Heidelberg - Mike Ford, a former British and Irish Lions
defence coach, admits it's humbling to help Germany's part-timers prepare for
their once-in-a-lifetime chance to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Ford, who has also worked with the England and Ireland
national teams, has been brought in as Germany's head coach for the repechage
tournament in Marseille against Canada, Kenya and Hong Kong which starts on
The tournament will decide the last remaining berth for the
2019 World Cup and the repechage winner will join powerhouses New Zealand and
South Africa, plus Italy and Namibia, in Group B in Japan.
This is the closest Germany have ever come to Rugby World
Cup qualification and Ford, the Lions' defence coach in New Zealand in 2005, is
putting together their game plan for the one-off tournament.
Much is at stake for the German Rugby Union.
Having already pumped in millions of euros, their wealthy
backer Hans-Peter Wild, the owner of Stade Francais in Paris, has only promised
to financially support the national XV team until the Marseille tournament.
Geography is also an issue as Ford, England's defence coach
when they lost the 2007 World Cup final to South Africa, is working with a
squad of semi-pro players scattered across clubs in Germany, France and
However, the ex-Bath and Toulon head coach promises
Germany's part-timers will be the "hungriest" of the four teams
fighting for a ticket to Japan.
"The commitment the players show is humbling, they
aren't paid much, but they do it because they love the game and want this
opportunity," Ford said after a training session in Heidelberg.
"You coach the top teams around the world, then you
come to Germany where you are back down to coaching players who are part-time.
"They get up early in the morning, do a shift here with
the coaches, go to work, then have team training at night.
"Hopefully we can surprise the other teams in Marseille
with our heart, commitment and our game plan.
"It's an exciting and unique challenge - we'll be the
best prepared team there and the hungriest."
Luck, a bizarre set of circumstances and a multi-layered
qualification process combined to give Germany one last chance to go to Japan.
A strike by the senior national squad, over a dispute about
funding, meant an inexperienced team, largely made up of young fringe players
and Sevens specialists, lost all five games in this year's Rugby Europe
Championships - the level below the Six Nations.
Germany finished last, but were catapulted up to third in
the table after Spain, Belgium and Romania were all deducted points for
fielding ineligible players.
Third place meant a two-legged qualifier for a direct Rugby
World Cup place against Samoa, whose Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele
Malielegaoi demanded victory claiming Germany "has no knowledge whatsoever
on how to play rugby".
Even though their senior players ended their strike and
returned, Germany were still thumped 66-15 in the first-leg in Apia.
A battling display in the return in Heidelberg saw Germany
lead 28-21 with 14 minutes to go before Samoa pulled away with three late tries
in a 42-28 victory - a sobering 108-43 aggregate defeat for the Germans.
Now Germany, the lowest ranked of the four teams in
Marseille, play Hong Kong on Sunday November 11, Canada on November 17 and
Kenya on November 23 to decide which of the quartet goes to Japan.
"It's a fantastic chance, but a bit of a weird one,
given the disqualification of teams, but now we have the opportunity, we want
to take it with both hands," said Germany captain and scrum-half Sean
Armstrong, 31, who moved over from Brisbane a decade ago.
"It'd be huge if we qualify for the World Cup - the
biggest thing that has ever happened in the history of rugby here."
No stone has been left unturned in the hunt for a World Cup
Ex-England lock Mouritz Botha, who was born in South Africa,
came in last year as forwards and defence coach, while Australian Paul Healy,
technical advisor to Uruguay at the 2003 World Cup, coaches the attack.
"Something I tell the guys is that we need something
like this to kick-start rugby here," said Botha, the ex-Saracens and
Newcastle lock, who made the last of 10 appearances for England in 2012.
"When I was growing up in 1995, when South Africa won
the World Cup, those guys were my idols and my dream started to become a
professional rugby player.
"The same thing can happen here. Those dreams will
start now for young kids here.
"If we do qualify, in 10 or 15 years from now, the real
benefit will show."