NAMIBIA scraped home with a 37-33 victory against Zimbabwe in the opening match of the Windhoek Lager Tri-Nations Rugby Tournament on Saturday.
After leading 16-15 at halftime, Namibia surged into a 34-18 lead, but a strong fightback by Zimbabwe and some poor defending by the home side saw them eventually winning by only four points. Had Zimbabwe’s goal kicking been better, they could well have won the match.
Namibia scored four tries, four penalties, one drop goal and one conversion, while Zimbabwe scored four tries, one conversion, two penalties and one penalty try.
After two penalties by Theuns Kotze and one by Tichafara Makwanya, Namibian flanker Renaud van Neel scored the first try after he went over from a fine driving maul by the Namibian forwards.
Namibia stretched their lead to 16-3 after Chrysander Botha touched down in the corner, after being put in space from a fine skip pass by Theuns Kotze.
Botha continued to threaten with a great run that and kick ahead but Zimbabwe wing Wesley Mbanje just managed to dot down ahead of Justin Nel.
Zimbabwean flyhalf Makwanya scored the visitors’ first try when he broke through a tackle and ran 30m to dot down, but he missed a simple conversion, to make the score 16-8.
Just before halftime Zimbabwe got a penalty try after a scrum infringement on Namibia’s tryline and with Makhanya adding the conversion, Namibia held a narrow 16-15 lead going into the break.
Namibia attacked from the restart and debutant winger Johan Tromp went over for a try in the corner after being put clear by Darryl de la Harpe. Kotze’s fine conversion from the touchline put Namibia 23-15 ahead.
Makwanya and Kotze traded penalties and then Namibian prop Johnny Redelinghuys went over in the corner after a fine attack involving Darryl de la Harpe and Tromp.
Namibia’s forwards maintained the pressure and when Kotze added a fine drop goal to make it 34-18 it seemed as if Namibia would easily win the match.
But lapses in concentration allowed Zimbabwe back into the match, as two unconverted tries in quick succession by fullback Tangai Nemadire and flanker Lucky Sithole made the score 34-28.
Theuns Kotze added a penalty but Nemadire scored his second try after a pass by Wesley Mbanje to make the final score 37-33.
It was not a very convincing display by Namibia, who played in fits and starts, although there were some promising performances all round.
The backline looked classy with Theuns Kotze, Darryl de la Harpe and Chrysander Botha all putting in commanding performances, while Johan Tromp had a fine debut on the right wing.
Amongst the forwards, new caps Rathony Becker, Andre Schlechter, Stefan Neustadt, Munovita Kasiringua and Munee Tjiueza all had good matches, but they will have to sort out their scrumming problems that gifted Zimbabwe several penalties, including a penalty try.
Namibian backline coach Walter Donn said he expected it to be a close match.
“We expected it to be a close game because you must remember that we were playing with most of our local players and for many of them it was their first test match of the year. But we should have killed these guys from the word go if we stayed in our structures, but as I said, this is our first game and now we are looking forward to beating Spain,” he said.
Donn paid tribute to Namibia’s forwards and said the backs showed glimpses of greatness.
“I must say our forwards did very well and in the first 20 minutes our backs were very good. I think they will improve in the next match – we saw some glimpses of great play and hopefully we can continue with that momentum.”
Donn, who is a co-coach of the Namibian team along with Danie Vermeulen and Jood Opperman said their communication and cooperation was going fine.
“The cooperation between the coaches is excellent and the decision-making is great. We regularly consult and I think we are a great team. I never thought it would work but I must say I am very pleased.”
The next match in the Windhoek Lager Tri-Nations series will take place at 18h00 on Wednesday night when Zimbabwe take on Spain. In the final match next Saturday, Namibia will take on Spain.