VETERAN loose forward PJ van Lill will lead Namibia into battle when they start their 2023 Rugby World Cup qualifying campaign against the Ivory Coast in Abidjan tomorrow.
The 37-year-old Van Lill is one of Namibia's most experienced players, with a total of 51 caps, while he has also represented Namibia at three world cups.
He has also played professionally in France for the past seven years, a fact that will come to good stead in the French-speaking Ivory Coast, according to Namibian coach Allister Coetzee.
"PJ was an obvious choice as captain. He's experienced and well-respected and the fact that he is French speaking will make it easier to communicate with the referee," he said in an interview yesterday.
Van Lill will start at lock tomorrow alongside Ruan Ludick, and Coetzee said he was equally adept to the tight forward role.
"I'm happy with PJ at lock and he understands the role of the tight forwards."
Coetzee named wing-back and centre Lesley Klim as vice captain and said there were a number of senior players in the team who could play a leading role.
"Lesley is a good leader, but there are a few other leaders in the team so they all will have a role to play," Coetzee added.
Despite the unavailability of several players at home and abroad, the side is quite experienced with 12 of the 23-man squad having represented Namibia at the 2019 World Cup.
Amongst the backs they include Klim, who plays for English first league side Jersey Reds; the experienced wing-back Johann Tromp, who plays for Strela Kazan in Russia; fly half Helarius Kisting, who plays for Baia Mare in Romania, and wing PJ Walters, who plays for Western Suburbs.
Amongst the forwards, they include Van Lill, Prince !Gaoseb and Max Katjijeko (both of FNB Unam); Andre Rademeyer (FNB Grootfontein); Johan Retief and Nelius Theron (Leopards, South Africa); Obert Nortje (Seattle Seawolves, USA) and Adriaan Booysen (Houston Sabrecats, USA).
Coetzee said they had adapted well to the conditions so far.
"I'm satisfied, the players have adapted well and they have shown good energy during training so far. We only had one setback with Des Sethie being injured during training on Tuesday, so he's not in the squad anymore and will fly back to Namibia in the next few days. But we are well stocked amongst the props, so all else is in place," he said.
The only new cap in the starting 15 is scrum half Riaan van Zyl, but Coetzee said he had slotted in well.
"Riaan and TC Kisting have slotted in and combined well during training. Riaan will play his first cap, so he is new but, TC will have a calming influence over him, so he must make sure that he gives direction to the team," he said.
"PJ (Walters) must give dominance on the advantage line, Lesley (Klim) is experienced and good on defence, and Trompie (Johann Tromp) has a lot of pace from the back and can put Lesley and Gino (Wilson) who are both good finishers, in space.
With Namibia ranked 25th in the world and the Ivory Coast 42nd, Namibia might start the match as favourites, but Coetzee said they would not underestimate the Ivory Coast.
"I don't know much about the Ivory Coast team, but we will definitely not underestimate them, we just need to focus on our game plan and put them under pressure. We need to make sure that we are well organised and do the basics right and execute our processes,"he said.
The Namibian team is as follows:
Andre Rademeyer, Obert Nortje, Nelius Theron, PJ van Lill (captain), Ruan Ludick, Prince Gaoseb, Max Katjijeko, Adriaan Booysen, Riaan van Zyl, Hilarius Kisting, Gino Wilson, PJ Walters, Lesley Klim, Oderich Mouton and Johann Tromp.
Substitutes: Gerhard Thirion, Jason Benade, Simon Kanime, Johan Retief, Cameron Langenhoven, Hanreco van Zyl, Ethan Beukes and Ricardo Swartz.