When a new job took chemist Andy Kendall to the Swiss city of Basel a decade ago, the local rugby team relied heavily on foreign workers. Not any more. “When I started playing, the first team was 70-80% expats,” says Kendall, now the head coach. “Today it’s 80% Swiss.”
From two divisions of six teams, Switzerland now has ten teams in both its A and B leagues, plus a C league – 46 clubs and 139 teams nationally, springing up all over the country.
“It’s down to exposure and organic growth. There are English pubs in every town and each World Cup brings an influx of new players. The Swiss also have a brilliant idea called the Schnuppertag, a day where youngsters are encouraged to try out a range of sports.”
The Swiss kids at Kendall’s RFC Basel who started at ten and 11 a decade ago have stayed the course. “We have a great bunch coming through and they’re all front-rowers!” he adds.
The coach can field an all-Swiss pack apart from at No 8, where Czech international and ex-Esher semi-pro Ladislav Vondrasek is a fixture. And in fly-half Lukas Quintillan and full-back Tim Ginz, Kendall has two youngsters who, in a different environment, could arguably make a career out of rugby.
Results in October took Basel to the top of the B League. A first win at Lugano preceded defeats of Lucerne, Stade Lausanne, Alba and Zurich II, before Basel rattled up a century against La Chaux-de-Fonds ahead of the winter break. The season resumes in March.
“In the past three years the young Swiss have become leaders on the pitch. They’re the key to our success,” Kendall says.
Basel are our October Team of the Month and win 22 kitbags from Canterbury.
Click here to check out September’s Team of the Month.
This article appeared in the January 2012 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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