Namibian captain Tjiuee Uanivi called on his national rugby federation to learn lessons from South America after the African side ended their World Cup campaign with a 36-26 defeat to Uruguay on Wednesday.
South American teams have impressed at this World Cup, with Uruguay pushing Tier 1 nations France and Italy close, and debutants Chile scoring tries against both Japan and Samoa before running out of steam against England.
But for Namibia, it has been another frustrating tournament as they lost all four matches, taking their tally now to 26 defeats and no wins across seven World Cups.
And while Uanivi pleaded for more matches, like all Tier II nations do, he said a professional franchise would also make a huge difference.
“I’m not really sure how many Tests we played in four years (since the last World Cup). I think it’s in single digits,” said the flanker, who was one of three Namibian players shown a card in Lyon.
“When you come to this level without the experience of playing Tests and the group coming together for a long time, that’s what you’ll get,” he said about the team’s four Pool A defeats, which included a 96-0 thrashing by hosts France.
“And secondly, it’s what all Tier II teams ask for every World Cup. The same question’s being asked: ‘How can you improve?’ And it’s quite easy.
“It’s playing more competitive games against Tier 1 teams with quality opposition. Whether it’s one or two games a year during those four years, I think it would be massive.”
Having sent that message out to the global governing body, World Rugby, he had another for the Namibian federation.
“And thirdly, the challenge goes out to our union. It is to get that high performance (centre) up and running, and get a franchise that is professional, same as the likes of the South American teams.”
World Rugby and South American rugby bosses created a regional club tournament after the last World Cup with professional franchises.
Although the first edition in 2020 was cancelled due to Covid-19, it has continued since then, and even expanded.
Uruguay’s franchise, Penarol, won the 2022 and 2023 editions, while Chile’s Selknam were beaten finalists last year.
And Uruguay captain Andres Vilaseca acknowledged that it had made a difference.
“Year by year, this league has evolved,” he said. “We’ve been able to work for three years with a large group of professional players, but more than the economic factor, it’s the time and quality of training that we have every day.”
That, and taking part in the World Sevens circuit, has allowed Uruguayan players to make a living playing rugby.
“Uruguay had 46 professional players preparing for the World Cup,” added Vilaseca.
“This is the path, alongside more players playing abroad.”
But Vilaseca, who plays for Penarol, says growth through regional professional competitions is a more realistic way for Tier II teams to improve than to keep hoping for an invitation to rugby’s top table.
“The matches for Tier II nations are the big debate, but I don’t know if this will change. It will be very difficult, so you have to look for competition in another place,” he said. - AFP