Namibia captain Jacques Burger, centre, against Wales in the last World Cup. The Saracens flanker was voted as one of the five players of the tournament. Photograph: Nigel Marple/Reuters/Corbis
Thu 24 Sep New Zealand v Namibia, Olympic Stadium, 8pm BST
Tues 29 Sep Tonga v Namibia, Sandy Park, 4.45pm BST
Weds 7 Oct Namibia v Georgia, Sandy Park, 8pm BST
Sun 11 Oct Argentina v Namibia, King Power Stadium, noon BST
Odds to win World Cup
Namibia enter their fifth World Cup with a record unblemished by success of any sort. They have lost every one of their 15 matches, suffering some humbling shellackings along the way. Most memorable was the record-obliterating 142-0 reverse to Australia in Adelaide in 2003, in which they conceded 22 tries at, on average, one every three minutes and 38 seconds.
There is no prospect of an immediate improvement in their fortunes: their 2015 campaign begins in the most difficult circumstances possible, with a match against the champions, New Zealand. When the All Blacks score their 26th point, it will be the 1, 000th conceded by Namibia at World Cups (by way of comparison New Zealand, having played nearly three times as many matches, are still 416 points away from that milestone).
The country’s president, Hage Geingob, waved the team off with an exhortation to “give the All Blacks hell”, but though the Kiwis will not put out a full-strength side – they will have played Argentina at Wembley four days earlier – Namibia would be better off preserving their energies for the following games against Tonga and Georgia, both at Exeter’s Sandy Park. Victory in either of those matches would at a stroke make their tournament a resounding success.
“We know what we’re up against. We know we’re not going to win the game, ” said their coach, Phil Davies, of the opener. “It’s a case of us playing to our maximum and that’s all we can ask for.”Key player Jacques Burger
Age 32 Caps 35
Height 6ft 2in Weight 16st 6lb
Debut v Zambia, Nchingola, 14 Aug 2004
Pts 25 Tries 5 Photograph: Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images
The wild-tackling Saracens flanker Jacques Burger, Namibia’s captain and inspiration, promised: “We will continue to give our best, stay positive and work towards our goal of recording a first ever victory at the World Cup.” A lot of responsibility rests on his shoulders, as his nation’s one established world-class star. He was voted one of the five best players of the tournament in 2011, despite playing in a side that lost all their games by an aggregate 266-44 and requiring pain-killing injections to play through a serious knee injury that was eventually to rule him out of rugby for 18 months, which says something both about his ability and his application.
The full-back Chrysander Botha had a mixed first full season at Exeter, starting well before breaking a leg, and dislocating an ankle to boot, while playing for his country against Canada last November, with the World Cup representing the latest stage in his rehabilitation. Four years ago the flanker Tinus du Plessis ended the game against Wales with the man of the match award, even though his side lost 81-7, and promptly completed a move to Wasps. Having gone back to his homeland two years later, he will lack no motivation on his return to England.
Other players to keep an eye on include the hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld, who made his international debut against Germany last October and captained the Free State Cheetahs in South Africa’s Currie Cup last year. The flanker Renaldo Bothma meanwhile has had an excellent first season in Durban with the Sharks and played a significant role in dragging his team to this tournament: in the 2014 Africa Cup, which doubled as World Cup qualifiers, Namibia went into their final match, against Madagascar, knowing they had to win by at least 53 points to seal their place; Bothma scored four tries in an 89-10 victory (it was, in truth, as much of a stroll as World Cup opponents have so often enjoyed against Namibia themselves – they were 63 points to the good before half-time). “We go to England full of expectation and determined to do ourselves, our nation and African rugby proud, ” roared Rohan Kitshoff, who captained the side in Antananarivo in the absence of Burger, after the game.
Between then and June however the team’s form stuttered, with five defeats in seven matches including losses against Portugal and Spain. But it was off the field that matters were truly disintegrating, and shortly after the Spain game the coach, Danie Vermeulen, abruptly resigned.
Vermeulen later claimed that the decision was made in protest at meddling from Namibia Rugby Union that made “the fact we still managed to qualify … a miracle and an act of god”, alleged allegations of racism, an explicit lack of support from the NRU board, and the fact that his wheelchair – he was paralysed in a car crash in 2000 – was stolen on a trip to Tunisia and neither the NRU nor their insurers had given him any money towards a replacement. “I came to realise that I stood in the way of success at the World Cup, ” he said. “That and complaints of racism against me, a council interfering in my team selections [and] a president who has lost faith in my abilities … I have come to the decision that the NRU does not really appreciate my worth as a coach.”
The NRU president, Bradly Basson, insisted that the resignation came “totally out of the blue”, and later stressed: “I can think of no instances of interference and to say we did not give him adequate support would be a baseless allegation.” But it was perhaps telling that Vermeulen’s replacement was already waiting in the wings.
Davies, who had been appointed technical adviser last November, immediately took control of the side. Since his appointment the Welwitschias have sustained a 100% record of an altogether more positive variety, with two wins over Russia and comfortable victories over Zimbabwe and Kenya, all in Windhoek. It appears that the off-field soap opera has not affected the players’ focus, and Davies recently trilled: “We couldn’t ask for a group that is more together, a more committed group.”
They will need all that unity and commitment, and a bit of luck as well, if they are to earn the historic debut victory for which they yearn. .
Namibia’s 31-man World Cup squad
Forwards Coetzee (Central Cheetahs), De Klerk (Wanderers), Engels (Trustco United), Raoul Larson (SWD Eagles), Johnnie Redelinghuys (Wanderers), Casper Viviers (Trustco United).
Hookers Torsten van Jaarsveld (Central Cheetahs), Louis van der Westhuizen (Leopards).
Locks Tjiuee Uanivi (unattached), Janco Venter (Maties).
Back-rows Renaldo Bothma (Toyota Verblitz), Jacques Burger (Saracens, capt), Wian Conradie (Johannesburg University), Leneve Damens (Wanderers), Tinus du Plessis (Wanderers), Rohan Kitshoff (Durbanville-Bellville), PJ van Lill (Bayonne).
Scrum-halves Eneill Buitendag (Wanderers), Eugene Jantjies (Dinamo Bucuresti), Damien Stevens (Ikey Tigers).
Fly-halves Theuns Kotze (Bourge-en-Bresse).
Centres Darryl de La Harpe (Western Suburbs), Johan Deysel (Leopards), JC Greyling (Trustco United), Danie van Wyk (Trustco United).
Wings Conrad Marais (Beziers), David Philander (Spotswood United), Heinrich Smit (NWU Pukke), Russell van Wyk (Western Suburbs).