Namibia captain Jacques Burger gets his last realistic chance Wednesday to lead his plucky band of steelworkers, teachers and lawyers to a first World Cup victory.
In 17 matches since 1999, Namibia have conceded more than 1,000 points — they were crushed 142-0 by Australia in 2003 — and scored considerably fewer.
But the lowest ranked team at the tournament have made their mark by never giving up.
Namibia’s Pool C game against Georgia in Exeter on Wednesday could be one of their best chances of that elusive win.
Victory in their last game against Argentina on Sunday would be a huge upset.
Win or lose, Burger, 32, will return to being a lynchpin for English Premiership club Saracens.
“This will be my last World Cup so I want to make sure that it ends on a high. They’re such a great bunch of guys and I’m sure they will follow me,” he said.
Steel company owner and prop Johnny Redelinghuys will go back to his 150 kilometres (90 mile) roundtrip just to train with Wanderers, based in the Namibian capital Windhoek.
“We’ve got engineers, diamond traders, farmers, construction workers. And a dentist – which is handy,” joked Burger.
While there is a sprinkling of Namibians at French clubs, Eugene Jantjes plays at Farul Constanta in Romania and impressive No 8 Renaldo Bothma is heading for Toyota Verblitz in Japan, most players remain amateur.
“We don’t just want to be punching bags, we want to compete and make a name for ourselves,” insisted Redelinghuys.
“Locally we’re just a bunch of working guys, working a nine-to-five job, so we’ve got the preparation in the morning before work and the evenings after work.”
Redelinghuys said his enduring love of rugby drives him to keep turning out for Wanderers and Namibia.
“I always tell everybody that if I didn’t want to do it I wouldn’t do it. It’s just love of the sport that keeps me doing it, driving that distance each day. It’s a relaxing sport, it offloads the stress,” he said.
Namibia’s Welsh coach Phil Davies said that fitness levels are getting better and this is driving better on-field performances.
“We’re getting fitter, particularly the amateur guys, they’re working so hard to get up to the level that they know they need to get to to try to compete at this tier one level and at World Cup time,” said Davies, a former Llanelli and Wales forward.
“We can’t fault the effort at all. We’ve just got to be a bit more accurate and consistent.”
Fly-half Theuns Kotze had two spells in France with Aix-en-Provence and Bourg-en-Bresse.
“At the 2011 World Cup we turned up just to participate,” said Kotze, who has impressed with his game management behind a sometimes retreating pack.
“But the last four years and especially the last four months, Namibian rugby has grown a hell of a lot. We didn’t come here just to participate and we will use match by match to gain momentum.”
With Burger to the fore, Namibia are still trying relentlessly. They lost 58-14 to New Zealand and 35-21 to Tonga in their first two games showing promise in both.
Burger said the performances by a country with just 1,080 registered senior male players were testament to the amateurs.
“They’re incredible. They wake up at four or five in the morning, start training at six, have to to go to work all day and come back in the evening, six to half seven, which is so challenging.
“I’m massively impressed with what they put in and the level they perform at.”
Burger is adamant that the current squad is “definitely the best Namibian squad I’ve been involved with.”
“The connection between the professional and amateur players has been great and I have to believe this is our year, the year that we win a match,” the Saracens stalwart said.
Coach Davies said his side’s battling performance against the All Blacks showed that “a lot of people were supporting tier two nations.”
“If you consider previous World Cups against tier one nations it’s a massive step forward,” he said.