Namibia coach Allister Coetzee has slammed the decision to host next year’s African qualifiers for the Rugby World Cup in France rather than on the African continent.
Zimbabwe, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Namibia, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Uganda and Senegal will compete in the Rugby Africa Cup in July 2022 in France, which serves as the final qualifying competition for the 2023 World Cup that the French are also hosting.
“I have never seen such a decision being taken in any other sport code – like a football tournament meant for Africa staged in Europe, or the other way around,” Coetzee said in an interview with New Era.
He said the qualifiers should have been used to develop the game on the continent, where rugby remains a minority sport.
“This competition is important to see the best players in Africa play in front of an African audience,” he added.
In a statement, Rugby Africa said its executive committee had considered the well-being, health and safety of the players when it voted for France to host the continental qualifiers.
It said France had the best match stadium, hotels, security measures and health standards.
“With a long tradition of hosting Rugby Africa tournaments and activities, France and Rugby Africa are already in a close collaboration process which will provide the eight competing teams with an exceptional tournament,” Rugby Africa said.
Namibia, who have represented the continent alongside South Africa at the last six World Cups, face Burkina Faso, while Zimbabwe, who played at the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987 and in 1991, will play Ivory Coast in the first round of the knockout tournament.
Senegal will take on Algeria while Kenya face Uganda in an East African derby in the other opening-round fixtures, with the victors proceeding to the semi-finals.
The winner of the knockout tournament will go into Pool A at the World Cup in France alongside the hosts, New Zealand, Italy and a qualifier from the Americas.
The runner-up in the African qualifiers gets another chance at reaching the World Cup through a playoff tournament.
The Namibia senior men’s rugby team, the Welwitschias, have never missed a World Cup since making their debut in 1999, and coach Coetzee is adamant they will again qualify for the next edition set for France in 2023.
The 58-year-old gaffer was appointed as the Welwitschias’ head coach in June this year until 2023.
The former Springbok coach led Namibia at this year’s Rugby Africa Cup in Cote d’Ivoire in July when they lost one and won one match to advance to the next stage of qualification set for next year.
Unpacking his plans, the coach said he aims to guide the Welwitschias into their seventh Rugby World Cup appearance.
“We have to qualify to the world cup, that’s not negotiable… which means we have to do things a little better this time around,” he said.
“Yes, without a doubt, Namibia will be a force to be reckoned with. We are making sure we are all aligned, making sure we try to improve our local rugby premier league, and also improve the quality of coaches and our athletes.”
Coetzee said there would never be a case where Namibian rugby will fade away, saying: “We will be there always and we will become better as always. Our dream remains that we win one game at a World Cup.”He hinted at games against European sides as well as US and Canadian teams as part of the build up to the World Cup qualifiers. – Reuters/New Era