The Namibia Under-19 team on Saturday qualified for the International Rugby Board’s 2015 Junior World Trophy tournament in Portugal following their 52-17 victory against Kenya in the final of the Confederation of African Rugby (CAR) Under-19 tournament in Windhoek. The victory capped a golden six-week period for Namibian rugby as the senior team, the Welwitchias, also qualified for the 2015 Rugby World Cup (RWC) in July. The success in the RWC qualifier in Madagascar in July and the Under-19 team’s triumph in Windhoek cemented Namibia’s place as the top rugby playing nation on the African continent after powerhouse and neighbour, South Africa.
The CAR tournament featured four teams, hosts Namibia, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Tunisia, who were promoted to the 1A division after defeating Madagascar last year. Namibia reached the final after thumping Tunisia 78-3 on the opening day, while Kenya booked their place with a 27-20 win over Zimbabwe. The final was a one-sided affair with Namibia, led by the superb talent of flyhalf Christopher Arries, racing to a 21-5 lead in as many minutes.
Arries dotted down twice and left wing Milaan Van Wyk added a brace for Namibia to go into the break with a comfortable 35-10 lead. Arries converted all five tries scored by his side in the first 40 minutes, which earned him 10 points in the process. The loss of Arries (knee injury) just before half-time disrupted Namibia’s momentum, but they still managed to run in three more tries to reach the half-century mark. Kenya, meanwhile, recorded a late consolation try.
Namibia Under-19 coach Roger Thompson was full of praise for his young team and said, “It is good to get the result in the final against Kenya on home soil. I am not too chuffed about our second-half performance especially after losing our captain which is a concern for us,” said Thompson who was also a member of the senior team’s coaching staff which guided them to RWC 2015 qualification in Madagascar. In the build-up to the final the senior team played a huge part in inspiring their young compatriots to success. The Under-19’s were allowed to use the senior team’s dressing room for the first time in history, while a number of senior players interacted with the players on a personal basis ahead of the final.
According to captain Christopher Arries the senior team was a major source of inspiration, “The senior side was very inspirational. We would all like to play for the senior team one day, and that will hopefully happen in the near future.” The 2015 Junior World trophy in Portugal will mark Namibia’s fifth appearance at the showcase event. Earlier this year they finished in sixth position in the tournament hosted in Hong Kong after narrow defeats against Japan and Uruguay.
The highlight of the tournament, however, was a victory against Canada. Thompson says the goal next year will be to improve on their Hong Kong performance, “We finished 6th this year and we are definitely aiming for a third or fourth place finish next year, so we will be working hard. We have a younger squad this time around, so we need to get the conditioning right. We must get the guys in the gym because we have to be stronger in Portugal.” Namibia received praised from all quarters for hosting a superb tournament.
The teams were treated to typical Namibian hospitality that included a barbecue for all the players. The IRB Regional Manager for Development in Africa, Jean-Luc Barthez, said Namibia showed that it was capable of hosting a top class event. According to Namibian Rugby President Bradley Basson it was important for the country and crucial to develop players to represent Namibia at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, “We are fully behind these boys and we believe that this is the type of player we have to prepare for 2019 in Japan. If we keep this group together and we back them I am sure we will have very strong and world-class players to showcase in 2019.”