Fresh from their fourth-place finish at the World Rugby Nations Cup in Uruguay, Namibia belatedly begin their Rugby Africa Gold Cup title defence in Monastir on Saturday with a match against newly-promoted Tunisia.
The Welwitschias sat out the opening round of fixtures which produced a win for Zimbabwe over Senegal and a high-scoring draw between Kenya and Uganda last weekend.
While Kenya are expected to provide the main threat to Namibia’s chances of keeping the trophy for a fourth straight year, Welwitschias head coach Phil Davies is anticipating a tough six weeks across the board.
“I’m excited by the challenge that awaits us going into the Africa Cup but I’m also nervous because we’ve got injuries and players unavailable so it is going to be a real challenge," he told World Rugby.
“On the flip side, it gives us a chance to blood some more young players. Slowly but surely, we are transitioning the squad so that we’ve got a younger group for the next two Rugby World Cups. Trying to balance experience and youth is always a challenge but we’re getting there.
"We’ve got Tunisia and Uganda away which will be challenging, and Senegal, Zimbabwe and Kenya at home.
“We don’t know too much about Senegal but they’ve got a lot of French-based players, while Zimbabwe are regenerating and Kenya are starting to see the fruits of their high-performance programme so they’ll all be massive threats.
ITALIAN JOB PLEASES DAVIES
“For us it is about being more consistent and adapting to conditions which will be very different to what we experienced in Uruguay for the Nations Cup.”
Namibia fell to a 15-13 defeat to Spain in their first outing at the Nations Cup, followed by a 38-22 win against Emerging Italy and then a 31-10 loss to runners-up Russia.
Aspects of his side’s performance pleased Davies, who cited the second-half display against the Italians as the blueprint for how he wants the Welwitschias to play the game.
“To score 31 unanswered points in the second half against a national academy-based team largely made up of professionals was a good effort, That second-half performance was what we were aiming for in terms of control and playing style," he said.
“Our general philosophy is to be a movement-based team but we can be pragmatic as well. Overall, I’m pretty happy that we’ve got a good attacking structure in place from first phase and multi-phase and the defence is vastly improved from what it used to be.
“The intent was there at the Nations Cup but it was the execution that just let us down at times.”
Time key to development
Davies is striving to put together a 12-month plan in place to increase the contact time he and his coaches have with the players as Namibia look to secure the Africa 1 place alongside New Zealand, South Africa, Italy and the Repechage winner at RWC 2019.
The Rugby Africa Gold Cup winner in 2018 will secure that place, while the runner-up will enter the global repechage for one final chance to make it to Japan 2019.
“If we can continue to get the players better conditioned and upskilled, I think we’ll see more consistency.
“The frequency of national team get-togethers needs to improve for that to happen. Outside of tournaments, we don’t get any contact time with the national team and there can be periods of 10 to 12 weeks downtime where nothing is done.
“All the African countries are developing their programmes and we have got to be aware of that in Namibia. We need to make sure we continue to develop at a rate that keeps us ahead.”