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“Exciting times for rugby in the Netherlands,” says Gareth Gilbert

The Netherlands men’s under-20 team claimed a bonus point by beating Kenya by 51 points at the Rugby World Cup in Scotland on Sunday, the latest positive result for the sport in the country.

Earlier this year, the men’s national team finished fifth in the Rugby Europe Championship after a 45-0 win over Germany, while the women’s national team achieved a great success in March when they beat Colombia 33-11 in Amsterdam.

This result means they will feature in the WXV 3 tournament to be held in Dubai later in the year alongside Fiji, Hong Kong, China, Madagascar, Samoa and Spain.

Currently occupying the stage at the Hive Stadium in Edinburgh is the aforementioned Men’s Under 20 Team.

They reached this world championship, in which eight teams participated, by beating Belgium 26-16 in the final of the 2023 Age Group Rugby European Championship.

Some of the players who came here are now very old, but the young players have also fallen into place and the youth system in Holland is starting to show itself with a lot of talented players emerging.

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

“The governing body of Rugby Netherlands has invested a lot of time, effort and resources into youth academies and pathways in the country and we are seeing more and more good young players emerging these days.

“As players’ skill sets develop at an earlier age, we are starting to see strong results in terms of strength and conditioning, and players are getting more access to that type of coaching and information at a younger age.

“Youngsters now come into the academies from the age of 12 and learn the game for around five years before they get to the national under-18 programme and that will only get stronger.

“We currently have six regional academies across the country and a central national senior academy for the best 18-23 year olds starting soon.

“This senior academy is going to be hugely important for the development of the game and we now have a pathway from the early youth years all the way through to the national team and I think over the next three or four years we will see a big difference in the standard and the number of players coming through.”

Gilbert and Rugby Netherlands want more girls to take up this path, but the infrastructure is now in place for them to follow a similar path to the boys, and WXV 3’s involvement will further increase interest.

“The academies and senior academies are open to boys and girls, junior men and junior women, so I think we could be reaping the rewards of that set-up over the next few years,” Gilbert added.

“The board is very keen on developing local talent and this is definitely something that needs to be done.

“We have three under-18s, 13 under-19s and 12 under-20s in this squad and many of these players will be the future of the Dutch rugby team. I think that future can be bright.”

So far in the Rugby World Cup, Gilbert’s youngsters have finished second in Group B with one win and one defeat in the eight-team event.

“It was unfortunate that our friendlies were cancelled because it meant we went into our opening game against the USA last Tuesday with a bit of a cool head,” Gilbert said after Edinburgh Rugby’s 44-33 home defeat to the Americans.

“We were a little bit off-pace and physical in the first half and kudos to the US, they punished us (we went into the half leading 41-12).

“However, once the lads found their feet they really took the game to the opposition in the second half but unfortunately they left a lot to do despite getting four try bonus points.

“The second half performance gave the players confidence and they carried that into the second game against Kenya and played some really good rugby (winning 51-3).

“We moved the ball well and had a few good tries. Now we face Uruguay in our final pool game this Friday and we know they are a good team, but we feel we are constantly improving and we think there are areas where we can hurt them.

“I just want the kids to build on the good things we have done so far and if they can do that, that would be great.

“The boys have learned so much on this trip, and even training at St Andrews has been a great base for us outside of matches and has allowed us to work on a lot of things.”

The final day of the Rugby World Cup is next Wednesday, July 17.

By Gary Heatley

Photos: World Rugby/Martin Flousek