After beating Senegal on Saturday, Algeria are just two wins away from the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France. A dream that wants to achieve the head coach of the Fennecs, Boris Bouhraoua. Ahead of Wednesday’s upcoming match against Kenya, he told RMC Sport.
Boris, is the victory against Senegal (35-12) on Saturday, at the start of the African Rugby Cup, a relief?
Yes, completely. The whole group is relieved. There was a lot of pressure on the players. It is always very difficult to start this type of tournament, with three qualifiers in ten days. We are a selection and you can imagine how hard it is for us to see each other. We did a two week preparation course and immediately had this playoff game. This is difficult to approach players. Above all, we knew that Senegal was a great team with a lot of physical challenge. We were a little upset in the first half, especially with our conquest. Some doubts have arisen. We were a little tense in the first half and to impose our pace at the start of the match.
The schedule to qualify is crazy this week …
Yes, we knew it from the beginning. As I told the players, you need to get out of all the codes you know at the club. It is an unprecedented competition with three high-intensity matches in ten days. Players are not used to this. Some two months ago without playing with the end of the championships. We took that into account and tried to calculate with the whole staff a power surge for the team. We knew the first game would be the hardest and on Wednesday we will go up again and then we are ready to do it again on Sunday. Think step by step.
How do you experience this adventure? Can you savor this week?
Yes, since I took on the rugby project in November, the most important thing is the cohesion and mood of the team to build something strong. We are here to serve the federation and bring a positive outlook for the whole country and the children who play rugby in Algeria. Yes the competition is important, but it is only a step to build the federation and our performance for the selection. We have a goal beyond this tournament. But of course we savor it because the group evolves, every day there are interactions between us and we have a good time. Sometimes it’s hard. Saturday night we said things in the locker room for Wednesday’s game. But we talk a lot.
What does rugby represent in Algeria?
It’s a pretty vague thing for the general public, a really unknown sport. The Algerian team is made up of binational players, everyone knows that. We are proud of that. Players come here out of pride to represent their culture and their dual nation. We represent Algeria but we all know that we trained in France. There, we are all for selection. We want to give a positive image because they look at us a lot in the Algerian territory, where today there are thirteen clubs. The media follow us a lot and we want to provide an image of a combative, supportive sport and show that we know how to play rugby. There’s also the aspect of French rugby, of course. Players play in France, some in the Top 14, or the Pro D2. We talk a lot about this expectation.
“France-Algeria in Marseille in 2023, perhaps the destination”
Is it easy to convince these players to wear the Algerian shirt?
Obviously they want to go towards the goal of qualifying for the World Cup, but on how we go we have had to regulate a lot. With the construction of a framework and rules of life, but also obviously of a game project, it was necessary to connect the players and refocus the message to get everyone who is now on the same ship to adhere to it. Now we want to validate things.
What would it mean to qualify for the World Cup in Algeria?
I’m going to be a little out of the answer, but it would be something great. All the players saw the World Cup when they were little. It is a magnificent goal. It is an unattainable limit, it is up to us to try to make it possible and real. Obviously, it would be great for Algerian rugby, for the players, but we want it to be the reality. We play it, there are two huge games left, first Kenya which is a very big team with very fast players, before talking about the second rival. The World Cup is a dream, the reality is Wednesday. We will play between the two.
The story would be magnificent with a possible France-Algeria on September 21, 2023 in Marseille …
Yes, when we say that, it seems a little unreal. We are preparing for it and we are really putting the game back at the center of the debate. The story would be magnificent, the culmination of fifteen years. The Algerian federation is very young and today we are facing a historic event that would go beyond rugby. It can be destiny, we believe in it. (Smiles) If there is a small opportunity, we will look for it.
As a person, how did you get into this adventure?
I was asked by Sofiane Ben Hassen, president of the federation, and Ousmane Mané, the coach. I was told they wanted me to take the reins and pilot the athlete. I knew it would happen someday, and I would if I had the chance. He arrived earlier than expected and I took the opportunity. We are volunteers, we do it out of passion. I had the opportunity and the right to build my staff, I have the keys to the athlete and that is why I accepted this project. I also have the opportunity to work with Thomas Lombard at the Stade Français who gave me the deal (note: he is the training and rugby director of the Parisian club). He is my boss and I thank him for living this passionate story.