Martyn Thomas reports on the turmoil surrounding German rugby as the national team prepare for a World Cup qualifier against Samoa
Germany to face Samoa in Rugby World Cup qualifier
The future of rugby union in Germany remains an uncertain one, but the national team at least put a turbulent week to one side as they maintained their unlikely hopes of qualifying for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Germany’s prize for a nerve-shredding 16-13 victory over Portugal – the hosts having trailed by ten points early in the second half – is a two-legged play-off against Samoa for a place in Pool A of the quadrennial tournament in Japan.
It would represent a sizeable shock were the European side to beat the 16th best team in the world over 160 minutes, but they are allowing themselves to dream.
“(We have) 100% chance, to win,” Germany head coach Pablo Lemoine said following the match in Heidelberg. “If not, we don’t go. We stay here.”
For many of the 2,300 fans who flocked to the Fritz-Grunebaum-Sportpark on Saturday, though, defeating the Portuguese was cause enough to celebrate.
Victory ensured the hosts earned a modicum of retribution for the loss they suffered against Russia, secured via two tries in the final ten minutes, at this stage of World Cup qualification four years ago. Yet the race for Japan 2019 can seem a trivial one when set against the troubles German rugby is currently facing.
The German federation (DRV) had put on a united front ahead of the Portugal match, recalling 14 of the players, as well as the coaches, who had made themselves unavailable for this year’s Rugby Europe Championship due to the stand-off between the union and Dr Hans-Peter Wild.
Dr Wild has ploughed millions of euro into rugby in Germany via his WILD Academy, but revealed in an interview last week that he would withdraw his funding for that project, the club Heidelberger RK and the DRV to concentrate on Stade Francais, the French club he bought last summer.
Rumours of the Capri-Sun owner’s intentions had reached those employed by the academy by last Monday. Two days later, the players and coaches were called into a meeting where their worst fears were confirmed – Wild will pay them until the end of the year, but then they will be without a job.
It was against this backdrop that the players prepared for Saturday’s match against Portugal, and it was perhaps unsurprising that despite a bright start Germany appeared weighed down by the pressure of the occasion as they fell 13-3 behind. Everyone knew their hopes of finding a new backer depended on victory.
“Before we started training ten days ago, we talked with Kobus (Potgieter) about putting the political problems on the side,” Lemoine said. “I come from a union (Uruguay) that eight years ago was in the same position as German rugby is at the moment.
“I believe the only way to get out of that situation is through working hard on rugby, really hard on rugby. Trying to put the people together behind one objective.
“World Rugby supports us, German rugby supports us but the only thing we can do – the coaches and the players – is work. Work inside the field and try to show everyone we’re working in one way.”
It is understood that World Rugby will cover the cost of Germany’s travel to Samoa for the first leg of their play-off on 30 June, but the DRV will have to bear the cost of hosting the Pacific Islanders two weeks later.
Not everyone at the union was confident on Saturday night that those funds could be found but the importance of the tie means Germany will fulfil it whatever the long-term impact on the DRV.
“We will start training Monday, train two or three days, have one day off then take the plane,” Lemoine insisted.
There were those in Heidelberg who were disappointed by the nature of Germany’s victory on Saturday, adamant that a team from a division below should have been dispatched far easier.
But from those inside the camp there was only an admission that a big step forward had been taken. The majority of the players and coaches who will lead the team into their clash with Samoa have had their livelihoods taken from them, while the union has lost its primary source of funding.
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Not that the dark cloud hanging over the sport in the country will be allowed to distract the squad from the task at hand. “Control the controllables,” Potgieter, the architect of Germany’s rugby renaissance, said. “If we can’t control it, we can’t do anything about it, so forget about it.”
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