Could Germany ever join the RBS 6 Nations?
Fresh from a winter victory over Uruguay, Germany took the Rugby Europe Championship by storm, defeating the Mighty Oaks of Romania, and securing a world ranking high of 22. But are we ever likely to see England v Germany in the RBS 6 Nations? We spoke to coach Kobus Potgieter to find out...
While Georgia rightly stole the headlines last week after defeating Russia in front of an incredible crowd of 55,000, the result of this Rugby Europe Championship campaign so far is undoubtedly Germany's shock win over Romania. Victory over Belgium followed, and while defeat against Spain last weekend may have spoiled the fairytale somewhat, Germany's rugby adventure is only just beginning.
With a billionaire backer, a growing player base, ever-increasing club numbers, and plans afoot for a first-ever fully professional side, Germany's plans go far beyond the odd shock result. Even with two wins from four in their maiden season (Georgia took full points against them) in Europe's second tier, coach Kobus Potgieter believes it should have been three. "Saturday wasn't a good result," he told the Rhino Locker Room, referencing the 32-15 defeat to Spain. "Before the campaign began we targeted two wins, and one of those was against Spain, but while it was a bump in the road we can be happy."
Germany's Jarrid Els on the charge against Belgium
Potgieter has been in Germany for nine years, coaching the national side for six, and was brought over from South Africa to run the Wild Rugby Academy. The organisation was set up to develop the sport across the country and is funded by the Capri-Sun billionaire Dr Hans-Peter Wild, who has pretty much single-handedly supported German rugby's rise in the rankings. Not that he didn't have anything to work with, as Kobus explains, "I was surprised by the quality of the players actually," he admits. "They had some good skills but just a lack of professionalism, but they weren't in a bad state at all. I think there was something like 8,000 players but now we've got more like 13-15,000 and we have 120 clubs and there were a lot less then."
Germany's defeat of Rugby World Cup participants Uruguay last year was a reflection of the country's growing love of rugby. The fact the Rugby World Cup was broadcast on a main television station was another sign, and attracting crowds of up to 8,000 another positive – especially as figures were closer to the 1,000 mark when Kobus arrived.
"I think what we need first to get to the stage where Georgia are playing the likes of Italy and Scotland every year. How they compete will then make it easier for other decisions to get made."
It's not quite the level of Rugby Europe Championship leaders Georgia with their 55,000, but it's a step in the right direction. "Georgia are a few steps ahead in this competition," he admits, "I know there's a lot of talk about contesting in the Six Nations but I think what we need first is to get to the stage where Georgia are playing the likes of Italy and Scotland every year. How they compete will then make it easier for other decisions to get made.
"Over the last few years the Rugby Europe Championship has been getting a lot more media attention, and having a promotion/relegation game between the Six Nations would certainly promote the second tier sides around the world. It will be a good thing but I think we're a bit far away from having the squad to compete just yet. Funding has to be looked at too, if you look at what the Six Nations side get, then compare it to the six below and then the six below them, it's frightening."
Germany have effectively gone from facing the likes of Poland and Holland to beating an established outfit such as Romania laden with professionals
However, they have come a long way in a short time. Promotion to Europe's second tier last year saw Germany become the first side to go straight back down in 35 years. They've effectively gone from facing the likes of Poland and Holland to beating an established outfit such as Romania laden with professionals. "Nobody thought what we've done is possible, certainly not the country itself – but now the pressure is on, expectation is there and we have to keep winning. I've been trying to get people to keep perspective, to keep their heads down and get on with things, but people expect more already."
Kobus Potgieter, coach of the German national side
The next step for Germany is a first professional side. "We've got the finance in place to have a fully professional side," explains Kobus. "We're just waiting for Rugby Europe to give us the go ahead to set up a league playing against sides from countries such as Georgia, Russia and Romania. We're ready to go, we have the training facilities, we have the pitch and ground here in Heidelberg (German rugby's Twickenham)."
Whereas Kobus would like his players to experience professional rugby in Britain, Ireland and France, he's wary of the problems it can cause. "They don't always get released unfortunately," he say, referring to the professionals currently plying their trade in the Rugby Europe Championship. "Clubs ultimately speak to the player and put pressure on, so it's hard for them."
"We do get asked a lot about England v Germany and if it could happen, well, never say never, we're perhaps a few years away right now."
The German rugby heartlands runs across Heidelberg, Cologne, Berlin, Frankfurt and Hanover, with the latter being home to the oldest club, DSV 78 Hanover, a side formed by English students back in 1878. Heritage they have, finance they have, and the natural talent, plus with rugby on the television and spectator numbers rising, Germany are hoping to be next in line when Georgia (surely) break through. "We're fourth now, we want to be third next year so we can push on for the Rugby World Cup repechage," outlines Kobus. "We do get asked a lot about England v Germany and if it could happen, well, never say never, we're perhaps a few years away right now. But this is only the start and we've got a long way to go before we reach our true potential."