Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

My Namibia nightmare

As Ireland prepare for their opening World Cup game against Namibia, Ulster hero Keith Crossan relives his unhappy memories of the minnows

It remains one of the most embarrassing episodes in Irish rugby history. So painful that former Ulster and Ireland wing Keith Crossan has attempted, subconsciously or not, to eradicate all memories of it.

It was the summer of 1991 and Ireland, as part of their preparations for the World Cup that autumn, undertook a two-match tour of Namibia, a nation that had only just been recognised by the International Rugby Board the previous season.

Previously Namibian players had played in South Africa's Currie Cup and if, good enough, could represent the Springboks.

Their rugby independence came too late for Namibia to qualify for the World Cup in 1991 but hardened by regular, tough competition in the Currie Cup, they won their first 10 Test matches, including two wins over Italy, five victories over Zimbabwe and one against Portugal in Lisbon.

And, remarkably, two Tests against Ireland. Up until 2003, when Ireland gained revenge with a crushing 64-7 victory in the World Cup pool match in Sydney, Namibia were the only country in world rugby to hold a 100 per cent record against Ireland.

Not even the mighty All Blacks could claim such a feat, having seen their 100 per-cent win ratio against the Irish spoiled by a 10-10 draw at Lansdowne Road in back 1973.

At the 1991 World Cup Ireland, of course, came agonisingly close to a place in the semi-final when Michael Lynagh's late touchdown cancelled out Gordon Hamilton's stunning try at Lansdowne Road in the seismic quarter-final encounter.

But it was little thanks to the torrid experience the men in green suffered in Africa.

"I think I have subconsciously erased memories of that tour," said Keith Crossan, the former Ireland wing who spent most of the three weeks in Namibia suffering from acute food poisoning.

" We were based in a hotel which at least had a pool but was in the middle of nowhere. It was scorching hot and the grounds were rock hard which took a lot to get used to and seemed rather unusual preparation given that the World Cup was going to be played at home in the autumn when the conditions would be completely different.

"And there was just nothing else to do. We were in camp most of the time.

"Then a lot of people became ill after we went to a barbeque at the hotel. I think we were served antelope but nobody was really sure. It certainly wasn't your usual hamburger and sausages! Just big lumps of meat.

"The next day the toilets got plenty of visiting. We were dying a death for a couple of days coming up to the first Test and with the heat as well, it was incredibly draining. It was hard to get back to any sort of shape.

"For the midweek game in Keetmanshoop against Namibia South Sub Union, we spent the whole day on a bus travelling along a straight road and when we got there nobody spoke to us. It wasn't the most friendly place to go."

Crossan, a Triple Crown winner in 1982 and 1985, however refuses to attach too much importance to the challenging conditions and illness that struck the squad to, Ireland's reverses.

The tourists crashed to a 15-6 defeat in the first Test while the second Test was a 26-15 loss.

" They were a better side than we had expected," added Crossan. " They had a lot of players who had played in South Africa and they were in great physical condition. In better nick than we were. I remember their winger leaving me for dead a couple of times which was embarrassing to say the least.

"It is easy to put it down to the conditions and the food poisoning but we didn't play well."

Crossan is in no doubt Ireland will win convincingly again on Sunday at Chaban-Delmas, but leaves Ireland with a warning garnered from his painful experience in 1991.

"Namibia will be as pumped up as any of the teams," warned Crossan. " They will have some big monster men so the big telling point will be how clinical Ireland are. Everyone can be big and strong, it is about being smarter and having higher skill levels.

"Everyone will expect a big win for Ireland and hopefully that will be the case."

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