SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux and Springbok Women’s coach Stanley Raubenheimer agreed on Tuesday that the cancellation of the 2020 edition of the Rugby Africa Women’s Cup was the best decision for all involved due to the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Springbok Women were set to defend their Rugby Africa Women’s Cup title in a three match-series against Uganda, Madagascar and Kenya between May and July, which would have featured a historic first Test match in Madagascar, but the tournament was called off on Tuesday following a decision by Rugby Africa to cancel their 2020 season in the interests of player safety.
The key considerations in this significant decision included the current bans on travel, public gatherings and sporting events across Africa, the varying lifting of lockdown restrictions across the continent, potential quarantine requirements and the anticipated increase in travel costs when the travel bans are lifted.
Another contributing factor highlighted by the Rugby Africa Medical Committee was the fact that the variable evolution of COVID-19 in different parts of Africa made it difficult to predict when the pandemic would peak in Africa and when the end would be in sight.
“I feel for Stanley Raubenheimer and his team, especially with an eye on their preparations for the 2021 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand,” said Roux, who is also the Secretary General of Rugby Africa.
“But the safety of the players and team management members has to be the top priority in any decision made, and the cancellation of the tournament is in line with that.
“The players have continued to put in the hard yards in terms of their training during lockdown, and I commend them for that. I have no doubt that this news – albeit disappointing – will not stop them from doing their best and ensuring that they return to the field even more determined when the rugby season resumes.”
Raubenheimer was equally realistic in his reaction to the cancellation of the tournament: “I think it was the best decision in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. I would rather extend our preparation for the 2021 Rugby World Cup into next year and have peace of mind knowing that the players’ safety is the main priority.
“As a coaching team we were prepared for any eventuality, but it is good to have clarity on the season so we can map the way forward.”
Raubenheimer said the players would continue with their personal training programmes for now, while he remained hopeful that the European Tour scheduled to take place in November would go ahead.
“There is still a while to go before the November tour, so we will continue planning for that, although similarly to the Rugby Africa Women’s Cup we need to be prepared for any scenario that may play out,” said the coach.
“Obviously we would have liked to play as many matches as possible in the lead-up to the World Cup, but we have to be patient and let the COVID-19 virus take its course.
“Fortunately we managed to get the centralised training camps running across the country earlier in the year to allow the players to train together within in their respective regions, so when they can train in groups again I would like to see that function optimally. And if possible it would be nice to have a short alignment camp of three to four days with the entire squad later in the season.”
Issued by SA Rugby Communications
In another step up for womens’ rugby in South Africa, the Springbok Women celebrated International Women’s Day on Sunday with the news that they will defend their Rugby Africa Women’s Cup title between May and July, with the tournament featuring a historic first Test match in Madagascar.
This year’s Rugby Africa Women’s Cup marks the second edition of the tournament, with the Springbok Women set to play three matches – against Uganda on Saturday 30 May in Pretoria; Madagascar on Sunday 28 June in Antananarivo; and Kenya on Friday 3 July in Cape Town. The match venues will be announced at a later stage.
Kenya, Madagascar and Uganda will cross paths with one another in the other three matches, with the team accumulating the most log points at the end of the series being crowned the champions.
“The announcement that the Rugby Africa Women’s Cup will be hosted again this year is fantastic news for the Springbok Women and for the advancement of the women’s game in Africa in general,” said SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux, who also serves as Rugby Africa’s Secretary General.
“The growth and improvement of women’s rugby is one of our top priorities at SA Rugby, and the fact that World Rugby and Rugby Africa have also placed women’s rugby high on their agenda will bode well for the development of the sport worldwide.”
Roux added: “I would like to thank World Rugby and Rugby Africa for again placing their faith in us to host two of these significant matches.
“I would also like to congratulate all the women’s rugby players on the African continent for their commitment to the game and for doing their bit to contribute to a gender equal sport.”
The Springbok Women won the inaugural Rugby Africa Women’s Cup in Brakpan in 2019 – which doubled up as the 2021 Rugby World Cup qualifier – and they won all three matches emphatically to book their place in the international spectacle in New Zealand next year.
The competition format differs this season with the matches being staggered over a longer period across a handful of venues in each of the participating countries in line with Rugby Africa’s objective to host the women’s event concurrently with the men’s tournament. This will see some of the matches in the other countries being played as curtain-raisers to the men’s games.
“We are very excited to participate in the Rugby Africa Women’s Cup again this season,” said Springbok Women’s coach Stanley Raubenheimer.
“This is a fitting way for the players to celebrate International Women’s Day. Playing our first Test in Madagascar is also thrilling, and I believe it will be a fantastic experience for the players.”
Raubenheimer said every opportunity to play a Test match will count with an eye on their preparations for the Rugby World Cup.
“We are determined to improve the standard of our rugby looking ahead to the World Cup and every match we play and training camp we host will be vital in achieving this,” said the coach.
“We are currently embarking on a drive to host centralised training sessions within the provinces on a weekly basis and to assist the players individually from a conditioning, training and nutrition perspective. This is with the greater goal of improving their fitness, skills and understanding of our game plan.
“Essentially the more time we spend together, the better it will be for the team because that is critical to any side’s success.”
Raubenheimer said there were in the process of trying to arrange further Test matches for the team later in the season.
He also gave a special message to women’s players for International Women’s Day, saying: “I would like to thank all the women’s rugby players in South Africa for their contribution to breaking barriers and showing that rugby is a game for everyone.
“The players I have worked with since taking over the position as Springbok Women’s coach have showed without doubt that they are equally dedicated and passionate about the sport as their male counterparts, and it is pleasing that we can celebrate their achievements on a day like International Women’s Day.”
Springbok Women’s Rugby Africa Women’s Cup fixtures:
Saturday, 30 May – Springbok Women v Uganda, Pretoria
Sunday, 28 June – Madagascar v Springbok Women, Antananarivo, Madagascar
Friday, 3 July – Springbok Women v Kenya, Cape Town
Issued by SA Rugby Communication
The Springbok Women's Sevens team kept a clean slate at the Hermanus Sevens to bag a second title at this event in as many years.
The Imbokodo won their matches against Boland Rebels (35-0), SWD Titans (38-0), Blue Jets (32-0) and Busy Bees 38-0 in the final in a hit-out that was pleasing to coach Paul Delport, as his squad was tested in numerous ways, but kept a clean slate nonetheless.
Welcome rain fell over the Overberg and in Hermanus on Saturday and combined with the strong winds, handling was an issue to all team. However for Delport, it was another plus as his team prepare for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series in Stellenbosch next month.
"I am very happy with our first tournament outing for the season here at the Hermanus Sevens," Delport said.
"We want to thank the Boland Rugby Union and the various sponsors and organisers for this opportunity. It was something we needed to get back into the normal rhythm of playing tournaments.
"It was a very good hit-out for us. We used it as a bit of a condition exercise and all the players got the same game time, " according to Delport.
The weather did not play along, but Delport was not fazed by that.
"We were tested at times and with the rain coming down for most of the day, we were actually able to get our kicking pattern going and getting to work on a couple of things we would not have done on a dry day."
Delport said he took a different approach on the day as well, stepping back a bit to empower the players in their decision-making and tournament management.
"I gave them the responsibility today to run their own show and was pleased with their response. Overall, it was a good day for us, and it was worth making the trip."
The Imbokodo results of the Hermanus Sevens were:
Boland Rebels 35-0
SWD Titans 38-0
Blue Jets 32-0
Busy Bees 38-0
Issued by SA Rugby Communications
The Springbok Women have a little over 19 months to prepare for the 2021 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand – news that triggered excitement and urgency for SA Rugby’s Director of Rugby, Rassie Erasmus, and Springbok Women’s coach, Stanley Raubenheimer, with an eye on the team’s preparations for the world showpiece.
World Rugby announced on Monday night that the global spectacle will run from 18 September to 16 October, with matches being spread across three venues, namely Waitakere Stadium, Whangarei’s Northland Events Centre, and Eden Park in Auckland.
The teams that have already qualified for RWC 2021 include Australia, Canada, England, Fiji, France, New Zealand, South Africa, the USA and Wales, while another three teams will book their places this year.
The tournament will feature three pool rounds – on Saturday, 18 September; Thursday, 23 September; and Tuesday, 28 September respectively; while the quarter-finals will play out on Sunday, 3 October; the semi-finals on Saturday; 9 October and the Final and bronze final on Saturday, 16 October.
“Building a quality Springbok Women’s team and developing women’s rugby in general are among our top priorities at SA Rugby, so it was exciting to receive the dates for the 2021 Rugby World Cup,” said Erasmus. “And we are determined to develop a competitive team.
“Historically the Springbok Women have struggled in the RWC, and we would like to turn over a new leaf next year. That said we are aware that we are far behind the other countries, so the important thing for us is to show some growth as a team.
“Obviously that requires quality structures, sufficient training camps and game time against quality opposition, and we are working on that. But we have a direction to work toward with the dates now confirmed, and hopefully we will be in a position to make announcements on the team’s schedule in the near future.”
Of the confirmation of the tournaments dates and venues, Raubenheimer said: “It was a reality check to receive the dates because it puts things into perspective in terms of the time frames we are working towards, and time is a challenge because it will pass by quickly. But it is good to know how long we have to put all the groundwork in place and work with the players.”
Raubenheimer said there were a few vital aspects to get the ball rolling.
“The most important short-term goals are to assess the injuries and get the players back on the field as soon as they recover, and then we need to get the players who are training to reach the level we would like them to be at,” Raubenheimer said. “We also need to put together a good group of players to work with in the lead-up to the competition, so we can grow a quality team in the months to come.”
World Rugby Chairman, Sir Bill Beaumont, looked forward to an exciting tournament in New Zealand, saying: “Women’s rugby is the single-biggest opportunity to grow the global game, and we are confident that New Zealand 2021 will be one of the great Rugby World Cups, attracting a new fan and player base for the sport.
“RWC 2021 follows a hugely successful 2017 event in Ireland which broke attendance and broadcast records, having a hugely positive impact on women’s rugby. Last year we successfully launched ‘Try and Stop Us’, a campaign that aims to drive increased participation and engagement among fans, audiences, players and investors in the women’s game.
“It is a privilege to be in New Zealand and to see the huge amount of work that has already gone into ensuring this will be another spectacular tournament for the world’s best women’s teams.”
Issued by SA Rugby Communication