The wait is finally over as the 2023 Rugby World Cup is due to kick-off tonight when two of the favourites, the host nation France, and three-time winners New Zealand go head-to-head at the Stade de France in Paris.
The match will herald in a seven-week global sporting extravaganza that is due to capture the imagination of fans across the world, with the Rugby World Cup already established as the third biggest global spectacle after the Fifa World Cup and the Olympic Games.
The previous world cup in Japan drew more than 850 million viewers and the eyes of the world are due to turn to France this time for the quadrennial showpiece.
Namibia will once again take centre stage in this cauldron of sporting battles, when they take on Italy in their opening match in Saint Etienne tomorrow afternoon.
After making their debut at the 1999 World Cup, Namibia have consistently qualified for the global showpiece and will now enter their seventh successive world cup.
They, however, have yet to win a match at the world cup and will once again start as the underdogs against Italy, who are ranked 13th in the world compared to Namibia’s 21st.
While Italy annually competes in the European Six Nations tournament against heavyweights like England, Ireland and France, Namibia has to make do with a handful of African qualifying matches over a four-year cycle, as well as the odd Nations Cup tournament for second-tier nations, normally ahead of the world cup.
Last month, Namibia competed at the Nations Cup in Uruguay, where they only won one out of four matches, but at the same time, Italy was getting ready with warm-up matches against stronger opposition, as they beat Japan and Romania, while losing to Ireland and Scotland.
Namibia, however, is used to the underdogs tag and while they might not start as the bookies’ favourites, they are bound to play with passion and pride.
The two sides met at the previous world cup in Japan where Italy ran out 47-22 winners, but Namibia certainly gave an inspiring performance, running in three tries of their own.
The Welwitschias have a settled and experienced squad with eight of those players once again in tomorrow’s lineup, namely JC Greyling and Damian Stevens among the backs, and Aranos Coetzee, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Tjiuee Uanivi, Wian Conradie, Louis van der Westhuizen and Johan Retief among the forwards.
The team is captained by experienced centre Johan Deysel, who is now at his third world cup, and includes some exciting newcomers like Divan Rossouw, Gerswin Mouton, Danco Burger and Richard Hardwick.
They have settled in well at their base in Aix-les-Baines and under the guidance of experienced coach Allister Coetzee and respected assistants like Matthew Proudfoot and Pine Pienaar, they are fit and raring to go.
“It’s been a really good week of preparation and I’m really satisfied with where we are as a team. Our training has gone really well and the players have worked hard this week, and everyone is excited to play our first test match at the World Cup,” Coetzee said yesterday.
“We finished our final training session and now we are off to Saint Etienne, where we will have our final fine-tuning and our captain’s run tomorrow. The boys can’t wait to start, the excitement is building and we are very happy with where we are as a team, and hopefully come Saturday, the boys can fire,” he added.
The Namibian team is as follows:
Divan Rossouw, Gerswin Mouton, Johan Deysel (captain), Danco Burger, JC Greyling, Tiaan Swanepoel, Damian Stevens, Johan Retief, Richard Hardwick, Wian Conradie, Tjiuee Uanivi, Adriaan Ludick, Aranos Coetzee, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Des Sethie.
Replacements: Jason Benade, Louis van der Westhuizen, Casper Viviers, Tiaan de Klerk, Prince !Gaoseb, Jacques Theron, Andre van der Berg, Le Roux Malan.