Hong Kong Defeat Crawshays Invitational 35-24; Germany Name 30 for Repechage; How Hans-Peter Wild Bankrolled German Rugby; Kenya Lose to Romania Video Highlights
A brief look at the warmup preparations from the three other teams at the repechage tournament indicates that perhaps Hong Kong are going to be the stiffest challenge for Canada. They had two good warm up matches against Welsh opponents, the latest a 35-24 win over the invitational Crawshays side. They are ranked higher than Canada in the World Rankings but oddsmakers still show better World Cup odds for Canada compared to the other three countries.
Kenya, Canada's first opponent, looked porous on defence with a number of lumbering runs by Romania's big forwards finding gaps in the midfield. Romania were ahead 29-5 at the half before subs on both sides turned the game into a stalemate. I would expect a similar scoreline for Canada at the half against Kenya in what will likely be their easiest match. The Kong Kong v Germany match should be interesting to watch and a closer contest.
Hans-Peter Wild is a billionaire, with a billionaire’s idea of what “a little bit of money” means. That is how much his local rugby club, Heidelberger RK, asked him for in 2003. “They didn’t want very much, maybe €20,000,” he says. Fifteen years later, €20,000 has turned into €20m.
Wild, whose family made their money manufacturing Capri Sun, decided to spend a chunk of it trying to professionalise German rugby. “I got sucked in, because I believe if you are going to do something, you do it right,” he says.
It almost worked, too. The team Wild built are three games away from playing in the Rugby World Cup. Only the three will probably be the last games they ever play.
Germany are one of four teams competing in the World Cup repechage in Marseille this month. It is a round-robin tournament involving Hong Kong, Canada and Kenya. Whoever wins takes the last qualifying spot in Pool B in Japan next year, alongside New Zealand, South Africa, Italy and Namibia. The team of players, staff and administrators Wild has put together have been working towards this moment for the past 10 years. Wild describes it as “the dream of their lives”.
The director of rugby, Kobus Potgieter, is one of them. In 2007 he was working as a consultant at the Blue Bulls rugby academy in Pretoria when he was headhunted by Wild, who wanted him to help set up a rugby academy in Heidelberg. “It was a big question for me because I’d never heard of German rugby before,” Potgieter says. It is, he admits, very much “a minority sport” but there are still around 120 clubs in Germany and Potgieter estimates there are about 3,000 adult male players.
Germany was once a strong rugby country. The first clubs were set up in the 1870s, and in the 1920s and 30s the national team regularly beat Italy, Romania and even France. But most of those players died in the second world war and afterwards the sport was crowded out by football. It became a university game, which is how Wild first heard of it. “My father was an Olympic rower and also a rugby player,” he says. “When you’re a student in Germany you row in summer and play rugby in winter, so my dad was very much in it.”
Wild never played himself but he is a great believer in what he calls “the values” of the sport. “Those principles of integrity, respect, passion, discipline and teamwork should be appreciated and taught because I think they’re needed more than ever,” he says. Football, he says, has a “hooligan” problem. His mentions his friend Dietmar Hopp, who invested his millions building the football club TSG Hoffenheim. “After 20 years he is still being personally attacked because of it”. Hopp recently sued a group of fans for abusing him.
All of a sudden the Germans were three games away from making a World Cup. Only, they had no money to prepare with so Wild put his money into rugby. He set up the Wild Academy, built a training facility, with a 4G heated pitch and gym, and employed overseas players and coaches on his company payroll. “He paid for all of it,” Potgieter says. In the national team, “80% of the players and staff are people who came straight from Wild’s programme”. A lot of them, like Potgieter, never even had contracts with the federation but were employed directly by Wild. “The whole reason German XVs rugby was moving forward is all thanks to him.”
Then everything fell apart. In the last year the project was ruined by two rows. The problems started when Wild took over Stade Français in June 2017. In May Heidelberger RK qualified for the Challenge Cup. They were the first German team to do it, until the EPCR threw them out again because Wild now owned two clubs, which was a conflict of interest. He had to give one up and he chose to let go of Heidelberg. “Two weeks before the draw we got told that we’re not allowed to play any more and all these guys lost their jobs,” Potgieter says.
At the same time Wild was fighting with the German Federation. “The association itself was really amateurish and I’m not used to that,” Wild says. Last November Wild’s players went on strike to force the federation around to his way of thinking. Without them Germany put out a scratch team who were battered in every game they played. So the federation gave in. It appointed a new president but it came too late. Wild pulled his funding but has promised to give them €2m a year for the next five years if they can find three other sponsors who will match his commitment.
Which is where the repechage comes in. Germany squeezed through after Romania and Spain were punished for fielding ineligible players. All of a sudden the Germans were three games away from making a World Cup. Only, they had no money to prepare with. So Wild stepped in again. “I promised them I would pay for the repechage,” he says. “Otherwise they couldn’t even have participated, so I gave them €300,000. I wanted to give them the chance to achieve their dream.” They have used some of the money to hire Mike Ford as coach.
Come December Potgieter thinks he will be out of a job too, just like the rest of Wild’s players and staff. “You want to just focus on the games but it’s always on the back of your mind,” he says. “For a lot of us the question is, ‘what do I do in December?’ But we try to push it to the side.”
If they can make it through to the World Cup those three sponsors will be easier to find. “We’ve got one more chance,” Potgieter says. “We’ve got a month left, three games to achieve something great for German rugby, for our team, and for ourselves. It’s all in our hands.”
Hong Kong beat a tough Crawshays RFC invitational XV last night, 35-24, behind a natural hat-trick from in-form full-back Casey Stone at The Gnoll in Neath, Wales.
It was the final warm-up fixture for Hong Kong ahead of departing tomorrow for the four-team qualifier to determine the 20th team at Rugby World Cup 2019 in Marseille, where Canada, Germany and Kenya await.
Bryn Phillips makes his first start for HK v Crawsyhay's
Needing to winnow down the current 35-man squad into a final selection of 30 early next week, and with seven potential first caps included in the group, the two Welsh fixtures have helped the coaching team finalise their entry for Hong Kong’s biggest ever tournament later this month.
Given the invitational nature of their opponents, Hong Kong expected a Barbarians style match with plenty of free-flowing rugby from Crawshays. They got just that, with the hosts fielding a talented backline including captain Geraint O’Driscoll, who has over 130 appearances at fullback for Newport alongside stints with Pontypool and the Dragons; Chris Czekaj, a centurion for Cardiff Blues who was capped nine times for Wales; and one of the top outside halves in the domestic scene in Jack Maynard.
Hong Kong came to the party as well with fullback Casey Stone, who has made the most of his opportunities to press for a spot in France this week, adding a hat trick to his try in the opening match against Dragons, to lead all scorers for Hong Kong in the principality.
Stone struck early and often, pacing Hong Kong to a 14-0 lead with fly-half Matt Rosslee adding the conversions in the first 20 minutes. Playing in front of their home turf, Crawshays responded in the second quarter, producing two tries from Hong Kong turnovers to level the score 14-all at half-time.
Stone completed the natural hat trick shortly after play resumed, pushing Hong Kong ahead 21-14 after the conversion. Crawshays kept it close, but Hong Kong’s pack was rewarded for an evening of hard graft with a penalty try down the stretch, before centre Tyler Spitz’s late try put Hong Kong home, 35-24.
Dai Rees, Chief Rugby Operations Officer at the Hong Kong Rugby Union, commented on the outing saying, “It was another tough game, which was just what we needed.
“They put out a strong side and put us under a lot of pressure. Defensively, we had a few lapses on occasions, which we will need to address, but the boys stayed positive and worked hard. It was a good win, an ugly one maybe, but one that will give us some confidence going in.
“As Leigh [head coach Leigh Jones] told the boys after the game, ‘we are going to have to win ugly in France as well’, so we’ll take that.”
Rees believes that the primary objectives have been achieved from Hong Kong’s Welsh warm-up.
“We came here with a group of players that hadn’t played that much together of late, and had had no international action for three months. These guys don’t play together that often, so bringing them together into an international environment has been essential.
“We have achieved what we wanted, which was to come over and acclimatize, and to play two very tough games. We’ve also achieved a very high level of training and preparation here. We brought a squad of 35 healthy players and are now able to select a group of 30 from that healthy squad of 35,” Rees added.
Hong Kong is expected to confirm its final squad for the repechage later next week.
The week in Wales has helped clarify some of the selection panel’s thinking on the final roster according to Rees.
“The guys have really put their hands up across the squad, so it is going to be a very difficult decision to make, but the past week has given us some clarity.
“We brought over some specialist players in certain areas, in terms of knowing where exactly we probably needed to cut, and I think this week has made some of those decisions for us.
“But it’s been tough and it is going to be tough on the players who don’t make it certainly. Everyone wants to be involved which is good, and we will keep them involved, the entire squad will travel to France as a group of 35, and they will continue to be a big part of our preparation,” Rees added.
Backs Geraint O’Driscoll (Captain). Newport Josh Prosser. Bargoed Dale Ford. Carmarthen Quins Will Holley. Bridgend Shaun Pearce. Aberavon Chris Czekaj. Bedford Blues Gavin Dacey. Merthyr Jack Maynard. Llandovery Aaron Quick. Pontypool Ross Pritchard. Cardiff
Forwards Mike Burgess. Aberavon Lewis Smout. Newport Chris Davies. Aberavon Joe Popple. Pontypridd Joe Page. Pontypridd Cameron Lewis. Aberavon James Murphy. Cardiff Joe Powell. Llandovery Kieran Martin. Cardiff Ed Siggery. Carmarthen Quins Stuart Worrall. Llandovery Scott Matthews. Pontypool Morgan Allen. Cardiff
Coaches: Mike Rayer. Bedford Blues Jason Hyatt. Aberavon Gavin Dacey. Merthyr
The Kenya Simbas were handed a 36-5 loss by Romania A in Bucharest on 3rd November. The two Unions with the support of World Rugby organized the friendly that played a big part in The Simbas preparation for the Repechage, in Marseille, France.
Romania had scored two tries, one conversion and penalty by the time Simbas through, William Ambaka scored their solitary try. Five minutes after Ambaka’s try, the Romanian Captain went over the whitewash extending his side’s lead to 22-5 after a successful conversion. At the stroke of half time, a penalty try was awarded to the hosts after a Kenyan infringement at the try line. Romania leading 29-5.
Second half only one try was scored by the hosts. The second group of the Simbas squad seemed to defend better but their attacking pace and ball possession in this half did not translate into points. A loose Kenyan ball from an off load is what led to the Romanian try in the second half that saw them extend their lead to 36-5 to full time.
The Simbas have a bigger task at hand as Canada, Hong Kong and Germany await them.