Earlier this year SA Rugby made the women’s game the organisation’s second-highest priority, behind only the Springbok national team.
The national body has had to intervene because while the men’s team are world leaders and champions, that is not the case among the women Springboks.
SA Rugby has partnered with a leading sports bookmaker to launch an elite coaching programme which is part of the next phase in the evolution of the women’s game in the country.
Coaching has been earmarked for a significant financial boost in order to attend to the vast disparity.
It’s almost impossible to quantify the gap between the men’s and women’s Springbok teams.
SA Rugby is all too aware that the difference between their men’s and women’s rugby programmes is about 100 years in terms of development, opportunities to play the game and even just the opportunity to choose to play rugby if you’re a young girl.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber, who has coached both the Springbok women’s Fifteens and Sevens teams, knows about that challenge first hand.
“I think that is probably the challenge when I went to Ireland myself and Rassie, my daughter was twelve and she went to school and played rugby. I think that is the challenge. There is not a culture currently at school level where girls get the choice to go and play rugby, and it is not forcing girls to play rugby or getting your daughter to play rugby, but if she wants to play rugby she must have the choice”, says Nienaber.
“There must be a pathway and I think that is the challenge and it is probably going to take a couple of years of developing a culture that it is not frowned upon for girls to participate in rugby”, the Bok coach adds.
Concern for lack of Bok Women international experience
SA Rugby has identified coaching as one of the missing pieces to improving the women’s game in the country.
Former Irish international, Lynne Cantwell, who is the high performance manager for women’s rugby at SA Rugby, is concerned that players get to international level with very little experience behind them.
“Often girls come into the sport later or they don’t have access to the amount of game time and competition that guys do. They often arrive at national level and they just have lots of gaps, so having good technical tactical strategic coaches that are able to teach that stuff is really really key”, says Cantwell.
By focusing on the level and quality of coaching, SA Rugby is hoping that it will be able to elevate and spread the knowledge about the game to all corners of the country which should have a lasting effect.
The increase in investment is a timely boost for the women’s game, given that women compete in the Green and Gold on the international stage already and there are World Cups, Commonwealth Games and other international fixtures to prepare for.
“We have a Sevens and Fifteens national programme and both of them are functional now. It is going to take time for us to be competitive on both of them but the reason that we want to prioritise both programmes, is because we want to prioritise opportunities for national players to play” Cantwell concludes.
The selection of seven coaches for the three-year programme is all in preparation for the professional era of women’s game.
SA Rugby’s administrators hope they’ve intervened in time, and that they will be able to narrow the gap between the men’s and women’s game in the country.