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Thread: Indian Ocean island rugby: Madagascar

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    Indian Ocean island rugby: Madagascar

    Indian Ocean island rugby: Madagascar

    By Jean-Luc Barthes, IRB Newsletter #9

    For whatever reason, rugby is the main team sport in the island of Madagascar, the ‘grand island’ as it is called, in the Indian Ocean. No rugby historian has come up with an explanation as to why the game has taken such a hold of the Malgache people, nor has anybody been able to explain why rugby thrives in islands, be they in the South Seas, the Indian Ocean or in the North Sea.

    The playing population of Madagascar - with 592,000 square kilometres of territory, nearly twice as large as Britain - is about 20,000, out of about 15 million inhabitants, of which 7,000 or more are not even in the books of the Malgache Federation of Rugby.

    I visited Madagascar for the first time in 1999 with a team from the neighbouring island of Reunion.
    After about a week of preparations, we arrived at the legendary stadium of ‘Malacam’ - built in 1940 by the French Railway engineers, and undergoing repairs ever since - for the first match against the youth team of Madagascar.
    The first surprise was the size of the crowd. Over 4,000 enthusiastic, noisy and competent supporters had crowded the little stand, by far the biggest crowd we had ever had for our matches.
    The second surprise was the size of the Malgache players. As we talked amongst ourselves after the warm-up, they were not going to be a problem given their size and bodyweight – not taller than 175 cm and heavier than 70 kilos.
    How wrong we were in our assessment was to be the third and the biggest surprise of a rather emotional day.
    The velocity and the strength of the Malgache players defied their slight frame, while their tackling was ferocious to say the least. They counter-attacked every time they laid their hands on the ball and their unorthodox style and enthusiasm made us watch in utter amazement. Then, a few minutes before the end of the match, which we were winning narrowly, the crowd left the stand to surround the playing surface.
    The spectators were very loud and agitated, chanting slogans in support of their team. I feared the worst as the referee blew the whistle to end an entertaining match. But nothing unpleasant happened. Amazingly, the public calmed down instantly and joined the players on the field chatting amicably, shaking hands, exchanging congratulations and clapping the two teams to the dressing rooms.
    A few days later, we thought we knew what to expect when we played against ‘the Makis’, the Madagascar national team, at the grand Mamach stadium. A crowd of 20,000 filled the stands and for Reunion players, used to playing in front of their families and friends, this was a bit of a shock.
    We had experienced already the uncompromising nature of the Malgache players, but the test was another story altogether.
    We were taken aback by the ferocity of the tackling, the brutal confrontation in the scrum and the total commitment of the Malgache players, running from everywhere at us at 100 miles an hour for the whole duration of the game. The public went positively wild and the entire atmosphere reminded me of the gladiatorial battles in the circuses of ancient Rome.

    A few months later I returned to Antananarivo for a coaching course, at which my ‘Malgache education programme’ continued. The course was an eye opener about competence and pride, about tradition and respect. Attended by 50 passionate and competent coaches working with the 140 teams in Antananarivo, the course was an outstanding example of international cooperation at its best.
    The manuals of Pierre Villepreux who has run several courses in the country are read with religious fervour by the knowledgeable and passionate Malgache coaches.

    My third visit, this time as an IRB Development official, enabled me to understand that all that has been achieved in Malgache rugby, the ever growing numbers, the commitment of players and coaches and public, everything that makes Madagascar a genuine rugby heaven, has been done against enormous odds, despite shortages and poverty, lack of facilities and playing kit.
    I visited the training facilities of the two top teams in the Antananarivo league: one trains on a dirt track, a disused construction site in the middle of a housing estate, which has been cleaned and made playable by the players themselves, and the other on a field covered by 20 cm of water all the time.
    I have not heard anybody complaining and the commitment in training of the players and coaches had to be seen to be believed.
    This is why Madagascar is one of my favourite rugby destinations, and like many other African countries where rugby is thriving, a place where poverty, shortages and lack of facilities do not affect the enthusiasm and passion of the practicants.
    Aren’t we privileged to be involved in such a game?!

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    Absolutely fascinating Burgs!

    I never knew that Madagascar's favourite sport would be Rugby. A lot of mines have always been dug, so I have no doubt it would have been spread from over-seas investment in mining into Madagascar.

    The miners would have played Rugby.

    Keep these good articles running!

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    Great article Burgs.
    I am travelling to Madagasar with a school group, throughout our month long travels we will be engaging in activities that benefit the local communities in madagscar, do rekon its worth organising a games in the local communities that we will be visiting? Also do u have any travel tips/hotels/towns that you would recommend in madagascar?
    thanks very much

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    masagascar 2 comes out in december
    gonna be an awsome movie!

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    Champion BLR's Avatar
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    I think Madagascar were featured in the World Cup qualifying show before WC 07, it was fascinating watching the style of the African nations, they really did play exciting running rugby, alot of which we have lost since Professional rugby....

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    Veteran robyn <3's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jono View Post
    masagascar 2 comes out in december
    gonna be an awsome movie!
    hehe LOOOOVEEE that movie!!

    i never knew they played rugby there! thats so cool!

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    A kick in this game is like a rather nasty alcoholic shooter, only as good as it's chaser...
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    last time i was in Zim we were embarrassed by the Madagascans who humbled us and tumbled the Zim team out of world cup contention, if we had won that match we would have been a good chance to beat Namibia and qualify for RWC03.

    they really were ferocious little players, reminded me of duracel bunnies just kept going and going......

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    Quote Originally Posted by BLR View Post
    exciting running rugby, alot of which we have lost since Professional rugby....
    And which the Wallabies are about to rediscover.

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    Veteran Contributor fulvio sammut's Avatar
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    Burgs, tell us about your Madagascaran experiences, please...

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    Champion KenyaQuin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zimeric View Post
    last time i was in Zim we were embarrassed by the Madagascans who humbled us and tumbled the Zim team out of world cup contention, if we had won that match we would have been a good chance to beat Namibia and qualify for RWC03.

    they really were ferocious little players, reminded me of duracel bunnies just kept going and going......
    Yes, still are ferocious and have beaten Kenya a couple of times since, and normally an international home game in Madagascar pulls in over 30000 spectators in some instances.

    What a lot of people wouldn't know simply because it does not make it to international press is that there is a pretty good African annual competition along the lines of the Pacific Nations Cup known as the Confederation of Africa Rugby's (CAR) Africa Cup (this year will act as the African qualifiers to the 2011 World Cup).

    As a matter of interest, according to the IRB rankins as at 9 June 2008, the top 10 African Nations (excluding South Africa) are:

    1. Namibia (ranked 26 in the world)
    2. Morocco (28)
    3. Uganda (31)
    4. Tunisia (32)
    5. Kenya (40)
    6. Ivory Coast (42)
    7. Madagascar (43)
    8. Zimbabwe (56)
    9. Senegal (66)
    10. Zambia (71)

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    Quote Originally Posted by fulvio sammut View Post
    Burgs, tell us about your Madagascaran experiences, please...

    Now, now.. Fulvio.

    Is Madagascaran a word. Or would it be Madagascan?

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    Quote Originally Posted by fulvio sammut View Post
    Burgs, tell us about your Madagascaran experiences, please...
    I have seen it in an atlas and will fly over it at about 20,000 feet in a few weeks.
    I think Jean-Luc Barthes who wrote the article for the IRB has a bit more knowledge though.

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    Champion BLR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Burgs View Post
    I have seen it in an atlas and will fly over it at about 20,000 feet in a few weeks.
    I think Jean-Luc Barthes who wrote the article for the IRB has a bit more knowledge though.
    That never stops most other journalists from writing a good yarn.

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