Odense specialises in fairy-tales, but has it got room for one more?

Hans Christian Andersen’s home town has seen bigger shocks on the rugby field before, but never when the pressure has been this intense

For just 25 kroner in Odense this weekend, you can witness the only undefeated nation in Division 2B of the IRB European Nations Cup (ENC) in action. Storming towards the 2013-14 title, and with it automatic promotion to Division 2A (the fourth tier of European rugby), they are undefeated on Danish soil since May 2011 – their only defeat in five years of ENC rugby. This is a team in the ascendancy!

But enough about Israel, who are ranked 47th in the world and Denmark’s opponents this Saturday – what are the home side’s prospects of getting a badly-needed win in their fight against relegation from the five-team group. With four games to go, in fourth place with seven points, they are involved in a relegation battle with Andorra (third with ten points) and Serbia (last with six points), but are also just two wins short of Latvia (second with 17 points) and a possible promotion place.

“Of course we have a chance against Israel and also Latvia in the spring, but the two most important games for us are the two away games against Andorra and Serbia,” contended the Danish national coach, Ivan Andersen, Denmark travels to Andorra on November 23, Serbia on April 12 and finally hosts second-placed Latvia on May 3.

To get into contention, Denmark will need to beat a side that beat them 46-3 earlier in the year, and Andersen remains reasonably bullish about the team’s chances ahead of the Israeli visit to Andersen’s hometown – Hans Christian’s, not Ivan’s.

Home advantage crucial
“While we are playing to avoid relegation rather than to be eligible for promotion, and we have lost twice in Israel [in recent years],” conceded Andersen.

“I believe there is a big difference between travelling abroad to play compared to a home game. We are unbeaten on home ground since 2008, and I think we can say confidently that we know the way Israel play. In fact, they are a very similar side to the one that we played and beat two and a half years ago at the same venue.”

After that game, despite a victory, there was some bad blood between the two sides. However, Andersen is confident that this will not have any effect on the upcoming game. Furthermore, Israel played and heavily lost a 2015 World Cup qualifier in the Netherlands last weekend 8-52, and as a consequence they haven’t had as much time to prepare as the Danish side.

Andersen hopes that this will give his players some much-needed confidence. This being said, he admits that the Israeli game will not be a walkover.

“The Israeli team play together a lot,” he conceded. “Their national team is made up of two or three clubs who train at least once a week, and this means they are very well organised and they know each other very well.”

By comparison, the Danish side have only met twice this year for national team training. According to Andersen, who played for the national team for ten years, this shortfall is due to the tiny amount of funding allocated by the International Rugby Board (IRB).

A small slice of the pie
The Danish Rugby Association’s budget is not enough to compensate its national workers for taking time off work to train, travel and play games. The creation of semi-pro national players would be the first step towards embracing professionalism, but investments in youth rugby and increasing the number of its members, which in turn leads to more IRB funding, would also be necessary.

“Unfortunately the funding given to us by the IRB gets lower and lower each year,” Andersen explained. “This is because the IRB prioritises those teams that qualify for the World Cup and the Olympics – they get the majority of the money. Of course money isn’t everything, but it would help!”

One country that has successfully begun to make this transition is Sweden. Four years ago it played in the same group as Denmark. However it has now two tiers above the Danes and has some semi-professional players among it´s ranks.

However, there are signs the Danish national team is no longer dependent on the arrival of expats from the major rugby playing nations, who become eligible for the side after three years residency in Denmark.

While Andersen was complimentary of the international players who have brought “experience and their specific skills”, he felt it was encouraging that most of the national team were now Danish-reared.

“Over the last years we have done our best to promote youth rugby” he explained.

“There isn’t as big a difference between Danes and internationals today as there has been in the past. The majority of the players in the national team started at the youth level in Denmark, and it is a huge advantage for us.”

Denmark hosts Israel on Saturday November 2 at 14:00 at Odense Stadion. Tickets cost 25kr, but donations are welcome!

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