Namibia will become the first side to complete their fixtures at this World Cup on Monday (today), at 08h30 local time but the Welwitschias will measure their success in more than wins and losses.Namibia, yet to record a win at any World Cup, will have their faithfuls wondering how big their score line will be.
VENUE: Taranaki Stadium, New Plymouth
HEAD-TO-HEAD: Played 3: Namibia 0, Wales 3.
HEAD-TO-HEAD IN WORLD CUPS: No previous matches.
LAST TIME: June 5, 1993 (Windhoek): Namibia 23-38 Wales.
Johan Diergaardt has not made sweeping changes to the Namibian team even though his core players have been as busy as any in this tournament. He has tinkered with the three-quarter line and front row, but otherwise the side named has a familiar look to it.
Wales made plenty of changes for this match, which was much as expected. Wales would be pleased that veteran fly-half Stephen Jones is back in action after a lengthy injury lay-off while Dan Lydiate is recovering from the leg injury he picked up in the early stages of the Samoa game. James Hook, who damaged a shoulder against Samoa and left the field at half-time, is also missing this time.
Lost to Fiji 25-49
Lost to Samoa 12-49
Lost to South Africa 0-87
Lost to South Africa 16-17
Beat Samoa 17-10
Namibia has battled in this World Cup as most predicted given the team’s intermittent test programme and the stream of high-class opponents in their pool. That said, the side has performed to a higher level than any of its predecessors and some of its play has been both bright and sharp. One cannot fault the attitude each player brings to every game, but what the Welwitschias really need now is more regular play. Some of their players have been noticed, though, and an increase in the number of professionals in the country can only help improve the overall standards.
Wales has won one and lost one of its two tough openers; the Dragons looked likely winners in the South Africa match but were run down in the closing stages, while a sterling defensive effort against Samoa was the key to a vital win. Wales was under pressure for a lot of that match but looked more imaginative on attack and created its one try from nothing, when Leigh Halfpenny eluded the oncoming defensive line and made a break that led to Shane Williams scoring midway through the second half. Wales is now in prime position to qualify for the playoffs, and deserves to be.
WHO'S HOT/PLAYER TO WATCH:
Namibian lock, Nico Esterhuyse has impressed as a hard worker and good tight forward at this tournament despite being in a pack that has struggled at times with its vastly more experienced opponents. A tall man, he has been the go-to guy in the lineout where his catching has been clean and aggressive while he never shirks the hard yards in and around the forward collisions. He is now reaching his prime as a rugby player and is the sort of player his country can build around over the next few seasons.A game like this may suit Wales’ winger Leigh Halfpenny down to the ground. He made a major difference to Wales’ attacking play when he came on, and showed elusiveness and pace every time he touched the ball. Since he should find a bit more room down the sidelines on Monday he could be instrumental in causing all sorts of alarms for the Namibian defence while his defensive work, whether fielding kicks or making tackles on much bigger men, is always safe and secure.
Jacques Burger, the indomitable Namibia captain, is positive his country has what it takes to play at this level. "After the game I was very disappointed because I don’t believe they are 87 points better than us," he said after the South Africa match. "I really believe that this side is much better than we are playing at the moment. Because we do play good at times, we do look good at times. We’re just not putting it together." His spirit and attitude will be big drivers in that improvement; in a country that breeds 'em tough, none are tougher than the captain.
Wales coach Warren Gatland felt no need to justify any of his selections this week. "Stephen (Jones), Ryan (Jones) and Gethin (Jenkins) in particular bring a wealth of experience but we have some previously established combinations elsewhere in the side as well, in the second row, the midfield and at halfback, so we are excited and looking for this side to do well against Namibia." Since his side is travelling very nicely, he will be looking for a continuation of that good form in this match.
Wales should have no trouble in this match, although Namibia will not give it away. The difference will be in experience, speed and class, as one would expect from a fully professional side against a team where more than half are amateurs. As long as Wales take five points they will be happy, but expect the Dragons to be the better side by at least 40 points.
Namibia: 1. Johnnie Redelinghuys, 2. Hugo Horn, 3. Jane du Toit, 4. Heinz Koll, 5. Nico Esterhuyse, 6. Tinus du Plessis, 7. Jacques Burger (capt), 8. Jacques Nieuwenhuys, 9. Eugene Jantjies, 10. Theuns Kotze, 11. Danie Dames, 12. Darryl de la Harpe, 13. Piet van Zyl, 14. Danie van Wyk, 15. Chrysander Botha.
Reserves: 16. Bertus O’Callaghan, 17. Raoul Larson, 18. Wacca Kazombiaze, 19. Rohan Kitshoff, 20. Ryan de la Harpe, 21. TC Losper, 22. David Philander.
Wales: 1. Gethin Jenkins, 2. Lloyd Burns, 3. Craig Mitchell, 4. Bradley Davies, 5. Alun Wyn Jones, 6. Ryan Jones, 7. Sam Warburton (capt), 8. Toby Faletau, 9. Tavis Knoyle, 10. Stephen Jones, 11. Aled Brew, 12. Scott Williams, 13. Jonathan Davies, 14. Leigh Halfpenny, 15. Lee Byrne.
Reserves: 16. Ken Owens, 17. Ryan Bevington, 18. Luke Charteris, 19. Andy Powell, 20. Lloyd Williams, 21. Ryan Priestland, 22. George North.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)