South Africa’s National Women’s Rugby Teams Must Be Sorted Out By Cheryl Roberts

29 Oct

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It was with much disappointment that supporters, players and all involved with women’s rugby in South Africa watched the women Springboks lose three successive home Tests to Spain and Scotland.
As the Tests kicked into play, disappointment was etched as it became known very quickly that SA wasn’t fielding its strongest and quality national women’s rugby 15s team.
So why didn’t SA field its strongest and best playing team, after knowing months ago the home Tests against European teams were inked and scheduled?
Coaches and selectors of the women Springboks had to rely on much young and inexperienced women players as the injury list headlined by the more experienced players, grew.
Spain beat SA in Port Elizabeth and Scotland got two Test wins in Cape Town. Some of SA’s experienced provincial and international players came to the stadium and watched the Tests in the stands, but didn’t turn up on the field to play for the national 15s team. You can’t blame the players for this! Not that they didn’t turn up beacuse they didn’t want to, but because another national women’s rugby set-up was not allowing them to be released from national camp. These were the contracted 7s players.
Its the ‘ownership’ of women rugby players and who gets first choice to call up and select the players that is pivotal to the honest and brutal assessment and disappointment of the defeats and unhappiness about player selection and team make-up.
This is what goes down. SA Rugby supports the playing of both 15s and 7’s women’s rugby and both teams compete internationally. The 15’s interprovincial championship and provincial league championships are structured. Senior women’s 7’s rugby doesn’t have a structure but just piecemeal, now and then domestic 7’s tournaments. What women’s 7’s rugby does have is a healthy budhet to have nationally contracted system whereby players are nationally contracted, receive a monthly salary, are full-time in training and, most importantly, can concentrate soleley on their rugby knowing they are playing rugby and getting paid.
But no national nor provincial contract system exists for women’s rugby 15s. Seven’s coaches and selectors come into the 15’s structures and raid the teams for players who are then selected into the national 7s set up. Because players are never sure where they stand with women’s rugby in SA, they go along with whatever selction comes their way. Actually they are not given a choice.
Sometimes, some 7s players are made available for the national 15s and provincial team. Sometimes, they are not made available. When this happens it directly impacts on the women Springboks who are then weakened.
This is the question: Who has first call on SA’s women rugby players? SA Rugby would never allow the men Springboks to be weakened because a national 7s team wanted a player/s. Those players would have to be made available for the 15s team.
Women’s rugby 7s is funded and has a good budget to adequately cover training costs, national contract salaries and international participation. Women’s rugby 15s is known to get some support for advancement here and there, with recently introduced-again international games, but they don’t get national contracts.
For the three home Tests in September and October, you had the scenario of some players getting late call ups to the women Springboks team as injuries hit and some players weren’t showing up on the field. But the players were young and inexperienced. Why couldn’t SA have fielded their quality players featuring in the 7s setup? The reason why the 7s players were held back was because they were in training to go play in the Africa World Series 7s championship; a tournament they had to win to qualify for the 2020 Olympics and World Series. SA won the African world series 7s qualifiers. But they are not going to the Tokyo Olympics because SASCOC says they haven’t met their qualifying criteria.
So where does that leave SA’s women’s rugby 15s team that has qualified for the 2021 world cup in New Zealand? After three successive home Test defeats, it says SA’s women Springboks have much preparation to do over the coming 18 months. The players exist. But how is a 15s team going to take shape and start winning to increase its confidence when several of its quality players are being held within 7s rugby?
Something has got to give! SA Rugby must sort out this 15s and 7s ‘ownership’ of players. Playing Tests without our quality and best team is not going to help strengthen the national women’s rugby team much. All its going to do is have the coaches saying ‘we are a young and inexperienced team and learning along the way’. But how then is SA women’s rugby going to become stronger in world rugby?

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