Croydon school helps Nigerian rugby in bid for World Cup glory

The Nigerian squad in Botswana

The Nigerian squad in Botswana

First published in Sport Croydon Guardian: Photograph of the Author by , Assistant Editor

On a school playing fields a team of amateurs and semi-pros are training hard for the chance to take on the might of New Zealand and Fiji at the Rugby 7’s World Cup.

Comprised entirely of ex-pats, most living in and around Croydon, Nigeria is one qualifying tournament away from making their inaugural World Cup appearance.

Coach Mark Dean, from Sanderstead, formed the squad last year and as an ex-Trinity pupil, secured the Shirley school’s playing fields for his team ahead of the Africa Regional qualifiers this weekend.

The 34-year-old said: "I got involved with Nigeria in August last year. At short notice I was approached by two Nigerian players I had worked with on the UK circuit after a team based out of Nigeria was refused visas to fly to a tournament.

"I put together an ex-pat squad and took them to a tournament in Morocco on three days notice, and we finished third, winning our spot in the qualifiers."

With a year of training behind the team, who include three Croydon-based club players David and Emmanuel Akinluyi, who play for Old-Whitgiftians, and teammate Temi Okenla, will be hoping to go one better once again in Morocco.

Mr Dean, who has played for Warlingham, South African side Amanzimtotti, The Royal Navy team and represented Surrey said: "I am very grateful to Trinity in running the training camp this week.

"The squad framework has been in place since 2011 but they have probably only had two weeks together over that time so the camp at Trinity School represents a huge step forward in developing Nigeria Rugby."

Facing the Nigerian team is World Series competitors Zimbabwe, Morocco, Tunisia and Namibia, alongside Ivory Coast, Zambia and Madagascar, with only two teams making the World Cup in Russia next June.

Success will also see the Black Stallions qualify for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.

Mr Dean said: "Should we make it we would be very keen to work with Trinity School again in that situation as their facilities for rugby are top class and the staff incredibly helpful with developing Nigerian rugby."

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