Samir Kharbouch off to Rugby Africa Cup for shot at 2023 World Cup qualification with Algeria thanks to Bury St Edmunds supporters' funding
Samir Kharbouch boards a plane for southern France this weekend chasing a World Cup spot for Algeria – but he goes full of gratitude for the Bury St Edmunds RUFC family who have kept his personal dream alive.
For as one of the few non-professional players in the north African side’s squad, he has had to take three weeks unpaid leave from his day job as a pastoral co-ordinator at Bury St Edmunds-based County Upper School.
It was last summer when the Wolfpack centre got a shock first call-up to the country of his parents’ birth after his talents were noticed on the 7s circuit with former Bury chief Terry Sands’ Samurai team.
An injury while playing for the Greene King IPA Haberden club cruelly denied the 28-year-old now Bury-based player the chance to attend the training camp last November.
But the England 7s capped player did finally get to pull on the Algeria shirt in March in a Test match against Ivory Coast in France.
Such was his impact in training, as well as that comfortable victory, he was told immediately afterwards he would receive a call-up to the Rugby Africa Cup tournament.
The winner of next month’s 16-team knockout ranking competition will seal a spot at the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, starting next September, while a repechage tournament in November will offer a second chance for an African side to still be there.
The chance to play his part in getting a country he has spent every summer visiting until Covid-19 broke out to their first ever World Cup was hanging in the balance for Kharbouch though.
“I had to ask for leave from the school which was approved and was great as they were really supportive,” explained the player who had youth spells with the likes of Wasps, Harlequins and London Irish.
“But I wasn’t going to get paid for it so because of that I asked the club if they could see if they knew of any sponsors that could help me.
“They said the best way of doing that was setting up a GoFundMe which they sent out to all the sponsors.”
The £1,500 he needed to cover was received on the page in less than two weeks from individual club members, as well as sponsors, leaving Kharbouch stunned.
He said: “I’m really honoured and privileged to be going on this tour but at the same time I am really grateful and humbled that the Bury community has helped me go.
“It is such a massive thing for me that as a black Muslim living in Bury, which isn’t the most multi-cultural area, to still be supported like that by the community is such a good feeling.
“I literally think I got all the money through in 10 days which I think is ridiculous.
“I generally feel I cannot wait to get back in a Bury shirt playing for these people.”
All of the Africa Cup games are set to take place in stadiums in and around Marseille and nearby Aix En Provence.
Algeria will face Senegal in the first round on July 1, and despite it being a knockout tournament, there will be two more games guaranteed for the Two Lions to settle ranking positions.
The country who played its first officially recognised rugby match in June 2015 were ranked 90th in the world last summer, their highest position.