SA Women's rugby under construction
WOMENS SPOTLIGHT: While countries like England, Australia, New Zealand, United States, Canada and Spain competed in the Women's Rugby World Rugby 2017, there was no sight of South Africa.
The Women's Springbok team have participated in a three World Cups. They made their debut in 2006 and have featured in the 2010 and 2014 edition, respectively.
Fast forward to 2017, and there was no sight of the SA Women's team at the World Cup held in Ireland.
Which could be a blessing in disguise given their horrendous results in 2014. The side suffered three heavy pool defeats to Australia (3-26), France (3-55) and Wales (3-35).
The humiliating defeats played a massive part in SARU's reluctance to send the team again.
Currently, the SA Women's team occupy 13th spot on the Women's Ranking while the North American sides like Canada (four) and USA (five) seem to be in fine form when it comes to the ladies game.
The North Americans created a system and have set structures that fully support Women's Rugby. Canada, even established a Canadian Rugby Foundation who funds the National Women’s XV Team in preparation for the 2017 Women’s World Cup, while the USA has a Rugby Trust that helps develop not only the men's teams but funds the women's team as well.
However, not only do they focus on their senior teams, they target the young girls.
This is a perfect blueprint to copy and paste.
For us to just focus on the SA Women's Rugby side would not benefit South African Women's rugby holistically, we have to shift our focus on developing our young girls.
Every week, hundreds of parents and Old Boys flock to watch their Alma Mater first XV games to participate in Premier Interschools, Classic Clashes, the odd friendly and all the other rugby festivals.
There are constant support and financial backing for the young men whose whole mission - along with coaches, school and parents - are to get a spot in the illustrious Grant Khomo Week, Academy Week and Craven Week.
All these different structures are put in place to set a good platform for boys to become professional players.
We are forever exposing and scouting for boys to don the Springbok jersey and making sure only the "crème de la crème" gets into the exclusive club.
However, we forget about investing and supporting our girls who also participate in highly competitive matches.
Earlier this year, alongside all the other SA Youth Weeks, the SA Rugby National Girls U18 Week was held from July 3-7 in Welkom. Sadly, the media coverage for the girls week was mediocre compared to the Craven Week's exposure.
If we want our women's rugby to improve we should start showing respect for the women's game. SARU along with the provincial Unions need to invest and provide a workable rugby program for girls in schools, need to financially back these young girls, and provide media coverage for Women's rugby tournaments - not just a highlights package between a Currie Cup First Division match.
Sadly, the reluctance to support the Women's Rugby game is not an exclusively South African phenomenon; even New Zealand have gaps in their structure. The Black Ferns have won five World Cups already and are still struggling to find sponsors and support.
After their recent World Cup win, former All Blacks utility back Mills Muliana even urged the New Zealand Rugby Union to build on the Ferns' winning campaign and start supporting the game.
"The Women's game does need to go professional," Muliana said on his weekly podcast the Shortball with Scott Stevenson, adding: "We need something to be pumped into the women's' game,"
"If I was a sponsor, that will be the way out go... Globally we can do more but for now we should first focus on our own backyard," he added.
Taking it back to our own backyard, the SA Rugby Women’s Interprovincial tournament has been in full-steam. The tournament has already reached its final stage with Border and Western Province competing for top honours on September 16 at the BCM Stadium in East London.
It would have been amazing if the Final could be played as a curtain-raiser for the one of the Currie Cup fixture, just a little victory.
There seems to be a dim light at the end of the tunnel.
SARU’s acknowledgement of their ill-treatment of the women’s game has helped them develop some systems, hence the development of the SA Rugby’s Youth Training Centres (YTC’s).
Apparently, the aim of the YTC is to develop a bigger and more skilled pool of women players that would contribute to a more competitive women’s national team in future.
The women’s SA Select national team will be reintroduced into international competition later this year with a tour to London, they will play two matches against the England Academy team and one against the British Army.
By Leezil Hendricks