World Rugby Services Manager (Africa), Steph Neil believes sufficient conditions exist to make Nigeria a global powerhouse in the sport and said the Nigeria Rugby Football Federation (NRFF) must harness the grassroots to fully realise the latent potential inherent in the country.
Neil was on a working visit to Nigeria alongside Rugby Africa Regional Development Officer Charles Yapo to access facilities in the country and made the remarks at an interactive session with the media at the Rugby House in Lagos.
Rugby, though long-established in Nigeria, pales in popularity and acceptance compared to football – Nigeria’s undisputed number one sport.
Neil, however, said Nigeria’s teeming youth population is a ready-made resource for growing the sport in the country.
The World Rugby representative said if well harnessed, the abundant talent of young “prospects” can become the next set of global rugby superstars.
“I have gone for a couple of walks on the streets of Lagos. what I found there are amazing. I think Nigeria is an exciting project,” Neil said.
“I have seen prospects in Nigeria and an advantage; Nigeria can present the next generation of Rugby players the world will be proud of. It is a big challenge to all of us.
“I walked through the streets of Lagos and I am amazed by the numbers of young people with energy. I think there is a genetic preference for potentials among those that I have seen,” he said.
With Nigeria’s rugby development still at rudimentary levels, Nel suggested the NRFF could kickstart growth domestically by emulating proven measures deployed by well-established rugby playing nations in developing the game in their own countries.
He identified a programme of grassroots scouting, professional coaching, financial prudence and engaging in regional competitions as key to helping Nigeria grow the game.
“There are layers of development which has worked for other countries which can equally work for Nigeria which is developmental plans of the games especially participating in regional competitions,” he said.
“Participation in competitions such as West African Rugby Series (WARS) which Nigeria is hosting, regional competition and other international tournament is key to development.
“In Rugby, the first development structure starts with the players and then we take a look at the infrastructure, the referees and coaches.
“Rugby players can be targeted in schools as part of grassroots development. They should be scouted for in primary, high school and tertiary institutions. These are processes for talent identification,” he said.