After beating Senegal on Saturday, Algeria is just two wins away from the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France. A dream that the head coach of the Fennecs, Boris Bouhraoua, wants to realize. He confides in RMC Sport for the next meeting against Kenya on Wednesday.
Boris, is the victory over Senegal (35-12) on Saturday at the start of the Rugby Africa Cup a relief?
Yeah totally. The whole group is relieved. There was a lot of pressure on the players. It’s always very difficult to get into this kind of tournament, with three elimination matches in ten days. We are a selection and you can imagine that we struggle to see each other. We did a two week prep course and right away we had this playoff game. This is difficult for players to access. Above all, we knew that Senegal was a big team with a lot of physical challenges. We were a little upset in the first half, especially about our conquest. Some doubts have arisen. We were a bit tense in the first half and had to impose our rhythm at the start of the game.
The qualifying schedule is crazy this week…
Yes, we knew that from the start. As I’ve told the players, you need to get into the club from all the codes you know. It is an unprecedented competition with three intensive matches in ten days. Players are not used to that. Some have not played for two months with the end of the championships. We took this into account and tried to calculate a power increase for the team with all the staff. We knew the first game would be the hardest and we’ll scale up on Wednesday and then we’ll be ready to do it again on Sunday. We think step by step.
How do you experience this adventure? Can you taste this week?
Yes, since I took over the rugby project in November, the most important thing is the cohesion and the spirit of the team to build something strong. We are here to serve the federation and bring a positive vision to the whole country and the children playing rugby in Algeria. Yes, competition is important, but it is only one step in building the federation and our performance for the national team. We have a goal after this tournament. But of course we enjoy because the group is evolving, there is interaction between us every day and we have a good time. Sometimes it is difficult. Saturday night we said things in the locker room before Wednesday’s game. But we talk a lot.
What does rugby represent in Algeria?
It’s something very vague to the general public, a really unknown sport. The Algerian team is made up of binational players, everyone knows that. We are proud of it. Players come here proudly to represent their culture and their dual nation. We represent Algeria, but we all know we were trained in France. We are all there for the national team. We want to give a positive image because we are being watched a lot on Algerian territory, where there are now thirteen clubs. We are very much followed by the media and we want to portray combative sport, solidarity and show that we know how to play rugby. There is, of course, also the aura of French rugby. The players play in France, some in the Top 14, or in Pro D2. We talk a lot about this expectation.
‘France-Algeria in Marseille in 2023, maybe fate’
Is it easy to convince these players to wear the Algeria jersey?
It is clear that they want to go towards the goal of qualifying for the World Cup, but how we go there we had to arrange a lot. With the construction of a framework and rules of life, but of course also of a game project, it was necessary to connect the players and reorient the message to allow everyone who is now in the same boat to follow. We now want to validate things.
What would qualifying for the World Cup in Algeria mean?
I’ll be a little off on the answer, but it would be something big. All players watched World Cups when they were little. It’s a brilliant goal. It’s an unattainable limit, it’s up to us to try and make it achievable and real. Of course it would be great for rugby in Algeria, for the players, but we want it to be reality. We’re touching it, there are still two big games to go, first Kenya, which is a very big team with very fast players, before we talk about the second opponent. The World Cup is a dream, the reality is Wednesday. We will play between the two.
The story would be brilliant with a possible France-Algeria on September 21, 2023 in Marseille…
Yes, when we say that, it seems a bit unreal. We are preparing for it and we are really putting the game back at the center of the debate. The story would be wonderful, the culmination of fifteen years. The Algerian Federation is very young and today we are faced with a historical fact that goes beyond rugby. It could be fate, we believe in it. (Smile) If there’s any chance, we’ll go get her.
How did you end up in this adventure as an individual?
I was asked by Sofiane Ben Hassen, the president of the federation, and Ousmane Mané, the coach. They told me they wanted me to take the reins and drive the sportsman. I knew it would happen one day, and I would if I had the chance. It came earlier than expected and I seized the opportunity. We are volunteers, it is out of passion that we do this. I had the opportunity and the right to build my staff, I have the keys to the sportsman 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 contract (note: he is director of training and rugby for the Parisian club). He is my employer and I thank him for living this passionate story.