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Eight African selections are gathered in Marseille and Aix-en-Provence to compete for the Rugby Africa Cup, with the key to a qualifying ticket for the Rugby World Cup which will be organized next year in France. Among them, Senegal, Ivory Coast or Algeria who hope to shake up Namibia, favorite of this Tournament.
>>> Follow live on the France 24 website the match Zimbabwe – Ivory Coast on Friday July 1 at 8:30 p.m.
The Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region has invited itself onto the map of African rugby. It hosts 1is on July 10 in Marseille and Aix-en-Provence, in two modest stadiums of 4,000 and 6,500 spectators, eight African formations which will try to qualify for the next World Cup, organized in France in 2023, and join in particular the South Africa, reigning world champion and already qualified.
This region was proposed by the organizers of the World Cup in France, in response to a call for tenders from Rugby Africa to host this qualification phase. With the Rugby Africa Cup, the objective is twofold for the organizing committee: to ensure the promotion of rugby in this region and to carry out a rehearsal for the world competition next year.
“The idea is also to help African rugby gain visibility and develop,” explains Martine Nemecek, director of this tournament. This competition will indeed benefit from unprecedented media exposure and the African federations present will be offered training by international rugby bodies, particularly in the areas of medical care and refereeing.
If the transport and accommodation costs are borne by the organizers of the 2023 World Cup for the ten days of competition, the eight African selections had to finance their preparation upstream of this Tournament. Most of them have been in France for several weeks, hosted by various French clubs, thanks to the relations between some of their players or managers and French rugby.
An unprecedented media exposure
The Namibians have made the choice to prepare in South Africa, near Stellenbosch, and to join France only this week. In March 2022, when the decision to play the Rugby Africa Cup in France was announced, the Namibian Federation made no secret of its opposition to having to travel to Europe. And she had asked, in vain, Rugby Africa to reconsider its decision, arguing that the development of African rugby cannot be done outside the Continent.
The relocation of this competition was also not to the taste of Baky Meïté, former captain of the Côte d’Ivoire team. “I was not especially for it. I said to myself: why host this qualifying phase and not those of Asia or America?”, Explains this former professional player who retired from sport last year.
Once the choice was confirmed, he sided with the arguments of those who see an opportunity “without common measure” for African rugby players. “With Côte d’Ivoire, I played in complete anonymity. It’s a great chance for the federations and the players who will be able to show themselves”, estimates Baky Meïté, who underlines that the matches will be broadcast. on prime time television in France. They will also be broadcast on various channels in Africa.
Bary Meïté understands, however, that this formula can generate a certain sporting imbalance between the teams. “We know that Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Algeria rely on strong diasporas of players who play in France,” adds Bakary Meïté, who provides advice to Ivorian forwards during this competition. For these nations, it has been easier to bring international players together and prepare them for this competition.
A place in the group of France
This was the case for Algeria, which notably prepared in Gennevilliers, near Paris, before joining Aix-en-Provence where it will face Senegal on Saturday July 2. The vast majority of players play in different divisions of French rugby. Many of them were born in France and chose to wear the jersey of their parents’ nation.
Officially admitted in May 2021 to the world federation World Rugby, Algeria is the worst ranked selection among the eight participants in the Africa Cup. But its 90e place in the world is due more to its recent entry into this ranking than to its real value. And she intends to reveal herself during this competition, which offers a qualification for group A of the World Cup, in which there are New Zealand, France, Italy and Uruguay. And if she succeeds, she will be able to play her duel, on September 21, 2023, against the XV of France at the Vélodrome stadium in Marseille.
Namibia also intends to return to Marseille next year. She has already participated in the last seven World Cups and is the favorite of the African tournament, with several players in her ranks who play in French or English professional rugby. But she is wary of several formations in Provence, starting with Côte d’Ivoire against which she lost last summer during the previous qualifying phase for the next World Cup.
Zimbabwe, which has just climbed to the 27e world place, also dreams of competing in a World Cup again, 32 years after his last participation. For the team that will lose the final of this Rugby Africa Cup, on July 10 in Aix en Provence, a last chance of qualification will present itself next November, during a repechage competition bringing together four teams from different continents. Its winner will be the 20e and last country to qualify for the 2023 World Cup.
The Africa Rugby Cup programme
Le 1is July, in Marseille: Namibia – Burkina Faso (6 p.m.) and Zimbabwe – Ivory Coast (9 p.m.)
July 2, in Aix-en-Provence: Uganda – Kenya (3 p.m.) and Senegal – Algeria (6 p.m.)
July 6: Uganda or Kenya – Senegal or Algeria, in Marseille (6 p.m.)
July 6: Namibia or Burkina Faso – Zimbabwe or Ivory Coast, in Aix-en-Provence (9 p.m.)
July 10 in Aix-en-Provence (9 p.m.)