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

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby World Cup -

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

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