Rugby World Cup minnows Namibia and Uruguay clash in Lyon today in their own personal ‘final’, where the winner takes home the glory and the loser faces four years of frustration.
Drawn into a tough Pool A with three-time champions New Zealand, hosts France and Tier One Italy, this match always presented the most realistic hopes for both sides to win a game at the tournament.
And even more so for a Namibian side playing in its seventh World Cup that is still searching for its first victory after 25 defeats in as many matches.
This year, Namibia lost their first game 52-8 to Italy then suffered defeats to New Zealand (71-3) and hosts France (96-0). Head coach Allister Coetzee has been forced into making eight changes from the team, demolished 96-0 by France last time out, with regular captain Johan Deysel suspended after his red card for a head-butt that broke France captain Antoine Dupont’s cheekbone. But Coetzee also has a host of players missing through injury.
“It’s tough to play four matches in 18 days for any Tier II country; we don’t have a lot of depth,” complained the South African.
“But I must say our players have really stepped up. I call them warriors because it’s really not easy; some teams get 12 or 13 days off between games.”
There is extra motivation to finally end their World Cup hoodoo after their best chance of winning a match four years ago in Japan was taken away when their game against Canada was cancelled due to a typhoon.
The importance of this match is not lost on either the coach or the players. “The players know that a game like this can change a lot and what a win means for the country,” said Coetzee.
“So, we’ll pitch up today. It’s important for us to get over that final hurdle; there’s a lot at stake for us.”
For Namibia, prop Johan Coetzee and wing Gerswin Mouton are the only players to have started all four matches for Namibia at the Rugby World Cup 2023.
There are 14 survivors in the match-day team from their 26-18 loss against Uruguay in a friendly match on 6 August 2023, including nine in the starting XV. Tjiuee Uanivi will captain Namibia for the fifth time after leading the team against Uganda and Kenya in 2016, and against Italy and South Africa at the RWC in 2019. Gerswin Mouton has scored Namibia’s only RWC try at this tournament and is one of only five players to have made a line-break, with two against Italy in the opening round.
If used off the bench, PJ van Lill will play his 12th Rugby World Cup match, moving to outright second on Namibia’s all-time list; only Eugene Jantjies has played more games with 14.
Winning will not be straightforward against a Uruguay side that has impressed in France.
While Namibia shipped a total of 219 points in their first three matches, the South Americans were competitive in defeats to France (27-12) and Italy (38-17). “Uruguay has only won three games in all the history of the Rugby World Cup, and this adds perhaps some pressure on our side,” said captain Andres Vilaseca. “We must accept this, as there are a lot of people talking about the good performances we are having at this Rugby World Cup. We’ve received very nice messages too, but the truth is that if we do not win against Namibia, we won’t confirm this great progress. For us, it is a final, and for them too, it is going to be a very interesting match,” he said.
The two sides have met five times before, with Uruguay winning four of those, including a World Cup warm-up in August.
Namibia’s Starting XV
1 Jason Benade, 2 Torsten Van Jaarsveld, 3 Johan Coetzee, 4 Adriaan Ludick, 5 Tiaan De Klerk, 6 Prince Gaoseb, 7 Tjiuee Uanivi (c), 8 Richard Hardwick, 9 Damian Stevens, 10 Tiaan Swanepoel, 11 JC Greyling, 12 Danco Burger, 13 Alcino Izaacs, 14 Gerswin Mouton and 15 Cliven Loubser
16 Louis van der Westhuizen, 17 Desiderius Sethie, 18 Haitembu Shifuka, 19 PJ Van Lill, 20 Max Katjijeko, 21 Adriaan Booysen, 22 Jacques Theron and 23 Andre van der Bergh -SuperSport/World Rugby