The journey to the final of the Namibia Rugby Premier League has been on going for five years for the University of Namibia (Unam) rugby team, says Unam sport officer, Werner Jeffery.
Five years ago, the club was mainly viewed as a Baster club. At that time, Sean and Judy Moëller, the managers, could barely keep the team from dropping any further towards the bottom of the league.
“It wasn’t a diverse club. People were scared to join the team because the majority of players on the team were Baster. The majority of players were mainly outsiders, people who rugby or ex-students but there was no representation of students in the team,” says Jeffery.
Previously, he worked as lecturer in Human movement and Sport Education at the former Windhoek College of Education. When Jeffery was brought on to his new role as a sport officer, the mandate was clear.
“We had a five year plan. We wanted to grow sport so that it can be a marketing tool to attract students to the university. In five years, we want to provide top competition for the other teams,” he says.
As his responsibilities have been over all outdoor sport codes at the institution, fruits have already been seen with the Unam Netball team, which he says was also bottom of the log six years ago, being crowned the 2012 and 2014 Central Zone Netball League champions. The team achieved this feat undefeated in 2014.
As for the rugby team, Jeffery says things changed when a stream of black players began to flow in. “We sent out a network of scouts to schools to search for talent. We changed the scene of rugby at Unam. In the start, we wanted quantity first, now we want quality,” he states.
Together with fellow coach, Richard ‘Butchy’ Olivier, they turned the team around and last year missed out on a place in the Premier League final by a point after a 26-25 defeat to the Falcons.
“We are also achieving success in other areas,” Jeffery states cheerfully. “One of our former students, Tijuee Uanivi, was signed a professional contract with French club CA Brive in 2013. That has always been part of the plan, to give our students and players exposure.”
He further explains that as the team that only receives N$8 000 per year from the university, they are unable to pay players, unlike other teams, they strive to give them benefits and perks in other areas.
As unexpected as life can be, particularly for athletes, the club offers studying benefits at the University so that players can have something to fall back on when their playing days are over.
Earlier this year, former coach of the Welwitschias, John Diergaardt, took charge of the Unam rugby club, bringing with him backline coach, Russel van Roy. With that, their five year plan was slowly coming together.
“Our target for the year has already been achieved. Whatever happened in the final would only be the icing on the cake. 2016 is the year we had earmarked for winning the league,” Jeffery says.
With the team no longer viewed as a Baster club, Jeffery explains the importance of diversity.
Aside from seeking to include all facets of Namibian culture in the Unam team, the management also recognises the benefit it brings to the team, Jeffery says.
“We are using the benefits of sport science and with that we recognised the advantage each tribe brings to the team. For example, we have five forwards who are Herero. Most of them have experience working on the farm. They are very strong guys and that comes in handy in attack. While we have noticed that Oshiwambo guys are very good at jumping,” Jeffery says.
With three players that have already played for the Welwitschia team in the Vodacom Cup earlier this year, including lock forwards Max Katjiteko and Veva Kaura and flyhalf Henriques Olivier, Jeffery knows that his team is experienced.
“As the average age of the team is 22, we are looking at the next World Cup to have a very strong representation in the senior national team,” says Jeffery.
Meanwhile, Unam rugby team captain, Muniovita Kasaringua says, “It’s a great season for us. Actually it has been the best season in Unam rugby’s history. We have a great team full of very talented players.”