Exactly half a century after one of the most famous matches in the history of Czechoslovak rugby, the national team bounced back to a promising future.
On November 4, 1973, the then-federal national team drew 3:3 with home Italy in Rovigo, and it was the last time the national team did not lose to one of the top rugby nations.
“I remember that match well. It was a balanced duel with Italy. I converted a free kick and so did they, but that wasn’t all. At that time, our player Standa Pártl laid down a regular four, but the referee didn’t recognize him, but I don’t know what he thought up so that the four didn’t count,” recalled Jaromír Kourek, the kicker of the national team at the time, for the Czech Rugby website.
While the Italians have shot up since then, participated in all ten world championships, are part of the prestigious Six Nations tournament and in recent years have beaten Australia and Wales, for example, the Czech national team played in the fourth highest European Conference category until spring. But in May, after the victory over Israel, they advanced a level higher, and Saturday’s successful match with Croatia shot them to the top of the Trophy group table. The Czechs thus got revenge for the unpleasant 37:48 loss in Sweden a week ago.
The Czech team flew at the opponent, already in the 22nd minute they were leading 31:0, when they laid down four fives. In the second half, the Croatians improved, but the match still ended with a great victory for the Czech Republic, which put a total of seven fives. “Our defense, which failed us in Sweden, has improved a lot,” coach Němeček said. And the fact that we scored a lot of points… We know that we can attack. We have young, very skilled cuckoos there, and when they get the ball, they are capable of doing this.”
A new era is just beginning for the national team, which draws strength from the young up-and-coming generation. It grew up in the last decade of the country’s rugby boom, aided by the glossy advertising of the World Cup at regular four-year intervals.
“The boys are really extremely young, we had three boys from the under-20 national team here. Even our attack had an average age of twenty-one today,” explains Němeček. “The players coming in are getting better and better every year. It’s about having time, money, means to work with them. That’s the stumbling block.”
One of the faces of the team is 22-year-old Samuel Dupuy, the son of a Czech mother and an English rugby player, whose family tree also goes back to France. The nimble three-quarter player, who scored one of the five goals in the match against the Croats, has spent time at the international school in Busckswood, England, where he also gained rugby experience in addition to his high school diploma.
“It cannot be compared with the Czech Republic at all. You study for your high school diploma, but you finish school and immediately go to the playground, which is a five-minute walk away. We played matches during the week, on the weekend I traveled with the county’s selection team,” explains Dupuy, who two years ago also spent a season in the second highest French competition, Pro D2, in the Valence jersey.
Today, Dupuy is back in the Czech Republic as a mainstay of the champion Říčany, and only a few players from the national team are active abroad in the lower competition levels – ruckman James Faktor and back Martin Cimprich in England, strikers Jiří Frank, Tomáš Stránský and Vojtěch Vomáčka in France.
“France is the most open, but at the same time more and more people from the southern hemisphere are pouring in, the competition is getting bigger and bigger. It’s mainly about them, if they have talent, they should also have the morals to use it. Go there, keep your head down, do what you have to do, and that’s sometimes difficult for guys this young,” says Němeček.
Even with players from domestic sources, the coach has a promising team at his disposal, which after two matches of the Trophy group is in real play for promotion to the next level, which is the European Championship, or Championship. In two weeks, the Czech Republic will face Lithuania at home, and in the spring they will have matches against Ukraine and Switzerland.
“I honestly think that all the teams are quite balanced. Small mistakes make the difference. I wouldn’t be afraid to say that we want to win this group,” says Němeček. “It’s mainly about having the boys together, having the players we need, not getting injured and having time to prepare. How many times do we prepare in such a way that they come to one training session before the match and we don’t do much. When we have the people and the time to prepare, our ambitions are high.”
The Czech Republic last played in a group at the level of the European Championship, which is just behind the elite Six Nations Tournament in the continental hierarchy, in 2008. Now they are looking for a way up. And in the future, he can also dream of the hitherto unthinkable fight for participation in the World Cup. From the next championship in Australia in 2027, the number of participants will be expanded by four more teams.
“It is a difficult question. In the Championship we will be competing against teams that have many times bigger budgets than us. We, as a representative, of course behave professionally, but we are not paid. While the Portuguese, the Spanish, the top teams like that who played in the World Cup, they are all professionals,” says Dupuy.
At first glance, it is a similar story that Czech baseball players also live. But their team is coming off a breakout year in which they participated in the World Baseball Classic, an all-star professional championship with the MLB or Japan’s Nippon League.
“Now it’s a bit distant, but if we did it right and had support from the state, we could also think about these ambitions. It can be seen that even small unions can succeed, thanks to the fact that they play smart rugby and educate the youth well,” said Filip Vacek, sports director of Tatra Smíchov. “What limits us the most is finances. We have big plans. We are limited by the fact that we are a small union. We don’t have much money, we can’t afford the kind of training that others do, we can’t devote ourselves as much to education. There are five paid people in the union, every French club is ten times better off.
The pillars of the Czech team through the eyes of the German coach
Dan Hošek (binder)
German: “The captain who leads the whole team.”
Pattern in the world: Ardie Savea (New Zealand)
James Faktor (brawler)
German: “An Englishman who plays for us thanks to the fact that his grandfather is originally from the Czech Republic. He’s a great asset to us, he’s incredible in his approach. He comes to every game, he doesn’t have any star manners for how great a player he is.”
Pattern in the world: Sam Cane (New Zealand)
Samuel Dupuy (three quarters)
German: “Another great player is emerging in Samuel. He is an extremely talented boy.’
Pattern in the world: Bundee Aki (Ireland)
Adam Koblic (wing)
German: Another young player with incredible talent
Pattern in the world: Cheslin Kolbe (South Africa)
CZECH REPUBLIC – CROATIA 48:22 (36:7)
Fives: 7:4. Penalty kicks: 1:0. Kicks after five: 5:1.
Points: Cimprich 13, Kohout 10, Vomáčka, Pavlík, Dupuy, Hošek and Koblic 5 each – Jurišič 12, Vlajčevič and Vraneshevič 5 each.
TROPHY GROUP TABLE
1. CZECHIA 2 1 0 1 85:70 5
2. Lithuania 1 1 0 0 32:14 4
3. Switzerland 1 1 0 0 23:12 4
4. Sweden 2 1 0 1 60:60 4
5. Ukraine 1 0 0 1 14:32 0
6. Croatia 1 0 0 1 22:48 0