My plan to get miracles from minnow
Phil Davies, the Namibia RWC coach
After the pool B game on Sunday, which New Zealand had won 71-9, Phil Davies, the Namibia coach, was rightly proud of his team. That is kind of perverse in itself. You wonder: how do you get your players’ minds around these hiding- to-nothing fixtures?
Davies, the 55-year-old former Wales lock, said that they were an “opportunity” for his team to test themselves against the best. And then he was asked: “This is the ninth World Cup, is there going to be a time in our lifetimes where it’s not going to be an ‘opportunity’, where it’s going to be even, where we’re going to beat these guys?”
Namibia have qualified for the past six World Cups. They have played 22, lost 22. Their maiden World Cup was 1999 where their worst defeat was by Canada (72-11). In 2003, they were beaten 142-0 by Australia. Over the 20 years, the scorelines have not got glaringly better or worse.
Is there any chance of parity in our lifetimes? Davies said that maybe, if they got the infrastructure right, over two generations, they could get there. I suspect that was wishful thinking or he was just being polite. The majority of the Namibia squad are amateurs. They do their gym sessions at 5am before heading off in their separate ways to work as a banker, farmer, dentist, cycling shop salesman, you name it. Janry du Toit, the wing, was a teacher who was struggling to get the leave from work so he resigned to make himself available for Japan. A word from Du Toit, which may sound familiar among emerging nations. “We don’t get the funding we need because of all the corruption that goes on in our country,” he said. “It is difficult for them to manage money there.”
Some real touches of class had come from the No 10, Helarius Kisting, who is one of the professionals. He plays in Romania. This time last year, he was at Luctonians in Herefordshire in the equivalent of division five. It really does beggar belief how teams, such as Namibia, can prepare themselves psychologically for an ordeal against opponents such as the All Blacks. The answer is they have adopted a mental-
skills framework called Red2Blue, developed by Gazing Performance Systems, where red is frustration and blue is calm thinking.
According to Justin Newman, the outside centre, they stayed blue for the first half against the All Blacks and the second half was another colour altogether. This may seem strange, but the All Blacks employ exactly the same Red2Blue psychology. The difference is that they use it to keep their heads in tight contests. Namibia use it to keep their heads in loose ones.
Yet, to go back to the original question: is this contest ever going to be even? No, it isn’t. If you are one of the many who look at the runners and riders at World Cups and deplore that the smaller nations — emerging nations, whatever tier you care to call them — never seem to get closer, you are wasting hope on Namibia.
History shows us how very hard it is to make the leap from tier two to one. Some helpful ingredients are: a strong playing population; a well-funded union; and a well-funded league. Namibia have none of these. One prime reason that this World Cup feels special is that Japan do. I came to this World Cup expecting to find that the world pecking order had changed little and the news stories being a competitive Wales and an ambitious Ireland. However, Japan are the news. Japan seem to be proof that the leap can be made.
We are soon going to get to another round of quarter-finals without any representation from the Pacific Islands, but they are close too. Fiji were robbed in the 39-21 defeat by Australia. Tonga nearly beat France. Samoa have been the least impressive but troubled Japan (which is now saying something). These teams are not far away. Tonga have improved throughout the tournament. Give the Island teams better preparation and they could do something.
World Rugby should not be discouraged; after years of investing and finding that the money disappears, it has tried other methods. It funded a Fiji team to play in the National Rugby Championship — and a number of World Cup players have come through that pathway. It also established a “Pacific Island Combine”, a programme that spots promising international players, trains them and then helps them to find contracts abroad with clubs who have good records for looking after Pacific Island players. James Faiva, the Tonga fly half who plays his club rugby in Spain, is an example of a player who has come through that system. This is proper progress. World Rugby should now take further measures. In a rugby utopia, the Pacific Islands would have a team in the Super Rugby competition. They would also be given a fair revenue share of their autumn international games.