Former Irish international Lynne Cantwell roped in to bolster Bok women

Former Irish international Lynne Cantwell roped in to bolster Bok women
Aphiwe Ngwevu of South Africa during the Women’s rugby international between South Africa and Scotland at City Park Stadium in Cape Town on 5 October 2019. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images)

In an effort to consistently elevate their game to an international level, the bid by the South African senior women’s team to make a splash at the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup has been given a huge boost with the appointment of expert Lynne Cantwell.

The Springbok women are shifting gears as they prepare for their return to the global stage when they participate in the Women’s Rugby World Cup, scheduled to take place in September 2021. 

SA Rugby announced the appointment of former Irish women’s centre Lynne Cantwell as a high-performance manager for the team.

SA Rugby Communications General Manager Andy Colquhoun and Springbok Women’s High-Performance Manager Lynne Cantwell during a virtual media briefing hosted by SA Rugby Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus on 18 February 2021. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images)

“If we’re serious about women’s rugby — and we are — we had to make a serious appointment, and we have,” said SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux.

“Lynne comes on board at a time when we have committed to growing the game amongst women — a directive from World Rugby and a South African national imperative — and she will work closely with Rassie Erasmus (Director of Rugby), Charles Wessels (GM: Rugby) and Springbok Women’s head coach Stanley Raubenheimer to improve the women’s game in South Africa.”

Cantwell has a surfeit of experience on the playing field, having amassed a record 86 caps for Ireland before her retirement. She has also recently served as an executive committee board member with Sport Ireland.

She holds a degree in sports and exercise science from the University of Limerick in Ireland and has a Master’s in physiotherapy from Southampton University in England.

Cantwell touched on her designated role during the press briefing. She was at pains to highlight that the paths navigated by female rugby athletes are usually very different from that of their male counterparts.

Although the ultimate goal was to lessen those systematic gaps, she said, at present it was important to have someone who intrinsically understood the needs of a female athlete.

“The pathways piece is really important. If you’re a five-year-old boy you walk out of your door and you can play football, you can play rugby. You can do that at six years, you can do that at seven years, you can do that at eight years… A girl doesn’t do that, and as a result that experience [to the top] is very different,” said Cantwell.

“Therefore, when Stanley Raubenheimer gets a 19-year-old girl that comes into the squad, her pathway is very different, and therefore his approach has to be different, the nutrition needs have to be different. 

“So, the ultimate high performance is that, and we don’t have that. But we need to try and redesign it, and plug the holes in the whole structure to ensure that we’re allowing female talent to be flung to the top.”

RWC 2021 challenge

The Springboks have made much progress since their inaugural match in 2004. To qualify for the 2021 World Cup which is set to take place in New Zealand, they flexed their muscles as the best on the continent by winning the Rugby Africa Women’s Cup in 2019.

The hierarchy of SA Rugby though, including Erasmus, is choosing to be realistic on the level the players are at in comparison with the rest of the world, and indeed their opponents at the World Cup. 

Cantwell’s appointment is not to bring instant and radical results, but rather to carry the knowledge she imparts to the 2025 and 2029 World Cups.

“The Rugby World Cup this year will probably be a good measurement for us to see where we actually are. We’ve got a fairly good idea, after discussing with Lynne and knowing what platinum standard programmes look like, that we’re fairly far behind,” Erasmus said.

“We’re in a very tough pool with Fiji, England and France. At the tournament, Fiji would be the goal for us, to try and beat them. Then really make a good account of ourselves against the other two, who are ranked number two and three in the world,” added Erasmus.

“The squad is relatively young and a lot of them can make the next World Cup. So, getting out of this World Cup, and just measuring the different sections and departments; where are we in defence, where are we in planning, where are we in fitness, where are we in attack… Then from there set ourselves realistic goals.” 

Erasmus added that they were constantly in touch with other women’s sides in the country that had done well to progress and develop structures for growth, though with limited resources. 

He said he had been in contact with Netball SA and some people from cricket. These codes had made tremendous strides in recent years, landing crucial corporate sponsorships as rewards for their progress.

Cantwell emphasised: “We can gather all the information from a rugby context and understand what all the top-four ranked teams are doing, but if it’s not South African-specific then we’re missing a huge trick. Obviously, only the South African women’s sports have those answers.”

In terms of actual preparation for the global showpiece, which is now just seven months away, SA rugby is working towards securing some international rugby matches for the Boks. However, with Covid-19 and travel restrictions, it has been a challenge.

There will, however, be a domestic competition scheduled for March that will see six interprovincial teams play one another, with each team playing 10 games in total. A number of team camps have been set up to ensure players remain in prime condition while options are considered for Test matches. DM


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