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Solontsi, Mabenge return to Test fray against Cameroon

TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Sizophila Solontsi and Nomawethu Mabenge will make welcome returns to Test rugby after being named in the Springbok Women’s starting team to face Cameroon in the Africa Women’s Cup opener in Madagascar on Saturday.

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The pair last played together at the same venue in the same competition a year ago, where Mabenge topped the points’ scoring stakes with six tries.

Samantha Els and Aliyah Tchogna-Njamen have been included in the run-on team for the first time after making their international debuts off the bench against Spain early last month, while Nomsa Mokwai will earn a first start since 2019.

There is also a return to Bok duty for Lusanda Dumke and Nompumelelo Mathe for the first time in 2024.

Mathe, as well as the halfback combination of Rumandi Potgieter and Mary Zulu are the only players who started against Cameroon in the first clash between the sides last year.

Eight changes were made to the team that started against the USA in London on March 30.

Nolusindiso Booi will again lead the side in another record-breaking appearance in Green and Gold when she dons the jersey for a 43rd time in a Test. She is one of four players who started against the USA, with 11 others involved in that match.

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Springbok Women head coach Louis Koen was happy to welcome back the returning players, and added that Tchogna-Njamen and Els deserved their first starts for South Africa.

“It is great to have Sizo and Nomawethu back and to have Lusanda coming off the bench,” said Koen.

“We are still thin on experience in certain positions, as we saw on our recent tour to Europe, and they will certainly address that for us.

“Aliyah and Samantha have been with us since October last year and have worked extremely hard ever since, so they deserve their starts. Both need game time, so this is a great opportunity to get that and stake a claim.

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“The same applies to Nomsa, who has shown in her return to Test rugby against the USA last month that more is to come.”

 

Koen is adamant that a strong start to the competition is non-negotiable: “We need to win the tournament to qualify for next year’s World Cup, so we cannot afford any mistakes.

“I think the team we’ve selected reflects that and gives acknowledgment to Cameroon, who will come at us physically, as we experienced last year. A strong start will give us the momentum for the rest of the campaign.”

With a tight schedule of three matches in 12 days, it will be challenging to select a fresh team in the next two matches, but Koen said they have worked out their selection strategy based on the vast experience in the squad.

“Some players have played three consecutive matches in the Premier Division and we took that into consideration as well,” said Koen.

“The main focus will be to have three sides that are as fresh as possible for each game and I think we will be able to manage that.”

Last year, the Bok Women beat Cameroon 87-0 as they went on to claim the African title, but Koen said that result is history.

“Each Test match brings new challenges, and we are ready to embrace those,” he said. “We will focus on our strengths and to impose that on our opponents. We have prepared well and go into the game with a clear-cut understanding on how we want to perform in order to be successful.”

South Africa: 15 Chuma Qawe, 14 Nomawethu Mabenge, 13 Veroeshka Grain, 12 Pisokuhle Nyanda, 11 Maceala Samboya, 10 Mary Zulu, 9 Rumandi Potgieter, 8 Sizophila Solontsi, 7 Samantha Els, 6 Nompumelelo Mathe, 5 Nomsa Mokwai, 4 Nolusinidiso Booi, 3 Aliyah Tchogna-Njamen, 2 Lindelwa Gwala, 1 Sanelisiwe Charlie.
Replacements: 16 Roseline Botes, 17 Xiliswa Khuzwayo, 18 Azisa Mkiva, 19 Vainah Ubisi, 20 Lusanda Dumke, 21 Tayla Kinsey, 22 Aphiwe Ngwevu, 23 Byrhandre Dolf

Date: Saturday, 4 May 2024
Venue: Stade Maki, Antananarivo
Kick-off: 12.00 (SA time)
Referee: Julie Randriarimanana

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