German rugby set to get a helping English hand

Germany are set to get a helping hand from their old sporting rivals, England, on the rugby pitch.

German rugby set to get a helping English hand
Photo: DPA

While Germany and England have been football rivals for more than a century, in rugby terms the Germans are minnows compared to their English counterparts.

With around only 125 clubs and 14,000 players, rugby is a minority sport in football-mad Germany, but is one of the country's fastest growing team sports with playing numbers up from 8,000 in 1996.

Germany are top of the second group in the European Nations Cup (ENC) — the tier below the Six Nations — and are still in contention for a place at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.

To help boost rugby on the continent, England's RFU has launched the 'Unity Project' to help 17 European nations grow their game ahead of the 2015 World Cup.

The English counties of Hertfordshire and Hampshire have been paired with the German Rugby Union (DRV) in what will be an exchange of knowledge.

The DRV will receive help and advice on running and coaching the game from the junior levels up with German coaches to be sent to the UK and vice versa.

In the future, it is hoped German representative teams from all age groups will play against their English counterparts.

"I think it's a great idea, rugby lives on friendships like this and by working together," current international and DRV development officer Manuel Wilhelm told AFP.

The towering RG Heidelberg lock was at Twickenham earlier this month for the project launch and met representatives from Hertfordshire and Hampshire.

"It's basically a transfer of knowledge, we have a lot in common with the English counties, given that we both work mainly with amateur players," he said.

"It'll be a big help to have the knowledge to fall back on from a coaching and administration point of view."

A Rugby World Cup berth is the DRV's ultimate goal, whether for the 2015 tournament or beyond,

Having been relegated in 2010, Germany are aiming for promotion back to the ENC's first group — which includes the likes of Georgia, Romania and Russia, who have all played at previous World Cups.

The DRV nearly went bankrupt in 2011 and funding is still an issue, as DRV president Ian Rawcliffe explained.

"We have a budget of around 700,000 euros per year – much smaller than most professional clubs," Lanchashire-born Rawcliffe told AFP.

Having come to Germany as a captain with the British Army in the 1970s, the Oxford graduate played as a flanker for the occupying force's rugby team.

This is his second stint as DRV president, but selling rugby to Germans is not always easy.

"In the past, we have had to send people to convince some German States, who banned it from their schools, what rugby is all about," he said.

It's not just England who are helping German rugby. France has worked closely with the DRV for decades.

In 2008, a Wales XV played Germany in Berlin and last weekend's conference for coaches of Germany's top teams in Hanover was attended by the Welsh Rugby Union's Coach Development Manager Gerry Roberts.

English immigrant teachers first brought rugby to Heidelberg and Hanover in the 1870s.

The sport flourished and was originally part of the German Football Federation (DFB).

The Germans achieved a 3-0 win over France in 1938 and the match-ball still holds pride of place in Germany's rugby museum in Heidelberg.

German rugby was a strong presence on the continent until the rise of Nazism and Adolf Hitler would certainly not have approved of the alliance with England.

"In the late 1930s, Adolf – I think you know his family name – decided he didn't like rugby, preferring field handball," explained Rawcliffe.

"There were reports of players being dragged off rugby fields to go and play handball during that era.

"Then after the war, many of the players were either too old to continue playing or were dead."

German rugby's revival after World War II was a slow process with the occupying British forces helping out in the 1950s.

For now, Germany need wins at home to Czech Republic and away to Sweden in April to help earn a repechage slot as group winners and keep their World Cup dream alive.

"I think we'll know rugby has made it in Germany when it is televised HERE and with rugby set to be an Olympic sport in 2016, who knows?", mused Rawcliffe.

READ MORE: Germany's first gay rugby team scrums down

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Will Brexit negotiators guarantee our rights to a full English breakfast?

Frankfurt resident and British expat Garreth Brooke is concerned about maintaining his supply of baked beans and HP sauce after Brexit.

Will Brexit negotiators guarantee our rights to a full English breakfast?
A full English breakfast. Photo: Dèsirèe Tonus / Flickr Creative Commons.

If you’re a British expat living in Germany like me, you’ve undoubtedly found that conversation frequently turns to Brexit and what it means for Brits in Europe. One critical but, to my mind, under-discussed consideration is the potential implications for that most important meal of the day: breakfast.

The German national breakfast is wonderful but sometimes, if we’re totally honest, it is more like an investigation into how many different varieties of cheese, meat, conserves, eggs and – most importantly – bread rolls one can reasonably fit onto the table without said table collapsing.

For a while my wife and I had one of these giant German breakfasts every weekend morning, but as time passed a uniquely British type of sickness started to grow in my stomach. It was a strange mix of homesickness and patriotism, expressing itself in a desperate craving for the English breakfast, that glorious combination of hash browns, baked beans, sausages, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, eggs, buttered white toast and brown sauce that leaves you sedentary, satisfied and sweating profusely.

Assembling a satisfactory English breakfast is challenging enough in England, where great debates rage over whether eggs should be fried or scrambled. Is it smokey or unsmoked bacon? Should it be toast or fried bread? Should tomatoes be included? And, if so, should they be tinned? Then there is perhaps the greatest controversy of them all – black pudding. (For the record, the correct answers are: fried; I don’t care, just give me lots; toast; a maximum of two fresh ones are acceptable; tinned tomatoes can bugger off; OH MY YES).

Friendships are made and broken over such debates. I can respect but not condone the decision to forgo black pudding, but if you dare to say that you think poached eggs go well with an English breakfast, I will ask you to leave the house and never return. Seriously. No, Chris, I still haven’t forgiven you.

The challenge of assembling an English breakfast in Germany is even more fraught with complexities. Bacon is not a problem, for Germans love their pork products, but finding a British style sausage is a challenge. You may say this is not a bad thing, but for me an intrinsic part of the English breakfast experience is using brown sauce to mask the flavour of mechanically recovered factory droppings. It is also possible to buy poor-quality sausages in Germany, but sadly they’re just not the same, no matter how much brown sauce you use.

Thankfully tomatoes, eggs and mushrooms aren’t a problem. Ask a German for a hash brown, however, and they will probably recommend you visit an Amsterdam coffee shop. Luckily this is just a language barrier issue – just ask for Rösti!

Alas, such cultural equivalency does not extend to baked beans, which are at best viewed with suspicion and at worst openly mocked as an example of terrible British taste in food. That this is outrageous almost goes without saying, but I’m prepared to accept a little baked bean mockery if it means my German friends will at least try them: I’m like a baked bean John the Baptist. Soon the world will understand.

But perhaps the critical ingredient is the last one. No matter how good the ingredients are, an English breakfast isn’t an English breakfast if it isn’t covered in brown sauce, and brown sauce isn’t brown sauce unless it has got ‘HP’ on the bottle. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about that particular combination of tomatoes, molasses, dates and vinegar that stirs up strange feelings that I can’t quite explain.

Sourcing the sauce is a challenge: it’s possible, though expensive, to buy it in Germany. I don’t know about you, but personally I book an extra piece of hold luggage just for HP sauce on flights back from the UK. Brexit may complicate this, though perhaps not quite as you might expect, for it turns out that HP Sauce with its iconic Houses of Parliament logo is actually one of us: a British expat who has been based in the Netherlands since 2007.

Politics aside, I’ve watched with unabashed joy as my German wife has fallen in love with the English breakfast. She tells me it is not entirely dissimilar to the Bauernfrühstück (farmer’s breakfast), a hash-like meal built around fried potatoes, bacon and egg. But there are obvious differences – not least the brown sauce and the baked beans.

That she enjoys copious slatherings of brown sauce on her English breakfast gives me a good deal of joy. Words cannot describe the mixture of pride and love I experienced the first time I witnessed her carefully arranging her plate so that her sausages formed a baked bean dam, for it was then I knew that she understood.

Garreth Brooke is a British expat currently living and working in Frankfurt am Main, where he teaches and composes music for the piano. Find out more at