MENTION the game of rugby to a casual observer and the first thoughts that usually crop up are ‘All-Blacks, Springboks, Gareth Edwards, Serge Blanco, etc’.
Ask them about the game in Holland and you’ll be likely met with a blank stare. One or two might recall the day when England faced the Low Countries nation in November 1998. This was in the day when if you failed to win the World Cup, you had to actually qualify for the next one.
Holland’s amateurs found themselves up against the high-paid pros of England who didn’t deem this fixture worthy of staging at Twickenham, preferring to stage it in rugby league territory that was Huddersfield’s McAlpine Stadium.
It turned out to be not a pretty sight – what must have been a dream for the Dutch to face some of the game’s biggest names turned out to be a nightmare as the gulf in class saw Clive Woodward’s men run out with a thumping 110-0 victory.
It didn’t get any better as an Italy side buoyed up by having gained entry into what is now known as the Six Nations delivered a 67-7 thumping to the Dutch.
Despite gainful efforts to qualify for subsequent tournaments, 1998 remains the closest they have got but slowly but surely progress is being made with one family in particular leading the way.
The surname Visser should be familiar to rugby circles in the north east with brothers Tim and Sep making a name for themselves in rapid fashion.
Moving from their homeland, Tim made his presence felt at Barnard Castle School before joining Newcastle Falcons.
While carving out a professional career, the elder Visser caught the eye of Scotland coach Andy Robinson, then in charge of Edinburgh. Tim hasn’t looked back with his destructive play down the wing resulting in a number of tries which have more than made him a favourite among the Gunners’ support.
Tim is clearly one that got away for the Falcons and any hopes the Kingston Park faithful have of recapturing him have to be put on the back-burner with the flying Dutchman’s desire to play at the highest level resulting in him committing himself to staying in Scotland until 2012 in order to qualify for the famous navy blue via residency.
No such danger of younger brother Sep swapping nations as the Tynedale ace has already been capped by Holland.
However, having already been under the radar of the Falcons’ Academy and with Edinburgh having had a successful dip into the Visser gene pool, Newcastle would could do well to ensure that another promising talent doesn’t fly up the A1 given that Gunners boss Tom Moffat has already taken a look.
Sep said: “It’s true that I have done some training sessions at Edinburgh. I’m not contracted with Newcastle so I was able to do this. Edinburgh haven’t told me anything concrete like ‘keep playing well for Tynedale and we’ll sign you’ or anything like that but I guess that if they choose to act then it will be for either my displays or they feel I can add something to their set-up.
“Of course you have the factor that Tim is up there and some people I’m sure will look at how I do more so than if I wasn’t related to him. But that has nothing to do with it. I’m my own player and we’ll just see what happens. What Edinburgh decide to do or don’t do is up to them.
“I’m just happy right now combining my studies with playing for Tynedale. I’m also studying sports management at Newcastle College and I’ve another two years to go with that. If the rugby is still going well and if interest does come in from any club then I’ll have a major decision to make.”
Should Sep follow his brother in making a name for himself – be it with Falcons, Edinburgh or anyone else – it will no doubt continue to raise the profile of the game back in Holland where like most European nations, football is king.
He added: “Back home it’s nothing compared to the UK. There are only around 8,000 players registered in Holland but the Union back home are working hard to get more youngsters involved.
“In fact the Dutch Union managed to persuade our TV stations back home to show the last World Cup (2007) which showed a rise in new players taking up the sport once the tournament ended.
“Tim and I got involved as our father (Marc) played for Holland a number of times – although we did start off with netball first as our mum played the sport and there was a facility near to where we lived before dad pointed us towards rugby.
“But the national team is making progress. We recently got ourselves promoted to the European Nations Division 1B (two rungs below the Six Nations) which begins next month (against Czech Republic and Germany).
“There is still a long way to go though. At Tynedale, the set-up is more professional.
“Look at last week. Even though we’re a National League Division One club, we had the means to fly the whole team down to Redruth. That would never happen in Holland.”
Of Tynedale, Visser is still hopeful the Corbridge side can get their promotion bid back on track.
He continued: “We’ve had a sticky patch losing three in a row. When you consider the start we made to the season, that is not so good.
“But we have made progress compared to last year that as well as maintaining a good record at home, we’ve got some wins on the road this time around.
“ If we can remind ourselves of what we did right earlier on this season, then we can get back to winning again.”