For three of the current Namibia squad a hat-trick of Rugby World Cup appearances against the All Blacks awaits – if they manage to qualify for France 2023 by winning this year’s Rugby Africa Cup.
PJ van Lill, JC Greyling and Johan Deysel played in both previous Rugby World Cup games against the All Blacks, in 2015 and 2019, and have been selected by head coach Allister Coetzee in the current Welwitschias squad.
Plenty of other familiar names have also made the Namibia squad for the Rugby Africa Cup 2022, which starts in the South of France this weekend, but Deysel, in particular, has a special place in the hearts of Welwitschias fans.
The Namibia centre had the Olympic Park crowd on their feet after his try 11 minutes into the second half of the 54-14 defeat by world champions New Zealand in 2015.
“I can remember every second like it was yesterday. I don’t think I will ever forget it,” the Colomiers player said.
“Because we were the underdog, the crowd were behind us when we did something good or special, and when I scored, they went mental.
“It is my best rugby memory.”
A big opportunity
Scoring against the eventual winners in front of over 50,000 fans, and then sharing a drink with the All Blacks in their changing room afterwards, made for a special early 24th birthday present for Deysel, who hopes to experience the Haka at first-hand again.
“First, we are trying to qualify, that’s our main goal, but the memories from the previous two World Cups are unbelievable. The first one against the All Blacks in 2015, I was still pretty young and playing against all the big names – the guys that you look up to – was pretty special.
“I remember when we walked out of the changing room and we stood next to them in the tunnel, I saw how big those guys were. He (opposite number, Sonny Bill Williams) was a full head taller than me. Obviously, I have looked up to him from a young age so to play against a star like that was pretty intense and terrifying but also a big opportunity for me to learn from guys like that.
“For the one in Japan, in 2019 (a 71-9 defeat), I was a little bit older and more experienced and I was captain for the All Blacks game so there was a little bit of a different approach for me. But to face the Haka is unbelievable, I don’t think that will ever change.”
To face down the All Blacks again and appear in a seventh consecutive Rugby World Cup, Namibia need to win three games in nine days.
The Rugby Africa Cup 2022 is a straight knockout competition with Namibia in the top half of the draw which, based on Rugby World Cup pedigree and the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini, looks the toughest on paper.
The Welwitschias have been busy preparing for the Rugby Africa Cup for the past few weeks at Stellenbosch in South Africa and they start their campaign, on 1 July in Marseille, against Burkina Faso.
If Namibia get past Burkina Faso in the quarter-finals, they will play the winner of the last eight tie between Zimbabwe and Ivory Coast – who have appeared at three Rugby World Cups between them – in the semi-finals.
“It's a little bit more stressful because it is a knockout competition,” acknowledged Deysel. “But it is the same for all the teams and it is on a neutral ground, as we play in France, so there can be no excuses from any team.”