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“These are exciting times for rugby in the Netherlands,” says Gareth Gilbert

Netherlands men’s under-20 team ran in 51 points to defeat Kenya with a bonus point on Sunday in Scotland in the World Rugby Trophy event - and it was just the latest positive result for the sport in general in the country.

Earlier this year the full men’s Senior team finished fifth in the Rugby Europe Championship after a final 45-0 win over Germany while the women’s national team is on a real high having defeated Colombia 33-11 in March in Amsterdam.

That result means that they will be in the WXV 3 tournament with Fiji, Hong Kong China, Madagascar, Samoa and Spain later in the year in Dubai.

Right now it is the aforementioned men’s under-20s taking centre stage at Hive Stadium in Edinburgh.

They reached this eight-team world event by winning the 2023 age-grade Rugby Europe Championship, defeating Belgium in the final 26-16.

Some of the players who got them here are too old now, but young players have come into things in their place and the pathway system in Netherlands is really starting to show its worth with talent aplenty coming through.

“These are exciting times for rugby in the Netherlands,” Gareth Gilbert, a South African who has been involved in rugby in the Netherlands for 14 years and who is head coach of the men’s under-20s.

“Rugby Netherlands, the governing body, have put a lot of time, effort and resources into the youth academies and pathways in the country and we are starting to see more and more good young players coming through these days.

“The players skillsets are growing at an earlier age while in terms of strength and conditioning we are starting to see strong results and players are getting more access to that type of coaching and knowledge at a younger age.

“Youngsters are coming into academies now from 12-years-old and spending five years or so really learning the game until they come into the national under-18 programme and this will only continue to go from strength to strength.

“There are six regional academies throughout the country right now and we have a centralised national senior academy for the best 18-23-year-olds that is starting soon.

“That senior academy will be massive for the growth of the game and we now have a pathway the whole way up from early teenage years to the national team and I think, over the next three or four years, we will see a big difference in the standard and number of players coming through.”

Gilbert and Rugby Netherlands are keen to get more girls into the pathway, but the infrastructure is now there for them to follow a similar path to the boys while WXV 3 involvement is only going to heighten interest.

“The academies and the senior academy are open to boys and girls and young men and young women so I really think we can reap the rewards of the set up in the next few years,” Gilbert added.

“The governing body are so keen to produce homegrown talent and that is certainly the way to go.

“In this squad here we have three players who are still under-18s, 13 under-19s and 12 under-20s and many of these guys will be the future for Netherlands rugby - and I think that future can be bright.”

So far in the World Rugby Trophy, Gilbert’s young charges have lost one and won one in the eight-team event to leave them second in Pool B.

“It was unfortunate that we saw our warm up games cancelled because it meant that we came into the opener against USA last Tuesday a bit cold,” Gilbert explained after a 44-33 defeat to the Americans at the home of Edinburgh Rugby.

“We were a bit off the pace and off in terms of physicality in the first half and, fair play to the USA, they punished us [leading 41-12 at the break].

“However, once the boys found their feet they really took the game to the opposition in the second half, but had just left too much to do unfortunately despite getting a four-try bonus point.

“That second half showing gave the players confidence though and they took that into the second game versus Kenya and played some really good rugby [winning 51-3].

“We moved the ball well and scored some nice tries. Now we have Uruguay up in our final pool match this Friday and we know they are a good side, but we feel that we are constantly improving and we feel there are areas where we can hurt them.

“I just want the boys to build on the good things we have done so far and if they do that then that’ll be great.

“The boys have learnt so much during this trip, even away from the games training up in St Andrews it has been an excellent base and has allowed us to work on lots of things.”

Finals day at the World Rugby Trophy is on July 17, next Wednesday.


By Gary Heatly 

Photos: World Rugby/Martin Flousek

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