Tier-two rugby nations may not always perform on the field, but their impact off it makes it special to have them at the World Cup, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
I had to find a pub in a small town of Rehoboth – about 90km outside Windhoek – to watch the Boks take on Namibia because there is no electricity, never mind a television, on the farm we visited over the weekend.
In the past, Rehoboth had a bit of a reputation of treating incomers with, well, some hostility, especially guys from Windhoek trying date the women in the town. There are only about 50,000 living people there, so I would also want to make sure that outsiders don’t come in and take the women.
My brother-in-law dropped me at a pub next to the highway. I’m on my own, armed with my laptop and some money for a beer.
I walk into this pub in this one-horse town and I stand out like a sore thumb. Because my mother hails from the Northern Cape, I kinda look like the people here. But the people of Rehoboth’s complexion is darker than mine, because of the sun, which was already at about 34 degrees in September.
But it’s not a lovely tan, but the sort of complexion you get after spending time with the cattle in the fields, which are extremely barren because of a draught that is busy crippling the southern and central regions of Namibia.
I don’t order my usual South African beer and opt for the local brew to try and blend in. While taking out my card to pay for the beer, I see a sign reading ‘Mr Credit is no more alive. Slippery Jim killed him. But Mr Cash is still alive. CASH BAR ONLY!!’ I had to read it twice, I’m sure you did too.
The pub starts to fill up before kick-off. I sit in the corner with my laptop open. No one is paying much attention to this guy, whose soft hands you can spot from a mile away in these parts.
There is an optimism in the air after many just witnessed Japan upset Ireland. Could Namibia do the same? Suddenly there was hope. ‘Today is the day,’ one of the patrons said.
The Boks start well, cries of ‘TACKLE, TACKLE!’ ring around the pub. The Boks race into a commanding lead. But the people are still upbeat, despite the pounding their forwards are taking from the South Africans.
Namibia finally get a penalty and bank three points. It’s the loudest cheer of the day so far. In the second half they get another one at 31-3 down. ‘Surely they have to go for the corner?’ I asked the guy next to me (in Afrikaans of course …).
But they were happy with the decision to go for poles. After losing 87-0 against the Boks in New Zealand 2011, the people wanted more points on the board.
Unfortunately, though, the kick was miss. It felt like someone died. You could feel the deep disappointment around this pub.
It’s then that I realised how much this fixture actually means to the people here, that their team is playing at the World Cup. Despite getting a hiding, they appreciate every point their team scores.
It’s something we as South Africans take for granted, because we expect the Boks to compete for the title.
We watch the Boks play about nine, 10 Test matches each year. But for Namibians, and other tier-two rugby-playing nations around the world, they get to see their team compete with the best only every four years – if they are lucky to qualify for the global showpiece.
But the fact that the margins of victory are getting smaller and teams like Japan are upsetting the likes of the Boks and Ireland, shows you that the tier-two nations’ rugby is actually improving.
Namibia managed to get three points against the Boks and it was celebrated like a World Cup-winning try. It didn’t matter that they conceded 57 points; for them the match was something special. And now they are looking forward to recording their first-ever World Cup win against Canada in their next clash.
I’m sure the beer still flowed freely at the pub after I left, and in many other pubs across the length and breadth of beautiful Namibia. Their team did them proud, and I, thankfully, didn’t suffer the same fate as ‘Mr Credit’.
Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images