The Rugby Africa Gold Cup will kick off in just a week’s time with 15 matches to be played over two months to decide which country will accompany South Africa to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Defending champions, Namibia, will open the show in Windhoek on 16 June against Uganda.
Namibian coach, Phil Davies, is under no illusion of the task that lies ahead of his team.
“This competition will be Namibia's toughest World Cup qualifier for the last ten years. Despite the challenge, we are confident because we have a very strong team with the talent, the mindset and the attitude needed to compete in this type of event,” Davies said.
Uganda is certainly not an opponent to be underestimated.
Speaking to Windhoek Observer from Kampala, Uganda, rugby union manager and former national team coach, Yayiro Kasasa, sent out a strong warning to the Namibian team, saying that his team is coming to Windhoek to win the match.
Uganda are expected to bring along a 23-men squad and four officials.
Uganda were due to have a long week camp in South Africa last week, but that did not happen due to unforeseen circumstances.
“We will be in South Africa for four to five days for a training camp before we arrive in Namibia. We started training mid-March after our league ended. Our mission is to win and qualify to the world cup. With due respect to the Namibian team being the champions and having qualified for the world cup before, we have our own mission and that is to qualify,” Kasasa told the Windhoek Observer on Wednesday.
Zimbabwe, which has not competed at the Rugby World Cup since 1991, will face newcomers, Morocco, also on 16 June.
The Sables are now under the leadership of former Springbok coach, Peter de Villiers, who said he was pleased with their recent preparation camp in Pretoria.
“85 percent of our players play in Zimbabwe and we have worked a lot on self-confidence,” de Villiers said.
Morocco will arrive in Zimbabwe this week to complete their preparations under the supervision of their French coach, Pierre Chadebech.
The Kenyan and Tunisian match will take place on 23 June.
Rugby Africa president, Abdelaziz Bougja, said he is excited about the upcoming Gold Cup matches.
“The winner of the tournament will be declared after the last matches on August 18, once the number of points obtained by each team is calculated. That's why there’s no big or small game in this timetable, it's a race to the finish line to open the door to the World Cup,” Bougja said.
The team that finishes second in the Gold Cup will have the opportunity to regain a place in a ‘Last Chance’ bracket organised by World Rugby.
Five hundred match officials have been appointed to oversee the tournament along with the many volunteers from the six host federations.
The main referees will come from France and South Africa and will be assisted by the best of the African referees.
“Rugby is the fastest-growing sport in Africa. In 2002, only six African countries were playing the game, and now Rugby Africa boasts 38 countries. Out of 105 countries playing rugby competitively, one-third are African countries.
“We are looking forward to witnessing a high quality Rugby Africa Gold Cup as the nations compete for the chance to qualify for the Rugby World Cup 2019,” Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard, Founder and CEO of APO Group, the main Official Partner of Rugby Africa.
All Rugby Africa Gold Cup matches will be broadcast by Kwese Sports on their TV channels and on Facebook, while APO Group will relay the results and highlights of the competition in the world media and on social networks.