Eugene Jantjies wrote his name in the rugby history books. Photo: Matthew Childs/Reuters

HIGASHI-OSAKA – After almost quitting rugby in 2011, the veteran scrum-half Eugene Jantjies becomes the first Namibian to play in four World Cups.

In 2011, he had to give serious thoughts to the physical and financial demands of the sport in his homeland.

But on Sunday against Italy, he deservedly wrote his name into the record books of his proud nation.

By stepping on to the field in the second half and helping Namibia finish the game strongly by playing a key role in two finely crafted team tries, the 33-year-old veteran of 2007, 2011 and 2015 became the first Namibian to appear at four World Cups.

Since making his debut against Kenya in May 2006, aged 20, Jantjies has won 68 caps and played club rugby in Romania, South Africa and currently for the Windhoek Draught Welwitschias based in the Namibian capital.

In a country with fewer than 900 registered players, the vast majority of whom have to juggle full-time jobs to pay the bills, it is an achievement that deserves special recognition.

"It's not getting easier," Jantjies said. "It's hard to go through this for four World Cups. Sometimes you want to give up. I wanted to give up in 2011 after the second one because of money issues and politics. But then I thought, I can still run, I can still play, and I just kept going."

The 33-year-old is now just one tournament behind rugby royalty Sergio Parisse, who joined Italian compatriot Mauro Bergamasco (1999-2015) and Samoa's Brain Lima (1991-2007) on five World Cups in the Azzurri's 47-22 win over Namibia on Sunday.

Jantjies credits his remarkable longevity in such an uncompromising sport to an attitude built around the words "believe, trust, laugh and unity", words he has had tattooed across his body as a daily reminder to stay focused through Namibia's many highs and lows.

"It was hard when I was younger and it's still hard to play rugby at this level now but I still enjoy it," he said. "If you enjoy it, why not?"

Despite the challenges he and his compatriots have faced over the past four years, Jantjies believes Namibia are the best prepared they have ever been for a World Cup, while he points to their Nations Cup victory over Uruguay in July as further evidence that they can finally earn a first World Cup victory.

"World Rugby gave us support with coaching staff and that's helped us a lot going into this World Cup. In the past, there was no continuity. Now we have a young team which is why we should be able to qualify for the next tournament.

"That win against Uruguay gave us belief because they were ranked higher than us. It showed us we can win games and control games. What we took from the Nations Cup will help us. I just hope we can deliver.

"Right now my main purpose is to get a win against Canada (in Namibia's final] pool match on Sunday, 13 October). That's our aim. Hopefully, we have no injuries and can go into that game with a full squad."

Was he looking beyond 2019 to a fifth World Cup tournament?

"I just want to do my part, leave (rugby) in a good place. I want to know when I'm done that it's something I did, that I played for fun. I just want to leave a legacy and see our country still on the map and appearing at World Cups long into the future." 

African News Agency (ANA)