat New Zealand in an epic final on Saturday in Paris, winning back-to-back titles.

But a South Africa led by charismatic captain Siya Kolisi isn’t a true representation of African rugby.

Outside of South Africa, African rugby struggles to be competitive, and is a gold mine of talent without the means to unearth it.

Rugby Africa president Herbert Mensah welcomed the decision this week to expand the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia from 20 teams to 24. That could mean Africa receiving a second extra qualifying berth. But he warned that a second berth will not help grow the game in Africa or make African countries competitive unless it comes with the right support.

“We are a continent of 1.4 billion people, with some of the most talented athletes in the world. But we simply don’t have the investments to be able to compete at the levels that we need to compete,” said Mensah, who was from Ghana and elected Rugby Africa president in March.

“My contention is that if we should get extra funding for the top nations in Africa . . . these countries will be more competitive in trying to get that extra slot for Africa. Today, that is not Africa’s problem. Africa’s problem is lack of funding, inadequate investment. Not only from World Rugby, but from those who control Olympic funding and, more importantly, governments.”

Africa outside South Africa

But World Rugby isn’t going to chuck money at the continental and national unions. There needs to be governance and infrastructure in place with the capability and capacity to grow the game and give participants a quality experience.

Africa outside of South Africa doesn’t have it yet.

Even Namibia, which has earned Africa’s qualifying spot for every World Cup since 1999, doesn’t have support systems in place.

The Namibians are still chasing their first match win after appearing in seven Rugby World Cups. They lost all four in France to extend the tournament’s longest losing run to 26 matches.

They know what they need to improve their chances, starting with creating a high-performance center to identify, groom and condition under-21 players for the national team. Then they need a professional franchise like the South American countries do in Super Rugby Americas.

The actual size of Namibia and spread of players has handicapped the chance of training camps, while the COVID-19 pandemic restricted to Namibia to just 11 tests after the 2019 World Cup until the team went to France. The scheduling there was no help either for a tier two team with depth issues. They were four games and done in 18 days before New Zealand played its third pool game.

“There’s a lot of heart in the team to build on,” outgoing Namibia coach Allister Coetzee said at the Rugby World Cup. “But we can’t build after we qualify. We’ve got to build as soon as possible from next year.

Namibia confident of qualifying for 2027

“We are all obsessed with the first (World Cup) win. But we forget about the steps we should take, not to hope for a first win but to know we will get a first win and keep going. We’ve got an opportunity again now to get it right, and to do the right things and make sure we are better off when we go to the next World Cup.”

Even with all that it lacks, Namibia is confident of qualifying for 2027. It has won every Rugby Africa Cup since 2014. Last year, it beat Kenya 36-0 in the final.

The only other African countries to compete at the Rugby World Cup were Zimbabwe in 1987 and 1991 and Ivory Coast in 1995. They went a combined 0-9.

World Cup expansion should come with a tournament overhaul to give tier two teams more hope, World Rugby Hall of Famer Kennedy Tsimba said this week. Tsimba believed tier two teams had no chance at World Cups so the tournament should be formatted to offer them more competitive matches.

The former flyhalf was Zimbabwe’s first Black captain, and has become an assistant to World Cup-winning coach Jake White at the Bulls.

“I don’t think we’ve got enough strength-to-strength in the world to be able to do (24 teams),” Tsimba said. “It’s not like in soccer where it’s easier to score goals. In rugby, there’s a physical test and obviously a tactical and experience factor. You saw some of those record scores in this World Cup against some teams, and these are some of the better teams in the world right now.”

He considered teams that didn’t advance from the Rugby World Cup pools should go into a bowl or plate like they do in the sevens world series.

“Then you have every single team competing for something,” Tsimba said. “You cannot have teams that go to the World Cup and don’t win a single match. The rest of the world then falls further behind.

“The more the Springboks and others are pushing forward professionally, they are just going to go further and further from these extra teams that are being added. It just becomes a mere formality, because the only time these smaller nations will play the big nations is at the World Cup.”

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