Don’t just leave us scraps, plead tier-two nations
Case for a new schedule to help all countries is getting stronger, writes Daniel Schofield in Japan
Janry du Toit could not stop smiling. For 35 minutes, Namibia’s assorted farmers, dentists and bank clerks had proved themselves the equals of the All Blacks and were trailing just 10-9. Even if the reigning champions pulled away for a 71-9 victory, it could not deflate the Namibians’ pride. For utility back Du Toit, it vindicated his decision to quit his job as a teacher. “The sacrifice is worth it,” Du Toit said. “Since I was young, it has been my dream to play rugby for my country and measure yourself against the best team in the world.”
It is not just Namibia who have done themselves proud among the tier-two nations who do not compete in the Six Nations or Rugby Championship. Japan are still hoping to become the first tier-two country to qualify for the World Cup quarter-finals since Fiji in 2007; Tonga came mighty close to reprising their 2011 defeat of France on Sunday; Uruguay registered the greatest result in their history in defeating Fiji.
As England head coach Eddie Jones observed, there are no longer such things as minnows. “You’re seeing the tier-two countries much better physically prepared,” Jones said. “They’re fitter than they ever have been.”
With five tier-one v tier-two fixtures remaining, the average losing margin has been 31 points, down from 48 in 2003. While Namibia’s defeat was heavier than the 58-14 loss to the All Blacks in 2015, it was markedly a better performance. Namibia made 13 clean breaks and 302 metres. By contrast, South Africa in their opening pool fixture only made seven breaks and 370 metres.
But what now for the tier-two nations as the spotlight fades for the next four years? How can Namibia stay competitive with the All Blacks for 50 minutes at the next tournament, particularly when they lack a professional rugby structure?
“If we can deliver this type of performance when we are training 4-6am and then from 6-8pm, I don’t know what we could achieve if we had a full day to eat, breathe
Pride in defeat: Namibia stayed with the triple world champions New Zealand for the opening 35 minutes of their match in Tokyo