SA women's rugby team keeps up the fight

Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Kemantha Govender

Durban - While the men's Springbok team have cemented their position as World Champions twice, the up and coming women's team are also striving to be among the rugby elite.

Having only been playing rugby for a few years now, the Boks are ranked 10th in the world and make huge sacrifices to play the sport.

The South Africa Women's rugby team are preparing for their forthcoming Nations Cup tournament to be held in August in Canada and gathered for a training camp, last week. The women will also participate in the Sevens World Cup Qualifying tournament in October in Botswana.

The squad are made up of amateur players who almost all have day jobs. They do it for the love of the game and the pride that comes with using the green and gold. BuaNews chatted to two Boks about their journeys to represent South Africa.

Twenty six-year old Natasha Hoffmeester started playing rugby when she was just 16-years-old.
Hoffmeester's interest in rugby was ignited after reading an article on women's rugby in a local newspaper.

"With the encouragement and support from my family, I decided to play rugby and see what is was all about. I've always been an adrenalin-junky and since I can remember I was on some type of sports field, netball, volleyball, tennis, athletics, you name it, I was on it," says Hoffmeester.

Her athleticism has favoured her rugby career as Hoffmeester plays wing for the Springbok squad. For her club, Maties, and Western Province she plays inside centre or fullback.

"I'm still playing rugby... I love the game; it's as simple as that. With rugby I got the opportunity to compete against one of the toughest, strongest, fittest and most competitive ladies. Testing your character against theirs and seeing that you are doing good, gives your self esteem a big boost," says Hoffmeester.

When the Bok wing is not on the field, she has a day job as a senior fitness consultant in a gym. She loves spending time with her friends, having fun, or shopping at the malls.

The avid Stormers fan takes every opportunity she gets to watch the game. Gio Aplon, Jean de Villiers and Juan de Jongh are among her my favourite players to watch.

Hoffmeester spirit remained intact despite missing last year's World Cup due to injury.

"As a senior player I would love to use all my experience and leadership to guide the new players so that we can become a better team. My goal is just to do my best and be the best player I can be to promote the game and women's rugby," explains Hoffmeester about her future.

She says the Boks have what it takes to become as legendary as their male counterparts.

"We have to start thinking as a winning team. Hard work is definitely the main key word. A lot of dedication, support and motivation are all basic factors that will help the team to become one of the best teams. I also think support from the public and rugby fans will also help. If we can play more games against good teams, we stand a very good chance to become one of the best teams," she says.

Loose forward Mandisa Williams grabbed the "greatest opportunity" of her life in 2004 when she was selected to play for the Boks.

Ever since 2004, she has been working extremely hard to help the team achieve their goal to rank in the top three by 2017.
Williams, who plays for the Border rugby club at a provincial level, says the 2010 Women's Rugby World Cup was great for exposing them to the best in the world.

Rugby like any sport teaches discipline and structure. Both Williams and Hoffmeester appreciate these aspects of the game.

"Rugby teaches you how to be grounded and humble. It also teaches you discipline and how to control your aggression," Williams says.

Hoffmeester adds that it is important to remain grounded and play the game for the passion and love of it and no other reasons.

"Disappointments comes in all kinds of forms, may it be lack of experience, fitness or even injury. You are never too good to pick up an injury and I've realised that in a team sport you are always replaceable. That person might not have the same qualities, but the qualities that person have is good enough to replace you," says Hoffmeester.

"As a player you try to eat healthy and stay fit at all times, you make it a discipline. Normally you will get an exercise programme that you should follow to stay fit. So all we must do is train, train and train to stay fit," she says.

Despite only winning two matches in the tournament in 2010, the potential in the team was quite noticeable. Areas that needed to be worked on were brought to the surface, according to Boks team manager Orna Prinsloo.

"One of the greatest challenges that face the team is the lack of training opportunities as a unit and participation in international competitions. The women are spread across the country and only get together for camps which last two or three days at a time," says Prinsloo.

"It is also a challenge that at clubs levels the women are coached using different styles and when they get back to national squad they again have different standards to follow," adds Prinsloo.

The ladies are responsible for ensuring they continue with strengthening and conditioning programmes that are given to them.

Williams trains with two other teammates at least twice a week, even though they live far part.

Prinsloo adds that rugby is still seen as a male sport and to some extent this poses as a problem.

"Women's rugby is the fastest growing sport in South Africa among the black communities. However we still face a mindset challenge in some cases. It's difficult to get the initial commitment and support from some coaches who are still sceptical about women playing the sport," adds Prinsloo.

The South African Rugby Union (SARU) has been supporting women's rugby by assisting in organising the camps and transporting the team from around the country.

SARU has sent women overseas on a rugby exchange programme and Williams was one of the selected players.

"I got to go to Ireland for an exchange programme and it was a great opportunity. There was just so much exposure to so many different things," she says.

Williams rates New Zealand wing Carla Hohepa as one of her favourite players and says the Boks have to take on top teams more often to become a competitive side. Both the Boks players encouraged women to give rugby a try.

"Try it out. If you like it keep on doing it, you might surprise yourself and actually love and enjoy it. If not, well then you know you gave it a try," adds Hoffmeester.

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