Welwitschias’ move down in ranking

By Michael Uugwanga

FROM being ranked 18th in the world in 2015 to its current ranking of 24th by World Rugby, Namibia’s senior men’s national team will need to improve its rankings sooner rather than later before it finds itself losing more ground to countries like Brazil, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Chile.

Namibia has participated in six consecutive Rugby World Cup tournaments and by now were expected to break into the top 15 ranking in the world, which would have seen them playing more international matches against top ranked countries, such as South Africa, Australia, England Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand and France, to mention a few.

The main problem that has contributed to Namibia’s low ranking is lack of international competition and participation in lowly ranked tournaments, such as the Rugby Africa Cup (a competition used mainly as qualifiers to the World Cup) is not helping the country gain enough points in ranking as they come up against mostly third-tier teams, meaning a win against such opponents will not give Namibia a higher ranking, such as playing against the likes of Uruguay, Georgia, Portugal, Romania or Canada, who are also tier two rugby nations, like Namibia.

South Africa’s Springboks top the rankings after winning the Rugby World Cup last year, followed by New Zealand’s All Blacks, England, Ireland, France ,Wales, Australia, Scotland, Japan and Argentina that make up the top 10.

Japan, who had been a tier two rugby nation in 2015 are now ranked ninth in the world.

Tier two rugby nations include Canada, Fiji, Romania, Samoa, Tonga, USA and Namibia, and to make matters interesting countries like Brazil, who are only known for football are ranked 26th with 58.89 points, while the Netherlands, one of the fast emerging rugby nations, is in 25th position with 60.08 points. Belgium in 27th place has 57.19 points, Switzerland in 28th place has 54.11, Chile in 29th place has 53.83 and Namibia has 61.12 points.

Namibia’s poor ranking of late has shocked former captain Jacques Burger, who captained the Namibian team at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England. He said despite Namibia having top quality players, the lack of competition against top ranked teams remains the biggest factor.

He also feels that the Africa Cup is not doing any justice to Namibia in terms of ranking as the competition consists of teams that are not at the same level as Namibia.

“We are really falling down. It is a bit worrisome because after the 2015 World Cup we were expecting to break into the top 15, as we thought we were going to build on that journey.

“The problem is that we do not play top ranked teams. With due respect, the teams in the Africa Cup are not of top quality. …look at Georgia (ranked 12th) who used to play in the Rugby Nations Cup but opted to withdraw in order for them to play in other competitions against top ranked European teams,” eluded Burger.

Former Welwitschias’  great Corné Powell, who played for Namibia  27 times between 2001 and 2007 – including the 2003 and 2007 World Cups – also expressed concern, although he said the ranking is not a true reflection of the state of affairs on the pitch of play.

“Here you have to look at two sides, firstly you look at the strength of the team, as I am confident that if Namibia were to play against Canada or Hong Kong they would win. Rankings are determined by who you played against. We all know that we had a chance to beat Canada at last year’s World Cup before the match was called off due to the typhoon in Japan.

“The second issue is we play in South African club competitions, such as Supersport Rugby Challenge and the Currie Cup and these competitions will not give us any rankings.

“I also want to point out that World Rugby are currently not happy with the current leadership at the helm at NRU (Namibia Rugby Union), as they had trust in former president Bradley Basson [but] that is only the rumours I heard,” Powell said.