As South Africans spent August 9 marking 60 years since 20 000 women marched in Pretoria to protest against Apartheid’s pass laws, Theo Marais Park was abuzz with a Women’s Day rugby festival.
School teams and clubs flooded the fields in celebration of the role women play in the sport they love so much, playing various forms of the game, from 7-a-side and 10s matches to fully-fledged league matches in the Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU) Women’s League.
The main events were contests between Union-Milnerton (Uni-Mil) and CPUT’s Garden Tech as well as Langa’s Busy Bees taking on Pniel Villagers in the hunt for valuable league points.
A self-professed pro-women’s rugby club, Uni-Mil stands out as a driving force in the development of the female game. Having a female club captain, in Nolene Oosthuizen, sets the tone for this standard.
Oosthuizen wants to see the involvement of girls and women in the game thriving in schools and at club level and urges a change in mindset to see this come about.
“At the moment we only have eight clubs that have women’s sides and I think there needs to be an incentive for clubs to put teams together to help grow the game and encourage more women to get involved.
“Schools are still a big problem as many don’t want to coach girls’ sides and the general stigma is that girls should not play rugby as it is a boys’ sport. Unfortunately, clubs and schools also don’t really work together and with the schools not supporting rugby in the vast majority of areas it’s difficult for girls to get into the system before they leave school.
“There is some development in areas where they have the ‘mass participation’ programmes so we can see the sport growing in those areas and it is fairly easy to organise a tournament but in the more developed areas we still struggle,” she said.
Having said that, at club level Uni-Mil is a shining light of a club that is doing all the right things. On Women’s Day they came up against CPUT and gave them a heavy drubbing.
Their strong running tactics, good ball retention and movement and solid defence, always putting the students on the backfoot, saw them walking away 67-0 victors. At the weekend they thrashed Pniel 62-3.
The wins saw them securing second spot on the log behind Khayelitsha’s Blue Jets RFC. Of their 10 league matches, the Uni-Mil women have won nine and have earned 49 points from those wins, standing only one point behind the log leaders.
Oosthuizen attributes the success they have achieved and the model they hope to layout for future players to their experienced players and coaches giving back to the game by reinvesting their skills to see the side grow.
“The strength of our club is definitely that when the girls stop playing they don’t just disappear but give back to the game.
“Our coach, Danel Russouw, for example, earned 50 caps for Western Province and our team captain, Chantal Sieckers, has also played more than 50 matches for WP.
“They give back not just on the playing field but off the field they offer their coaching skills to upcoming players.
“That is what makes our team stand out. Girls that are new to the game are coached well and the motivational skills the coaches provide develops players throughout the season and you could see that this past week.
“As a club we offered our fields to Western Province to host a Women’s Day event and they agreed and organised that schools and clubs from all over come down.
“The highlight of the day was to see so many girls enjoying the day.
“There is some great potential out there and I hope clubs grab these girls when they leave school and that they don’t get lost in the system. One problem for schools and clubs is transport as it is not always safe for the girls to travel with public transport so that is something that needs to be addressed.
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“The great thing about this game is that you only need one player at a club to spark an interest and the rest will follow. We had Charne Stadler, Springbok 7s player and WP Rugby’s women player of the year, who came and spoke to the girls on the day. She is such a down to earth girl and it is good for the young players to interact with someone like her,” said Oosthuizen.
Of course, the male counterparts of Uni-Mil are also doing their part to raise the club’s prospects and some were in attendance to cheer their female teammates on as they hammered CPUT. As club captain, Oosthuizen’s love for the club is deeply engrained and she takes up the role of intermediary between players and the executive. As such, her role has become integral to the well-being of the club as a whole.
“The boys are also a real soft spot for me. I have been at the club for 16 years, back when we were down and out and with the shifted mindset and loads of hard work we got to where we are now. I have always said that a club must be a family and I think we have achieved that, where our players, friends, family and coaching staff are a strong unit.
“We are two steps away from going up to SLA and I think we are finally ready for that. The boys really play for each other and the energy on and off the field is great. We are working hard looking for sponsors to help us survive up in SLA and I believe that if we get them we can help cover the costs of running a top-level club.
“As always, we encourage all players, men and women, to join us if they stay in our feeding area, from school leaving players to the more experienced, to help our club grow,” she said.