Ever heard the story of a couple of 16-year-old school girls sitting around in Knysna, chatting about life and then deciding to start a rugby team?
It’s a true story – one that not only set Mathrin Simmers on the road to become a professional rugby player, but also allowed her to see the world and play rugby for South Africa in global events.
In 2005, Simmers became one of the founding members of the Knysna Titans' Women's Rugby Club and played close to 100 matches for her club in the Hornlee suburb. And in 2012, she became the first Springbok Women’s representative from the popular tourist town on the Garden Route, as well as their first Springbok Women’s Sevens player.
She has gone on to play 15s rugby for the Springbok Women's team against the Nomads and represented South Africa in the Nations Cup in the USA in 2013.
And in the colours of the Springbok Women's Sevens team, Simmers played in the Commonwealth Games (2018) and two Rugby World Cup Sevens tournaments, in Moscow in 2013 and San Francisco in 2018.
Simmers also played on the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series for South Africa, with stops in places such as Amsterdam, Houston, Hong Kong, Langford and Dubai.
With her fellow country women, Simmers played in the final of the first ever Women’s Series tournament, in Dubai in 2012, and was part of the team that won the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series Invitational in Hong Kong a couple of years later.
But for Simmers, who fell in love with the game when she first set foot on the rugby field, there is still more to achieve. She now has her eyes on the final prize, a place in the South African team that will try and qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Rugby Africa confirmed last week that South Africa will be amongst the 12 teams to contest the Africa Women's Sevens on 12-13 October in Jemmel, Tunisia. The winner will qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
The silver and bronze medallists will have another opportunity to qualify in a world repêchage tournament. In Tunisia, the South Africans will come up against the hosts, as well as Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Senegal, Botswana, Zambia, Morocco, Mauritius, and Ghana.
But back to that fateful day in Knysna, one that the 31-year-old, a sweeper in sevens and outside centre in fifteens, remembers fondly.
“I played netball, athletics and baseball back then, basically all the sports that were available,” Simmers recalled.
“One day, we were chatting and one of the girls suggested we start a rugby club. We started and then things took off. More and more girls joined and the club is still going strong today.”
The club always had a strong focus on community and the personal development of their members, and it was their reaction when she executed tackles that spurred Simmers on.
“It was the contact yes, I loved tackling. Maybe it was the reaction of the crowd following a good tackle. Later on I started to spend more time on attack,” she explained her development.
She started playing for the Titans and soon after that for SWD’s senior team, although she was still only 17 years old.
“My mother, Barbara, was not keen on the idea at the beginning, but since I’ve made the national team, she is my biggest fan,” Simmers recalls with a smile.
Her Springbok Women’s Sevens career kicked off in 2012, when the ladies in green and gold delivered a massive performance at the Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens, HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, reaching the final against New Zealand.
Since then, Simmers has played in 36 matches in the World Series, scoring six tries for her country. She was also included in South Africa’s team for the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow in 2013 and never looked back.
“I started in 15s, playing for SWD in the provincial competitions, where Denver Wannies, who was the SA coach back in those days, spotted me and invited me to a Springbok Women’s camp,” she said.
“I was then selected for the two match-series against the Nomads from England and also played against the USA in the Nations Cup in Glendale, Colorado.”
The Sevens call was getting louder though and she moved into the shorter version in 2014. Fast forward five years and now, as a contracted player based in Stellenbosch, Simmers says the squad still have a couple of objectives.
“We are preparing towards those Olympic qualifiers in October. If we win that, we should be invited to play in Dubai and Cape Town, and next March we will try and qualify for the World Series again. Losing twice in that qualifying final in recent years was very frustrating,” said Simmers.
Simmers feels the players in the squad are improving, having finished 11th at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in the USA last year.
“A couple of new players have joined us, and some of them are very fast. We are looking for consistency and we have shown some of that in France earlier this month, when we played really well in invitational tournaments in Paris and Nancy, winning both,” said the experienced Simmers, who believes the recent improvements will help the team as they try to expand their player base and team dynamics.
“We are really getting close, we have a good core of contracted players and we are getting the culture in place.”
Simmers is lucky to have two role models, Blitzboks playmakers Justin Geduld and Cecil Afrika, at an arm’s length away at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport, the base for South Africa’s sevens teams.
“They both play in my position and it helps that they are around. We talk about the game a lot. That is inspiring to us and just like them, we are striving to be the best team we can be and one that South Africans can proudly call their own,” said Simmers.
Issued by SA Rugby Communication