New Zealand's Samuel Whitelock, center, fights for the ball with...

New Zealand's Samuel Whitelock, center, fights for the ball with France's Matthieu Jalibert, left, during the Rugby World Cup Pool A match between France and New Zealand at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. Credit: AP/Lewis Joly

Success at the Rugby World Cup is measured very differently by New Zealand and Namibia.

For New Zealand, the tournament is a good one only if the cup is won.

For Namibia, its mere presence in France is a win.

Some players had to change jobs in order to get leave for a month to attend the tournament. The capital Windhoek centers the country, so coming to practice from up north can mean a drive of five hours; from the Atlantic coast, four hours; and from the south, seven hours.

“Wherever the players are situated, it's always a sacrifice,” coach Allister Coetzee said. "And that tells of the resilience of the people and how much they love rugby.

"Success for a Namibian team is once you overcome all the challenges and you get to a World Cup for a seventh time, that is already success in its own right. There are a couple of big nations not lucky to be here. We have worked hard and played ourselves into this competition again.

“There is a bigger calling for these gentlemen. They play to be role models for the future generations.”

France's Gabin Villiere, left, tries to hold back New Zealand's...

France's Gabin Villiere, left, tries to hold back New Zealand's Ardie Savea during the Rugby World Cup Pool A match between France and New Zealand at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. Credit: AP/Christophe Ena

The Namibians are unlikely to end their World Cup losing run — 23 games and counting since 1999 — on Friday against the All Blacks in Toulouse but they also won't go down wondering.

Both previous World Cup matches with the All Blacks were one-sided; 58-14 in 2015 in London and 71-9 in 2019 in Tokyo. Namibia was outclassed each time but game, and played hard to the end. It is relishing another shot at the three-time world champion.

“It is something great for us,” scrumhalf Damian Stevens said. “We are fans of them, because we see them every weekend playing in the big competitions where we would like to play one day. But we are here now, so we can't look at them that way. We are competitors now. It will be a great experience to measure ourselves against those players to see where we can improve and what we can achieve.”

This is only Namibia's 13th test since the 2019 World Cup, all of them away from home. As extra help to prepare for the World Cup, many of the Namibians played as the Welwitschias in the second division of South Africa's Currie Cup. They went 3-6.

France's Gabin Villiere, left, tries to hold back New Zealand's...

France's Gabin Villiere, left, tries to hold back New Zealand's Ardie Savea during the Rugby World Cup Pool A match between France and New Zealand at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. Credit: AP/Christophe Ena

“There are not a lot of guys to pick from so when we get together we are a really tight-knit group,” Namibia's former Wallabies back-rower Richard Hardwick said. “The belief in our game plan is there. It's just the execution.”

The All Blacks are working on improving their execution, too. Their 27-13 loss to France last Friday was their first-ever pool defeat in 36 years. The scrum was shaky, the kick-chase was poor, and their discipline went to pieces; 12 penalties and a yellow card conceded to France two weeks after they gave to South Africa 14 penalties and one red card and one yellow.

New Zealand can't afford to lose another pool game, and shouldn't with Italy and Uruguay to come, but it has to start fixing its problems at Namibia's expense.

“We have to rebound from round one,” New Zealand coach Ian Foster said. “It is a key game for us to get right.”

New Zealand has made 10 changes, one positional, after the France loss. One of the players retained, lock Sam Whitelock, will equal Richie McCaw's New Zealand caps record of 148. In test rugby, only retired great Alun Wyn Jones has played more — 171 for Wales and the British and Irish Lions.

Namibia lost to Italy 52-8 in Saint-Etienne on Saturday. A first-half yellow card was costly, and it struggled in mauls and scrums. The conditioning faded, too, as Italy scored three tries in the last 10 minutes.

Eight Namibians from the 2019 loss to New Zealand are back again. They have set little goals with a larger one in mind: Beating Uruguay in their last pool game.

___

Lineups:

New Zealand: Beauden Barrett, Caleb Clarke, Anton Lienert-Brown, David Havili, Leicester Fainaga’auku, Damian McKenzie, Cam Roigard; Ardie Savea (captain), Dalton Papali'i, Luke Jacobson, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Nepo Laulala, Samisoni Taukei'aho, Ofa Tu'ungafasi. Reserves: Dane Coles, Ethan de Groot, Fletcher Newell, Scott Barrett, Tupou Vaa'i, Aaron Smith, Richie Mo'unga, Rieko Ioane.

Namibia: Cliven Loubser, Gerswin Mouton, Johan Deysel (captain), Le Roux Malan, Divan Rossouw, Tiaan Swanepoel, Damian Stevens; Richard Hardwick, Prince Gaoseb, Wian Conradie, Tjiuee Uanivi, Johan Retief, Johan Coetzee, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Jason Benade. Reserves: Louis van der Westhuizen, Desiderius Sethie, Haitembu Shifuka, PJ van Lill, Adriaan Booysen, Max Katjijeko, Jacques Theron, JC Greyling.

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