Big-name absence throws youngsters into deep end

Andrew Poolman
A truly daunting task awaits the Namibian rugby team selected to face Portugal on Saturday, in the first home test match at Hage Geingob Stadium since the August 2018 win by 53-26 against Kenya.
The 26-year-old flank Prince !Gaoseb will captain the test side for the first time, having served his apprenticeship as leader of the Windhoek Beer Welwitschias during the 2023 SuperSport Challenge, and before that the national under-20 team.
!Gaoseb, whose 16 tests includes appearances at the 2019 and 2023 Rugby World Cups, will lead a new-look combination without a majority of experienced campaigners supporters would normally have expected to see.
Admittedly, thirteen of his starting team were in the World Cup squad to France last year and it could be argued that debutant Jay-Cee Nel would have been a certainty as well, if not for a delay in securing the necessary paper work. However, five players on the bench without a single previous test appearance among them tells a story.
Johan Deysel, the 32-year-old centre who led Namibia at the 2019 and 2023 World Cups and also played under Jacques Burger at England 2015, has yet to formally announce his international retirement. However, the absence of his 26-test experience, of which he captained the side 19 times, will doubtless be felt.
Tjiuee Uanivi (lock, 33 tests) was also a stand-in captain in two of his three World Cups, while none of Aranos Coetzee (31 tests), Torsten van Jaarsveld (23 tests), Louis van der Westhuizen (knee injury, 33 tests), Helarius Kisting (study commitments in Romania), Richard Hardwick, Tiaan de Klerk or the retired try-scoring record holder JC Greyling (29 tries in 46 tests) will take on the high-flying Europeans.
The absence of Cliven Loubser (27 tests, 230 points, five tries) at fly-half will be made up for by Tiaan Swanepoel (5 tests, 33 points), who joined last weekend from his first season in Japan’s second professional tier.
Loubser made solid contributions to his newly established franchise team in USA’s Major League Rugby, Anthem North Carolina, but was unfortunately ruled out for Namibia with a torn groin muscle, head coach Allister Coetzee confirmed.
Additionally, the hardened edge of Wian Conradie (30 tests, 14 tries) of USA’s New England Free Jacks, would have made a difference, but he has been ruled out with a season-ending knee injury
Three more Namibians’ franchises in USA are still involved in the upcoming play-off rounds, namely fullback Divan Rossouw (Seattle Seawolves; 9 tests, 3 tries), scrumhalf Damian Stevens (New Orleans Gold; 39 tests, 5 tries, 46 points) and centre Le Roux Malan (New England Free Jacks; 4 tests).
From the local club scene, the departures of fly-half Andre van der Berg (Wanderers to Limoges) and wing Gerswin Mouton (Reho Falcon / Wits University to Grenoble) to start new contracts in France were also unfortunate in its timing.

Opportunity for growth
At the team announcement yesterday, Allister Coetzee said the squad showed constant improvement in training since the warm-up defeat against the Blue Bulls and in preparation for the Portugal test.
“The last two weeks have brought a real step up with some injured players returning to the national side.
“We were beaten by the quality of the Bulls, but make no mistake, our squad is improving. I made eight changes to the starting lineup. Jason Benade, Obert Nortje and Adriaan Booysen did not play against the Bulls. Max Katjijeko, Jay-Cee Nel and Tiaan Swanepoel also joined us from outside the country. Their addition make a big difference through the experience they bring in key positions.”
Coetzee emphasised the importance of allowing young local players to gain top-level experience.
“This is a very young team. We need to ensure that our young talent gets the best coaching opportunities available and that is why I handed test debuts to Quirione Majiedt straight from Unam into the Portugal test; Armand Combrinck who was the hooker of this year’s U20 side to Zimbabwe; Jay-Cee Nel and on the bench we have AJ Kearns and Hillian Beukes who have stepped up since the 2023 SuperSport Challenge.”
Coetzee said he expects a tough match from Portugal. “We are playing a side that is ranked 16th in the world and we are currently at position 23. This match is however the first step as we need to play enough test matches of this nature over the next four years.”

Namibia (vs Portugal)
15 Jay-Cee Nel (Griquas, debut)
14 Quirione Majiedt (Unam, debut)
13 Alcino Izaacs (Unam, 5 tests)
12 Danco Burger (Wanderers, 10 tests, two tries)
11 Lloyd Jacobs (Kudus, debut)
10 Tiaan Swanepoel (Green Rockets Tokatsu, Japan; 5 tests, 33 points)
9 Jacques Theron (Wanderers, 5 tests)
8 Adriaan Booysen (no club, 18 tests, 4 tries)
7 Max Katjijeko (RFC Los Angeles, 24 tests, 2 tries)
6 Prince !Gaoseb (captain, Wanderers, 16 tests)
5 Johan Retief (Wanderers, 24 tests, 1 try)
4 Adriaan Ludick (Limoges, France, 12 tests, 2 tries)
3 Haitembu Shikufa (Leopards, 4 tests)
2 Obert Nortje (Wanderers, 22 tests, 6 tries)
1 Jason Benade (Unam, 17 tests)

16 Armand Combrinck (Maties / WP U20, 0 tests)
17 Desiderius Sethie (Unam, 22 tests, 1 try)
18 Chemigan Beukes (Juvenia Kraków, 1 test)
19 Ruan Ludick (Chartres, France, 26 tests)
20 Peter Diergaardt (Wanderers, 0 tests)
21 AJ Kearns (Unam, 0 tests)
22 Denzo Bruwer (Wanderers, 0 tests)
23 Hilllian Beukes (Rehoboth, 0 tests)