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Eight African selections meet 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 being organized in France next year. Among them Senegal, Ivory Coast or Algeria hoping to shake up Namibia, the favorites of this tournament.
>>> Follow the Zimbabwe – Ivory Coast game live on the France 24 website on Friday 1 July at 20:30.
The Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region has invited itself onto the African rugby map. It houses 1ah on July 10 in Marseille and Aix-en-Provence, in two modest stadiums with 4,000 and 6,500 spectators respectively, eight African formations who will try to qualify for the next World Cup, which will be organized in France in 2023, and South Africa in particular join, 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 bids from Rugby Africa to host this qualifying phase. With the Rugby Africa Cup, the organizing committee has two objectives: to ensure the promotion of rugby in the region and to conduct a rehearsal for next year’s world competition.
“The idea is also to give African rugby more visibility and development,” explains Martine Nemecek, director of this tournament. Indeed, this competition will benefit from unprecedented media coverage and the African federations present will be offered training by the international rugby bodies, particularly in the areas of medical care and refereeing.
If transport and accommodation costs are borne by the organizers of the 2023 World Cup for the ten days of competition, the eight African selections have had to finance their preparations before this tournament. Most of them spend several weeks in France, visiting various French clubs, thanks to the links between some of their players or managers and French rugby.
An unprecedented media presence
The Namibians have chosen to prepare in South Africa near Stellenbosch and only join France this week. When the decision to host the Rugby Africa Cup in France was announced in March 2022, the Namibian FA made no secret of its refusal to travel to Europe. And she had unsuccessfully asked Rugby Africa to reconsider its decision, arguing that the development of African rugby could not happen outside the continent.
Baky Meïté, former captain of the Côte d’Ivoire team, didn’t like the postponement of this competition either. “I wasn’t particularly into it. I said to myself: why host this qualifying phase and not Asia or America?” explains the former professional player, who retired from the sport last year.
After the election was confirmed, he joined the arguments of those who see an ‘universal opportunity’ for African rugby players. “I played completely anonymously with Côte d’Ivoire. It’s a great opportunity for the associations and the players who can show themselves,” estimates Baky Meïté, who emphasizes that the games will be televised in prime time in France. They are also broadcast on various channels in Africa.
However, Bary Meïté understands that this formula can create a certain sporting imbalance between teams. “We know that Ivory Coast, Senegal and Algeria rely on a strong diaspora of players playing in France,” adds Bakary Meïté. It was easier for these nations to bring international players together and prepare them for this competition.
A place in the France group
Such was the case for Algeria, who were preparing mainly in Gennevilliers, near Paris, before joining Aix-en-Provence where they will face Senegal on Saturday 2 July. The vast majority of players play in different divisions of French rugby. Many of them were born in France and have chosen to wear the jersey of their parents’ nation.
Algeria, which was officially admitted to World Rugby in May 2021, is the lowest-ranked selection among the eight participants in the Africa Cup of Nations. But it’s 90e place in the world is more due to its recent inclusion in this ranking than its true value. And she intends to show herself during this competition, which offers a qualifier for Group A of the World Cup, which features New Zealand, France, Italy and Uruguay. And if she succeeds, she will be able to play her duel on September 21, 2023 against France XV at the Velodrome Stadium in Marseille.
Namibia also wants to return to Marseille next year. She has played in the last seven World Cups and is the favorite at the African tournament, with several players in her ranks playing in French or English professional rugby. But she is wary of several formations in Provence, starting with Côte d’Ivoire, to whom she lost in the previous qualifying stage for the next World Cup last summer.
Zimbabwe, which just fell on the 27the World ranked, also dreams of competing in a World Championship again 32 years after he last competed. For the team that lost the final of this Rugby Africa Cup on July 10 in Aix en Provence, next November will offer one last chance to qualify during a repechage involving four teams from different continents. His winner will be the 20the and last country to qualify for the 2023 World Cup.
The Africa Rugby Cup program
1ah July, in Marseille: Namibia – Burkina Faso (6 p.m.) and Zimbabwe – Ivory Coast (9 p.m.)
2 July in Aix-en-Provence: Uganda – Kenya (3pm) and Senegal – Algeria (6pm)
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 (9pm)
July 10 in Aix-en-Provence (9 p.m.)