Rugby World Cup 2023: Namibia can 'make anything happen', says Allister Coetzee

Allister Coetzee
Thirteen months after his appointment as Namibia head coach, Allister Coetzee guided his team to Rugby Africa Cup glory - earning a place at the 2023 World Cup

2023 Rugby World Cup

Hosts: France Dates: 8 September to 28 October

Coverage: Full commentary of every game across BBC Radio 5 Live and Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, plus text updates on the BBC Sport website and app.

Namibia coach Allister Coetzee could oversee a historic first ever win for his team at the Rugby World Cup when they start their Group A campaign against Italy in Saint-Etienne on 9 September.

The Welwitschias are in a tough pool with hosts France, three-time champions New Zealand and Uruguay.

For a side who have been ever-present at the last six editions of the finals, a long-awaited victory would feel as momentous as winning the tournament would for defending champions South Africa or one of their fellow favourites.

"The main goal of winning our first ever pool game at a World Cup is massive," Coetzee told BBC Africa Sport.

The closest Namibia came to ending their drought was at the 2015 tournament in England, when they came within a whisker of beating Georgia, eventually losing 17-16 in a closely fought contest in Exeter.

The southern Africans also picked up a draw at the last World Cup in Japan when their game against Canada was called off because of Typhoon Hagibis.

"We have to aim higher than just going for one win," said Coetzee. "We have talent here and once the players understand that they play for the country and its people, they can go and make anything happen on the field.

"It is up to the players to use and capitalise on the opportunity."

The former Springboks coach, who has been in charge of Namibia since June 2021, expressed his satisfaction at the progress being made by the players in his squad.

"I've noticed a big improvement since the last training camp we had in Windhoek [in December] and I am quite pleased with where the players are at," he said.

"They are from different clubs with different levels of conditioning and playing in various competitions."

'Trust the plan and vision'

Coetzee, who was also head coach of Italian side Rovigo until November 2022, has to cope with the additional challenge of having limited time to prepare his side.

"The big thing with any international team is to be able to spend time with them and we don't have that because of the players playing in different parts of the world," he explained.

"When it comes to getting them together before a match, it's a challenge.

"You have to build relationships with the clubs. The players must trust the plan and vision, otherwise they won't play.

"In addition, you get your players only five days before a Test - so there's not much time to work with them."

Renaldo Bothma of Namibia is wrapped up in the Georgia defense during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool C match between Namibia and Georgia
Despite being the lowest-ranked side at the tournament, Namibia gave Georgia an almighty scare at the 2015 World Cup before losing by a point

The former scrum-half admits his side face a challenging assignment in their pool.

The 21st-ranked nation face two teams considered title contenders in France and New Zealand, while Uruguay are four places above them and Italy are then four places higher than that in the world rankings.

The Azzurri are also growing in confidence following victories over established rugby nations including Australia and Wales last year.

Coetzee said the "sleepless nights" have already started but that he has taken encouragement from Namibia's meeting with New Zealand in 2019, when they held the All Blacks to a 24-9 scoreline at half-time before conceding 47 points without reply after the break.

"We start off against Italy, then we play New Zealand, hosts France and Uruguay at the end," he said.

"I'm not saying we have a chance of beating New Zealand or France but Namibia is not called the Land of the Brave for nothing - I've seen that."

The final group game against Uruguay on 27 September could conceivably prove something of a cup final in pursuit of a place in the quarter-finals.

The South Americans, though, will enter the game with a psychological advantage following their 26-18 victory over Namibia in a friendly in Montevideo on 5 August.




9 September


Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Etienne

15 September

New Zealand

Stadium de Toulouse, Toulouse

21 September


Stade de Marseille, Marseille

27 September


OL Stadium, Lyon

Joy against the odds

Coetzee will no doubt be hoping that his positive experience at the 2007 World Cup in France will be repeated 16 years later.

As part of Jake White's coaching staff, he was part of the Springboks' second title win, helping them to beat England in the final.

The South African team to play England in the Final Rugby World Cup 2015 match
Coetzee (front row, second from left) was part of South Africa's triumph in 2007

The 60-year-old, who coached the Springboks between April 2016 and February 2018, believes second-tier nations like Namibia are at a huge disadvantage compared to the most successful countries.

"The tier-one nations are full-on professionals with strong back-up staff, including video analysts, physios, bio-kineticists and nutritionists among other things.

"Second-tier countries like Namibia are still raw, amateur. You have to feed players and support them with things like transport to training facilities."

What they lack in resources, Coetzee reasons, his team makes up for in attitude, passion and determination.

"What is so inspiring is seeing how the players enjoy and appreciate it and when you achieve small wins, it provides a massive satisfaction," he said.

"The players adapt well and appreciate every opportunity they get. That's one of the joys of coaching Namibia - seeing the guys with those values and character traits makes the job worthwhile."

While his immediate focus is the World Cup, Coetzee is also planning for the finals in Australia in four years.

Among his ambitions, he wants to see Namibians playing in South Africa's Currie Cup competition and annual national schools tournament, the Craven Week, again.

"There's a good plan on the table not only for this World Cup, but also for 2027," he said.

"We're trying to build a high-performance system in Namibia from the bottom up, from schoolboy rugby. The players like to see there's a pathway for them to improve as players and to represent their country."