MORIOKA, 9 Oct – Namibia centre Darryl de la Harpe knows that Sunday’s clash with Canada is all or nothing. Win or lose, it will define their Rugby World Cup 2019, and quite possibly the legacy of this Namibia team.
Despite the remarkable achievement of appearing at every World Cup since 1999, the Welwitschias have never won in 22 attempts.
De la Harpe, 33, hoping to earn his 52nd and likely final cap against the Canucks at the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium, hopes it will be 23rd time lucky.
"All I’m thinking about is getting the win," he said. "I don’t care how. If it’s the last kick, if it’s 50-odd points, I don’t care."
De la Harpe, like the majority of Phil Davies’s squad, has taken time away from his full-time job in Namibia, where he works for his father's engineering company, to represent his country. He plays for the Wanderers in Windhoek.
By contrast, Canada’s players are now able to train full-time with Major League Rugby bringing professional rugby to North America since 2018.
Yet the Namibian centre believes the unity and character fostered in the group, a squad with a core group of home-based players, will give them the edge.
"All of us work and don’t see our families a lot during the year because of working and training at different times. Our culture is built on those types of things, on discipline and sacrifice.
"It’s not going to be a fancy game. It’s going to be very physical, very tough, but I believe this team has got the character for it."
Seven of the squad, including De la Harpe, are over 30 and unlikely to be playing at RWC 2023 in France. Yet 16 of Phil Davies’ young squad are under 25 and should be approaching their peak then.
For attack coach Mark Jones, a 47-cap veteran of the 2003 and 2007 World Cups with Wales, an essential part of that development plan has to be increased exposure to top-class opposition.
"From my experience with Wales, the moment we started playing the better southern hemisphere teams on a more regular basis, the standard of players increased immensely," Jones said.
"You’re constantly improving your knowledge of the game, your decision-making and conditioning is put under more pressure and that development is crucial to improvement.
"We’ve got to transfer that to these guys. Hopefully the global calendar will enable more teams like Namibia to get exposure against Tier 1 teams."
Most of Davies’s backroom staff, including Jones, are likely to move on once Namibia’s World Cup is over. But after five years of Davies’s stewardship, Jones is confident Namibian rugby is on an upward curve.
"These guys are constantly improving, driving higher standards and creating a better environment for young players," he said.
For that progress to continue, De la Harpe knows the players need to take on the mantle, following the example of former team-mate and now scrum coach Jaco Engels to inspire and lead the next generation.
But first, Namibia need to win on Sunday.
"If it happens – or when it happens – it will be life-changing for a lot of people," he said. "It would mean finance, sponsorship, it could be the catalyst for a lot of stuff in Namibia. It could be the difference for these kids going on to play for their country at another World Cup.
"It’s not could’ it have a big impact. It will have a big impact."