For a few magical minutes yesterday a major upset – even bigger on rugby's Richter scale than the Argentine victory over the hosts France on Friday – looked on the cards. Ireland, who had brushed aside these same, mainly amateur, opponents 64-7 in the previous World Cup, endured a stern test.
To make their mood even blacker, it later emerged that Brian O'Driscoll had suffered a hyperextension of his right elbow and his arm was in a sling. The severity of the injury will be assessed in the next 24 to 48 hours but O'Driscoll said, "The discomfort comes and goes but there is no need for an X-ray."
Namibia's performance was clearly appreciated as the crowd stood to applaud at the final whistle. Sadly in the end, Namibia, fielding just six full-time professional rugby players, were just not good enough to prevail. But they had contributed mightily to a thoroughly entertaining match, in which Ireland made far too many errors.
Namibia emerged with heroes by the armful, not least their clever and quick-witted right winger Ryan Witbooi, who had a hand, or more correctly a foot, in both their tries and posed plenty of threat whenever he had the ball in hand with his mazy runs and little shoulder drops that wrong-footed defenders.
Ireland had opened their account soundly enough through a typical piece of brilliance from their captain O'Driscoll .
He gained possession in the fourth minute, but instead of opening it up and spinning the ball wide O'Driscoll chipped the advancing Namibian full-back Tertius Losper, then won the race to the touchdown. The fact that he landed supine did not faze him either; he had the presence of mind to bring the ball back over his head for the try which Ronan O'Gara then converted.
But Namibia were not to be intimidated. It did not take many in the 30,000 crowd very long to pledge their support to the underdogs, honouring them with the French supporters' chant of "Allez, Les Bleus". That support did not prevent Namibia from conceding a penalty under pressure which allowed O'Gara to increase Ireland's lead.
Another penalty a couple of minutes later saw Ireland adopt a completely different tactic. O'Gara tapped to himself then hoisted a kick to the far right-hand corner where Andrew Trimble gathered it over the line before dropping to the ground to touch down.
Namibia suffered a further, and fairly serious blow in the 24th minute when they lost their experienced openside Heino Senekal with an injury to his left knee. A penalty line-out to Ireland saw the forwards keep it tight before humping and bumping their way to the line and the flanker Simon Easterby got underneath everyone for try number three. Worryingly, O'Gara, who had missed the previous conversion, failed with this kick as well.
Back came Namibia. A counter-attack down the right by the winger Witbooi led to three further probes before Namibia rattled Ireland into giving away a couple of penalties, the second of which Emile Wessels finally converted at the end of the half.
There were howls and catcalls when the referee Joel Jutge awarded Ireland a penalty try after the break-up of another scrum early in the second half, a try which O'Gara did manage to convert. But the jeers turned to huge cheers midway through the half when the threat of Witbooi was realised. The right winger suddenly burst through and popped up a pass right on the Ireland line to reward the flanker Jacques Nieuwenhuis for his support play and Wessels converted.
Three minutes later the noise pollution levels were shattered when Witbooi sparked an attack that the centre Piet van Zyl kept going by hacking on before winning the chase to the touchdown. Wessels obliged with the kick and Ireland looked vulnerable.
It needed a huge slice of luck and not a little determined play from Ireland to reassert themselves. They did so late in the game when the replacement hooker Jerry Flannery was awarded a try in the left-hand corner, although he did not appear to have control of the ball as he crashed over the line. Again O'Gara missed the conversion, and it was pretty well all over by then, barring a deserved lap of honour to the rhythmic clapping and cheering of an appreciative crowd.
Ireland: G Dempsey; A Trimble, B O'Driscoll (capt; G Murphy, 80), G D'Arcy, D Hickie; R O'Gara (P Wallace, 80), P Stringer; M Horan (S Best, 64), R Best (J Flannery, 64), J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, S Easterby, D Wallace (N Best, 73), D Leamy.
Namibia: T Losper; R Witbooi (M Africa, 80), B Langenhoven, P van Zyl, H Bock; E Wessels, E Jantjies (J van Tonder, 52); K Lensing (capt; J Redelinghuys, 50-79), H Horn (J Meyer, 80), J du Toit, W Kazombiaze, N Esterhuize, J Nieuwenhuis, H Senekal (M MacKenzie, 24), J Burger (T du Plessis, 72-75).
Referee: J Jutge (France).Reuse content