Yesterday’s Rugby Chommies Are Today’s Springboks By Cheryl Roberts

4 May

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An authentic sports narrative, arising out of a working class community friendship of two school friends who supported each other in rugby and became Springboks in the same year
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In 2018, two 20 year old Cape Town-based rugby players, Damian Willemse and Alana-Lee Horne got to be selected to play senior rugby for South Africa. Damian Willemse was selected into the men’s Springbok team and Alana-Lee Horne was selected into the women’s Springbok team. They had both just graduated from youth rugby. When the dots got connected about the roots of their earlier participation in rugby, it was found out that the two Springboks were friends at primary school who played in the same under 10 rugby team.
They were born in the same year. They lived in the same community in Cape Town. They were friends at primary school. They played in the same under 10 rugby team in the community. They supported each other in sport. They both grew up in rugby and became Springboks. They are Damian Willemse and Alana –Lee Horn, both aged 22 years.
Attending school at the Methodist primary school in Strand in Cape Town, two learners not ony got to be friends but to play rugby together. It was Damian Willemse who started playing rugby when the opportunity was offered to boys his age group.

alana and damian u10

Then, after talking to his friend, Alana-Lee Horne and hearing about her interest in rugby, he invited her to the rugby field to join him and teammates in touch rugby on the community sportsfield.
Alana-Lee Horne remembers the day clearly. It was 25 September 2008; the day she first ran with a rugby ball. Soon Damian and Alana were playing in the same under 10 rugby team. Alana was the only girl player.
They continued playing rugby in their later primary school years. Then high school separated them. Damian Willemse got a lucrative schoolboy offer to attend high school at Paul Roos Gymnasium, a school that concentrates on schoolboy rugby.
Alana didn’t get any school girl rugby offers and had no option but to attend the local high school. She didn’t play rugby in her first year at school but started playing in her second year.
Although they were at different high schools, Damian and Alana still played rugby and still kept in touch. They were community and rugby friends. Both played schools and provincial age group rugby as junior players throughout high school and, soon out of high school, both Damian and Alana got selected for the provincial Western Province senior rugby teams.
By age 20 Damian Willemse had a provincial rugby contract. Alana-Lee Horne wasn’t offered a contract because Western Province Rugby didn’t offer senior women players provincial contracts, like that given to the men. Whilst Damian knew he was getting a monthly salary to play rugby and could focus on his rugby as a professional player, Alana-Lee Horne didn’t have this luxury. She had to also look at job and studying opportunities to look after herself as a young adult woman out of school, and get in the time to play rugby as an amateur sportswoman but elite rugby player.

Such was their amazing progress in senior rugby, that Damian and Alana were soon being noticed by national selectors and the Springbok coaches of the men’s and women’s teams. In 2018, both Damian and Alana got their national call-ups and pulled on their Springbok jerseys. Damian Willemse got his Springbok call-up ahead of Alana-Lee Horne, who followed a few months later. Both Damian and Alana scored tries for their Springbok teams in their first year of Springbok representation.

Now at 22 years old, Damian Willemse has played in his first rugby world cup and won a rugby world cup championship and gold medal. Alana-Lee Horne has her ambitions focussed on making the 2021 Springbok team to play in the women’s rugby world cup.

damian willemse scoring
The gender disparities in men-dominated rugby in South Africa are now glaring when profiling the rugby lives of Damian Willemse and Alana-Lee Horne. Both from the same community, same primary school, same pre-teen rugby team, the players of different genders would see how gender inequalities would impact on them. Damian got the offer to a plush suburban rugby-playing high school. Alana-Lee Horne didn’t get such an offer because the plush suburban high schools don’t recognise girls rugby as a priority sport.
The young player Damian Willemse got the provincial rugby contract. The young woman rugby player Alana-Lee Horne didn’t get the provincial rugby contract. Damian gets to play much more national and international rugby competitions because of all the events offered for men’s rugby. Alana doesn’t get to play much national and international rugby because women’s 15’s rugby gets just one national competition to play just a few interprovincial games and few international matches.
Despite the gender inequalities and gender preferences in men-dominated SA Rugby, the two child rugby friends that are Damian Willemse and Alana-Lee Horne both know they love rugby and want to not only play for South Africa, but also perform as world class players on the world rugby stage.

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