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The final sprint of the race for a place for the 2023 World Cup begins on Friday July 1 with the first two quarter-finals of the 2022 Rugby Africa Cup. In Marseille, Ivory Coast face Zimbabwe. And under the leadership of their coach Edgar Babou, the Elephants intend to confirm their progress a little more.
From our special correspondent in Bourg-L’Étang,
« Ready, determined. “Two simple words hammered home with conviction in the ranks of the Ivorian XV. The light declines this Wednesday evening in Berre-L’Étang, where the selection of Côte d’Ivoire completes its preparation for the final phase of the Rugby Africa Cup. On the eve of facing Zimbabwe in the quarter-finals, Edgar Babou observes his men and assures him: they are ready for the challenge that awaits them.
Côte d’Ivoire is not ” only three games away of a new participation in the Rugby World Cup, recalls the coach. The first, and so far only, dates back to 1995 and this edition organized in South Africa. Since, with the formidable Springboks triple world champions (1995, 2007 and 2019), the other representative of the African continent in the World Cup has always been Namibia.
This summer, on the occasion of the Africa Cup organized in France, in Marseille and Aix-en-Provence, the Ivorians are aiming for victory, and therefore the qualifying ticket for the next World Cup. The team that will win the final on July 10 will play the next World Cup in France, and will appear in the pool of Les Bleus, Italy, Uruguay and New Zealand.
The feat against Namibia inspires Ivory Coast
For this quarter-final crucial and important Facing the Zimbabweans, Edgar Babou advances with certainty. His players are ready. The Ivorians have followed several courses since the beginning of the year with this objective. ” We worked very hard physically, at high intensity on the repetition of tasks. We are aware of our strengths. We studied the Zimbabwe team tactically. We come with great humility but above all with great determination “says the coach.
Humility is essential because Zimbabwe is not an opponent to be taken lightly. In the ranking of the best nations in the oval, the Sables are in 27th place, while the Elephants appear in 42nd. Ambition is thus tinged with ” respect ».
« Zimbabwe is a very dangerous team, it has almost the same profile as Namibia, which is a former province of South Africa. They have the same philosophy, this strength, this speed, this power and above all this aggressiveness », Analyzes the technician.
The parallel with Namibia is not insignificant. In July 2021, in the previous round of the Africa Cup, Côte d’Ivoire had achieved the feat by winning 24-13 in Abidjan. The Elephants’ last success against the Welwitschias dates back to 1994. This victory did the Ivorian team a world of good.
« She unlocked the players psychologically. Namibia, for 20 years, has played the leading roles behind South Africa. We were the first team to beat them in a long time. It is the reward of a work started several years ago », explains Edgar Babou.
« Ivorian rugby is on an upward phase »
Arrived at the head of the selection in 2018, the coach has largely participated in the return to form of the Elephants. Moribund a few years ago, far from the level of the 1995 veterans, the national team has regained its colours, along with all of Ivorian rugby. Edgar Babou rebuilt a group that needed new blood:
« We went to look at the under 20s, in the Ivorian championships and also among the hopefuls and the youth teams here in France, in Pro D2 (the second division), in National (the third division) and in Federal 1 ( the fifth division). This allowed us to renew the team, and it worked tirelessly. In the team that beat Namibia last year, seven players were under 23. This shows that despite this youth and a small lack of experience, we were able to achieve a very big feat. »
Edgar Babou also wanted to provide the selection with an adequate framework: ” I increased our staff. Before, we only had two or three people. Now, we are almost ten speakers, because the high level is also details. I went for these skills. »
Ivorian rugby can also rely on the work of the national federation. ” Things are getting better first and foremost by starting with the basics “, declares the coach, who salutes” focus on developing rugby schools “under the mandate of Elvis Tano, in office since 2015. “ A Youth Commission has been created to manage the organization and development of rugby schools for children aged 6 to 14-16. This made it possible to detect young people. Rugby, even if it remains a minority in Côte d’Ivoire, is on an upward phase “, he appreciates.
Edgar Babou, who has not forgotten the enthusiasm of the supporters when the Elephants tamed the Namibians in Grand Bassam on July 3, 2021, hopes to see the result of these advances again in this Africa Cup. He expects a first match very difficult ” but repeats at will that Côte d’Ivoire ” has only one goal: to win ».