Bury coach Gavin Hogg’s African adventure helped Nigerian rugby team

Gavin Hogg with the Nigerian team

Gavin Hogg with the Nigerian team - Credit: Archant

Should rugby minnows Nigeria make their inaugural World Cup debut in 2019, then don’t be surprised if Bury St Edmunds coach Gavin Hogg had a part to play in it.

First team coach Gavin Hogg is pictured at Bury Rugby Club.

First team coach Gavin Hogg is pictured at Bury Rugby Club.

The man who helped mastermind Bury’s ascent to National League Three SSE rugby earlier this year, jumped at the chance to coach the Black Stallions at last month’s Africa Cup of Nations, in the Ivory Coast.

Nigeria found themselves in Division C, prior to the tournament, and just missed out on promotion to Division B which would have seen them remain in contention for the 2015 World Cup in England. Teams have to be in Division B or A two years before the World Cup to have a chance of qualifying.

As it was, two victories (63-3 against Mauritius and 45-10 against Zambia) and one defeat (38-8 against Morocco) means the emerging nation have missed out on qualification this time, but will have time in which to improve ahead of qualifying for the 2019 tournament in Japan.

“I was asked by Terry Sands (Bury St Edmunds’ director of rugby) if I would be interested coaching the team and, from there, it all happened very quickly,” said Hogg.

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“We took 24 players to the tournament, including 18 UK-based players who represent teams such as Richmond and Rosslyn Park in the National League.

“An additional five guys were from Nigeria and one played in the USA, so there was quite a contrast in styles. This was an opportunity to work with them and try and improve the national side’s game structure.

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“It was important to try and get the guys familiar with what we were trying to do and they were very impressionable.

“It was a great experience for me too and aided my development as a coach.”

Ranked 81st in the world, Nigeria, traditionally stronger in the sevens format of the game, are the epitomy of an emerging nation and Hogg insists the game’s popularity is growing all the time.

“There were some very high calibre players in the tournament and for instance, Morocco have a lot of players based in France,” said Hogg.

“We were very impressed with the facilities in the Ivory Coast and, from Nigeria Rugby’s point of view, they are trying to catch up with those countries as well as with football in Nigeria and the people that attracts.

“More and more people and schools are taking up rugby and the sport is growing massively. There is a lot more interest than people realise.

“Rugby Union is something of a sleeping giant and the aim in the country is to try and secure more funding.”

Hogg has now returned to pre-season with Bury as the team take their first steps in National League rugby, but has not ruled out another stint with the Nigerians.

“I would like to think there would be an opportunity again to do something similar in the future,” he said.

“We have to get the squad of players together more and we have discussed playing international games in the UK to build and improve.”

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