“Algeria qualifying would be great,” admitted Fennecs head coach Boris Bouhraoua

After beating Senegal on Saturday, Algeria are just two wins away from the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France. A dream that the Fennecs head coach, Boris Bouhraoua, wants to fulfill. He confides in RMC Sport ahead of Wednesday’s next meeting against Kenya.

Boris, is it a relief to beat Senegal (35-12) on Saturday to open the Rugby Africa Cup?

Yes, completely. The whole group is relieved. The pressure on the players was enormous. It’s always very difficult to start in this type of tournament with three elimination games in ten days. We are a selection and as you can imagine we have difficulty seeing each other. We did a two-week prep course and immediately had this playoff match. This is difficult for players to achieve. Above all, we knew that Senegal is a big team with many physical challenges. We were a bit upset in the first half, especially with our conquest. A few doubts have arisen. We were a bit tense in the first half and had to establish our rhythm early in the game.

Qualifying schedule is crazy this week…

Yes, we knew that from the start. As I have told players, you need to get out of all the codes you know at the club. It’s an unprecedented competition with three high-intensity matches in ten days. Players are not used to this. Some haven’t played for two months since the championships ended. We took that into account and tried to calculate an increase in performance for the team with all employees. We knew the first game was going to be the hardest and we’ll ramp up on Wednesday and then we’ll be ready to do it again on Sunday. We think step by step.

How do you live this adventure? Can you enjoy this week?

Yes, since I took over the rugby project in November the most important thing has been the unity and spirit of the team to build something strong. We are here to serve the federation and bring a positive vision to the whole country and the children playing rugby in Algeria. Yes, competition is important, but it’s just one step in building the federation and our performance for the national team. We have one goal beyond this tournament. But of course we enjoy it because the group evolves, there are interactions between us every day and we have a good time. Sometimes it is hard. Saturday night in the dressing room we said things for Wednesday’s game. But we talk a lot.

What does rugby represent in Algeria?

It’s something pretty vague to the general public, a really unknown sport. The Algerian team consists of bi-national players, everyone knows that. We are proud of that. Players come here out of pride, to represent their culture and dual nation. We represent Algeria, but we all know that we were educated in France. Since we are all for the national team. We want to present a positive image because we are watched a lot in Algerian territory, where there are now thirteen clubs. We are very followed by the media and want to give an image of martial arts and solidarity and show that we know how to play rugby. Of course, there is also the look of French rugby. Players play in France, some in the top 14, or in Pro D2. We talk a lot about this expectation.

“France-Algeria in Marseille in 2023, maybe fate”

Is it easy to convince these players to wear the Algeria shirt?

It’s clear that they’re striving to qualify for the World Cup, but how we’re going to do that, we had to settle a few things. In constructing a framework and rules of life, but of course also a game project, it was necessary to connect the players and refocus the message to get everyone who is now in the same boat to get involved. We now want to validate things.

What would qualifying for the World Cup in Algeria mean?

I’ll be a little off in the answer, but it would be something great. All players watched World Cups when they were little. It’s a great goal. It’s an unreachable limit, it’s up to us to try to make it reachable and real. It would be great for rugby in Algeria, of course, for the players, but we want it to be a reality. We touch it, there are two big games left, first Kenya who are a very big side with very fast players before we talk about the second opponent. The World Cup is a dream, reality is Wednesday. We will play between the two.

The story would be great with a possible France-Algeria on September 21, 2023 in Marseille…

Yeah, when we say that, it seems a little unreal. We’re preparing for that and really putting the game back at the center of the debate. The story was going to be great, the culmination of fifteen years. The Algerian FA is very young and today we are faced with a historical fact that would go beyond rugby. It may be destiny, we believe in it. (smile) If there’s a tiny chance, we’ll take it.

How did you, as an individual, come to this adventure?

I was asked by Sofiane Ben Hassen, the federation president, and Ousmane Mané, the coach. They told me they wanted me to take the reins and steer the athlete. I knew it would happen one day and that I would if I had the chance. It came earlier than expected and I jumped at the chance. We are volunteers, it is with passion that we do this. I had the chance and the right to build my staff, I have the keys to being an athlete and that’s why I took on this project. I also have the opportunity to work with Thomas Lombard at the Stade Français, who promised me (note: he is the Paris club’s training and rugby director). He is my employer and I thank him for living this passionate story.

Interview by Jean-François Paturaud

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