KOBE – For half an hour on Sunday afternoon, a team (Namibia) made up of farmers, dentists, students and bankers was outplaying one of the greatest sports teams (New Zealand) in history.
Trailing 10-9 at the Tokyo Stadium, AJ De Klerk, PJ Van Lill, Justin Newman, Thomasau Forbes and Co. were tackling, running and rucking an All Blacks team boasting nine World Cup winners off the park, and scrum-half Damian Stevens was punishing every infringement with flawless accuracy off the tee.
Inevitably the world champions restored order and ultimately cantered to an 11-try victory over the lowest-ranked side in the tournament.
But Phil Davies’s team showed they had learned some invaluable lessons from the chastening 57-3 loss to the Springboks a week earlier when they barely fired a shot.
"We just had to get the ball and keep it away from them," said captain Johan Deysel, who scored against the All Blacks at RWC 2015. "That was one of our goals and it worked well in the first half.
"Japan showed us you can beat Tier 1 nations through hard work and exposure to playing them. For us, it’s a big opportunity to play the All Blacks and learn from them. If we can take all those positives forwards into our next match it will improve us and give us more confidence."
Fly-half Helarius Kisting, following a rather more instinctive gameplan, underlined what the opportunity meant to his team-mates.
"I was just closing my eyes and running," he said. "I don’t know where it comes from but you might only get these opportunities once in your life so you’ve got to make the most of them. We had nothing to lose and that’s how I tried to play."
Nothing to lose, perhaps, but as hooker Torsten Van Jaarsveld summed up, Namibia’s part-timers had everything to gain.
"These boys don’t realise how good they are," he said. "Namibia has real talent. The boys have big heart and some big balls. This is something they’ll cherish for the rest of their lives."
Before their opening match with Italy, Namibia had not faced any Tier 1 opposition since playing Argentina at the World Cup in 2015. Now they have faced three in just three weeks and number eight Janco Venter knows they will be better players for it.
"I’d rather play the All Blacks every week than play everyone in Africa and win by 80 points," he said. "If we play them every week, eventually we’ll be competitive because we’ll keep learning, keep getting better.
"That is something Namibia needs. We need to play bigger countries. Japan did that and that’s made them the team they are now."
As the team heads north towards Kamaishi, the venue for their final Pool B tie with Canada, Deysel knows they will need to show similar spirit as they did in that first 30 minutes against the All Blacks to finally end a World Cup winless streak that stretches to 22 matches.
"We know we will have a chance and we just have to work hard this week," said Deysel. "The team that wants it most will get it.
African News Agency (ANA)