Welwitschias aim for rousing finale

The Windhoek Draught Welwitschias’ campaign in the Mzansi Challenge comes to an end tomorrow when they host Eastern Province at the Hage Geingob Stadium. 

The Welwitschias’ results have been rather mediocre, with only two wins in eight matches while they are third last on the log, but they have been competitive throughout and with a bit of luck could have won a few more matches. 

They suffered narrow defeats to Border Bulldogs (21-26), San Clemente Rhinos (24-25) and the Leopards (20-23) and could have been a bit higher on the log if they had won those. 

The Welwitschias, however, never featured in the title race, which is still delicately poised with SWD Eagles (35 points), Valke (31) and Boland Cavaliers (31) the frontrunners for the title.

Eastern Province are out of the running, currently lying fifth on the log on 24 points, after a campaign that saw them winning three and losing five matches, and a narrow points deficit, having scored 162 points and conceding 164. 

They had some important victories against Boland (25-18) and the Leopards (24-20), while they thumped their Eastern Cape neighbours Border Bulldogs 43-27, but they suffered a heavy 56-29 defeat to the Valke in their last outing a fortnight ago. 

Welwitschias coach Chrysander Botha, who is being assisted by national coach Allister Coetzee, has formed a competitive squad that has put in some never-say-die performances in front of their fans at the Hage Geingob Satadium and another rousing performance can be expected in their final match in the competition. 

Besides that, the Mwanzi Challenge has been the perfect preparation for Namibia’s upcoming international season, starting with the Nations Cup in Argentina at the end of July, and culminating in the Rugby World Cup in France in September and October. 

As such, competition between players for places in the squad has been strong, with several players coming to the fore with solid performances. 

Flyhalf Andre van der Berg got injured midway through the campaign, but regular centre Danco Burger was given the flyhalf duties and he has responded with assured performances, both with the boot and with his strong linebreaks and carries. 

Gershwin Mouton has been great at fullback, supplying an extra attacking dimension to the Welwitschias’ game, while experienced winger JC Greyling came out of retirement and put in a match-winning performance in their 35-28 win against the Kenyan Simbas. 

In the pack, captain Prince !Gaoseb and Max Katjijeko have impressed with their high workrate, while Johan Luttig has also had some rousing performances, but competition for places in the national squad will be very tight, with Namibia now boasting several professional players abroad. 

In fact, only two of the current Welwitschia players featured in the Namibian starting 15 that beat Kenya 36-0 in July last year to qualify for the world cup, namely Danco Burger who played at centre and Gershwin Mouton who played on the wing. 

That team included numerous professionals in Europe, South Africa and the United States like captain Johan Deysel and Torsten van Jaarsveld who play in France, the United States-based Wian Conradie, Adriaan Booysen, Damian Stevens and Cliven Loubser; and John Retief, Aranos Coetzee and Divan Rossouw from South Africa. 

Besides them there are several other expatriate players, including four Namibians who have started to make a name for themselves at Polish club Juvenia Krakow. United’s former tricky ball-player Riaan van Zyl has become Krakow’s leading points scorer, while Oderich Mouton, Chemigan Beukes and Denzil van Wyk have all become first choice players at the team.

Another expat who has been grabbing the headlines is Richard Hardwick, who has been starring for the Melbourne Rebels in the Super Rugby competition between Australia and New Zealand’s top franchises. 

Hardwick played for Australia earlier in his career but last year switched his allegiance to Namibia and made his debut in a friendly against the Griquas. 

The rugby website theroar.com.au recently rated him as one of the best players in the Super Rugby competition this year. 

“The soon-to-be 29-year-old has been one of Australia’s best in 2023. The issue is, the two-Test Wallaby can’t be in Eddie Jones’ plans because he recently took advantage of change in World Rugby’s eligibility protocols to play for his country of birth Namibia,” it reported. 

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