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On earth Namibia and South Africa are very close, the only African countries at Rugby World Cup 2011 even share a border. On planet rugby however, the two nations are far apart.
Namibia’s 87-0 defeat against South Africa on Thursday night at Auckland’s North Harbour Stadium marked the first time that two African teams had met at a Rugby World Cup.
There was no reason to celebrate for Namibia.
They fell to their 14th consecutive defeat since they first qualified for their first World Cup in 1999, setting a new RWC record, and pushing their composite points differential to 137-893.
But defiant captain Jacques Burger, often the standout in his team’s performances, refuses to stop believing in Namibia’s abilities.
“After the game I was very disappointed because I don’t believe they are 87 points better than us,” he said.
“I really believe that this side is much better than we are playing at the moment. Because we do play good at times, we do look good at times. We’re just not putting it together.”
Ironically, at least one of the Springboks’ best players from the recent past is Namibian-born.
Legendary full back
The Springboks’ legendary full back Percy Montgomery (102 caps) was born in Walvis Bay, then South West Africa, today Namibia.
Namibia gained full independence from South Africa in 1990 and until then players born in the country were eligible to play for South Africa.
Montgomery was part of the RWC World Cup 2007 winning team and is currently the Springboks’ kicking coach.
South Africa turned in a perfect 13-from-13 kicking display on Thursday night, figures that Burger can only dream of but insists his team will be able to achieve one day.
“The potential is there. There are so many good players in this team. If you look at individuals, there are a lot of guys who have a lot of talent,” he said.
Burger believes Namibia simply do not have the resources to match their African rivals.
“Financially we are not strong enough and we are not playing against top sides throughout the year. We play a couple of Tests throughout the year (in which) we play sides – no disrespect – like Georgia and Romania, who are really good sides, but in order to get better we need to be competing with teams like Samoa, Fiji, Wales,” Burger said.
“We need to play against better opposition in order to lift us up, to a level where we would like to be. And obviously that comes with the finances as well.”
Namibia’s player pool comprises only about 1,000 registered players, the vast majority playing at amateur level.
“Someone really needs to invest in those guys and get them in a professional setup.
Obviously, it’s tough to say that, but if they were in a professional setup, a lot of these guys would really wow someone and become really good rugby players,” Burger said.
Playing rugby in Namibia often involves juggling a day job, like number 8 PJ Van Lill who works as a dentist, and squeezing in training sessions around that.
Burger, who won the 2011 Premiership with English side Saracens, admits he sometimes gets frustrated when he returns to his home country.
“It’s two different worlds. You really get frustrated sometimes when you come back. But you have to see that they don’t have the facilities to play professionally. I’ve played in deep parts of Africa where I thought it’s humbling, very humbling (to play for Saracens).
“It is so tough, the boys get on with so little. They are happy with so little.
“In a professional club you just get treated so well. Everything is planned out for you, you can concentrate only on rugby.”
Burger is one of the lucky few with a European contract, and until Namibia has a professional league the best players will continue to look abroad to earn a wage.
Full back Chrysander Botha, who plays for Kudus Rugby Club in Namibia, scored a try against Fiji and is already dreaming of playing professionally – just not in Namibia.
“I’ve been aiming to get a contract overseas, so if I do get something I’m leaving (Namibia),” 23-year-old Botha said.