Namibia stalwart Jacques Burger believes playing the bigger nations give his country the belief to know they can compete
By Will Macpherson
Namibia go into their first game at the World Cup ranked lower than any other team in the tournament, twentieth.
The team is packed full of amateurs and they do not have a big win to hark back to, let alone a World Cup win. Oh, and that first match is against the undisputed heavyweight champions of the world: the All Blacks.
How, then, if you are Namibia’s only “name”, one of the very few with big match experience at club level and that crucial knowledge of just how to win, do you get your team-mates up for it?
By definition, given their lowly ranking, they go into every game as underdogs, let alone the big one first up against New Zealand. What is the mindset of the World Cup underdog?
Welcome to Jacques Burger’s World Cup world.
Well, Japan have slightly changed the underdog’s outlook over the last week, according to Burger. “That result does give us hope,” he tells Rugby World.
“But it also shows how important a win is. You look at them. They’ve got a box ticked now, they will be a different team. They might lose again but the belief is there and they know they can do it. For us it’s not there yet. One win and we will be a different beast and I believe we can do that at this World Cup.
“Our main setback is that mental strength and the belief and knowledge that we can do it. We haven’t had big experience against big sides.
“We haven’t had victories against any top sides. We’ve had good victories in the build-up and stuff but we haven’t played teams who are ranked way above us. We need to play more teams like that to get that belief and get that psychological edge to know that we can compete.”
Burger, who will retire at the end of this season, and is desperate to end his international career with a win at the World Cup, understands the importance of himself as an individual to his green team.
“I think from a mental perspective, being a massive underdog – there’s no pressure on you. You want to do well, and you are nervous,” he continues.
“Half our guys are eight-til-five-ers, it’s such a massive honour to be here. So to go out there and do well is the second part of it. For me it’s the first part. That’s why I’m here. I want to win a game at the World Cup.
“I need to get them mentally prepared, my job is to lead from the front and use my experience so when it’s tough I can help them dig deep. It’s not about what you say, it’s about how you act and how you work with the guys. Hopefully I can do that.
“We now have a set of very experienced and talented guys and a lot more professionals. We have guys who have played big matches, although we don’t yet have the guys who have played big Championship finals. That’s yet to come.
“I feel personally responsible to help us in that regard, because I have experience in big losses and have learned from them.
“I’ve experienced big victories as well and I know what it takes and how hard you have to push yourself. It’s easy to say these things to the guys, but it’s hard to make them believe it. You can take a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.
“The thing about our guys now is that they are incredibly talented, and actually too humble. They’re happy with everything that comes their way, and work really hard and sometimes they don’t know how close the opportunity is to do something great. I hope I can convince them of this.”
Even Burger believes that a win in the game against the All Blacks is beyond them, however. That game is about smaller battles, with the experienced to be carried forward into their other three games.
“Realistically talking about a win (against New Zealand) is very tough,” he adds. “They are the best team in the world by a mile. I think it’s about small victories: getting some great attacking phases, scoring a good try, breaking the line, keeping them off our line for five minutes when the is pressure on.
“These are small things we can learn lessons from. Give us confidence. The scoreline is irrelevant in that game. We will look to do good things and build belief. We have three games after that and I truly believe if we equip ourselves well against the All Blacks, then we can win them. I believe we have the team to surprise everyone. We will be better than people think, I promise you.”
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