Nigerian rugby players
By Duro Ikhazuagbe
Nigeria’s rugby team left Lagos last night for Gaborone, Botswana to participate in the 2012 Confederation of African Rugby (CAR) Group C1 Tournament.
Speaking at a send forth breakfast ceremony at the Wheatbaker Hotel in Ikoyi, Lagos Thursday, the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Rugby Football Federation, Mr Jide Afolabi, said that he was confident that the team would do the country proud at the African tournament. Nigeria is to play open her campaign for honours against fellow west Africans, Cote d’Ivoire on Sunday before also taking on Mauritius and the host nation, Botswana.
“We are sending a team of very talented players to Botswana, with guys playing their rugby here at home, in the UK and also in South Africa. We also have the best coaching staff and team management going as well,” enthused the NRFF chief.
He admitted that the stakes were high and that the Nigerian players would face huge challenges, playing three international matches in the space of a week.
“It is going to be is extremely tough but the boys are very motivated and keen to do Nigeria proud,” stressed Afolabi.
The tournament in Botswana is Nigeria’s first step in the qualification process leading to the IRB 2015 World Cup in England. Nigeria plays in CAR’s Africa Group C1. The winner of the tournament in Botswana moves up to Group ‘B’ next year and if they win that, they will go to Group A 2014. The winners of group ‘A’ in 2014 qualifies for the World Cup in London the next year.
A Scot, Steve Lewis, who has played and coached around the world and who is the director of rugby at Old Blue Rugby Club in New York, the Columbia University club is to lead the 23 players in the tour squad.
Lewis will be assisted by Mark Deans, the team manager from England who will focus on training the forwards while South African, Blikkies Groenewald, will take charge of the backs.
Groenewald, who volunteered his services to the NRFF for the duration of the tournament, has been assistant coach at the Blue Bulls in South Africa and also coached the Russian national side for five years.
Captain of the Nigerian team, David Akinluyi, has played professionally in England and also played for Cambridge while still at university, scoring a try in the annual varsity match against Oxford at Twickenham. He was a member of the England 7s training squad in 2009/2010 before switching his allegiance to the country of his birth.
Several Nigerians have played rugby for Wales, Scotland, France and England most notably include; Chris Oti, Victor Ubogu, Topsy Ojo, Steve Ojomoh, Dayo Adebayo, Ugo Monye and Andy Harriman, a World Cup winning England Sevens captain.