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SA’s women rugby players poised to return to the field after 18 months of inaction

SA’s women rugby players poised to return to the field after 18 months of inaction
Aphiwe Patricia Ngwevu of Border and Kimico Shaunese Manuel of Western Province during the Women’s Interprovincial A section final match City Park in Cape Town on 7 September 2019. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images)

They have not seen any competitive action in well over a year, but South Africa’s female rugby stars are ready to take to the field again on the domestic front.

Following the necessary, but disappointing decision by World Rugby to postpone the Women’s Rugby World Cup by a year, participating nations have been granted extra time to gear up for the global showpiece.

Rugby’s world governing body cited concerns of player safety amid the global pandemic as the reason for calling off the tournament.

“Postponement by a year should enable us to enjoy the benefits of the global vaccination programme, easing the burden on international travel requirements and within New Zealand itself,” World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said in March.

The postponement also gives the Springbok women and other participants adequate time to prepare for the showpiece. Due to Covid-19, female rugby players have seen little to no competitive action for more than 18 months.

On the home front, South Africa’s top domestic and international women’s rugby players last crouched, touched, paused and engaged in 2019, before the onset of the pandemic.

But in a few days, the Women’s Premier Division competition will kick off. The first game is scheduled for Saturday, 8 May.

“We are thrilled that our women players will be back on the field playing in competitions for the first time in over a year-and-a-half,” said SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux.

Following that lengthy hiatus, the annual competition was geared towards being a high-intensity environment that would help the Bok women fast-track their preparations for their first World Cup appearance since the 2014 edition.

With the one-year postponement, some of the fringe players will now get an opportunity to stake a claim to be included in Stanley Raubenheimer’s final squad when the Boks depart for New Zealand.

Having been a one-round competition in the past, where each team played the others once, the 2021 edition will feature two rounds.

“The goals of the Women’s Premier and First divisions are firstly to kickstart the domestic women’s competition for the first time post-Covid-19. And with this being the first time the women’s Premier Division features a double round, we would like to try to increase the competition time and intensity in the women’s game,” explained SA Rugby’s high-performance manager for women’s rugby, Lynne Cantwell.

“The increased competition will give the players an opportunity to play more rugby, but also help drive performance within the system,” Cantwell continued.

“Originally, we increased the competition to a double round because we had to do it to try to replicate as much game time as possible for the national players in preparation for the Rugby World Cup, which was initially scheduled for September but has since been postponed to 2022. However, it is definitely the format model we would like to continue with.” 

The Premier Division will see the top six teams in South Africa — 2019 winners Western Province, runners-up Border, as well as Boland, Blue Bulls, Eastern Province and KwaZulu-Natal — go head-to-head in a jam-packed 11-week competition, culminating in the final between the top two teams on the table on 17 July.

The second tier of the competition will see teams split into two groups, with the top team in each group going to the final, which will serve as a curtain-raiser for the Premier Division, also on 17 July.

Four teams will battle it out in Group One of the second tier — Free State, Griffons, Griquas and South Western Districts — while Group Two features five teams: the Leopards, Limpopo Blue Bulls, Lions, Valke and Pumas.

These teams will go head to head over a single round beginning in June.  

“I’d like to commend each of the provinces for their hard work in preparing for this competition. We’ve had an extra focus on quality coaching, strength and conditioning, matchday nutrition and medical support this year, which is an upgrade from previous years,” Cantwell said.

Some of the Premier Division’s matches will be broadcast on SuperSport, in what Cantwell described as a move that will “boost the access and reach of the game for young girls and women who would like to play, but also for rugby fans who would simply like to watch the matches”.

The first round of the Premier Division will feature three action-packed clashes, with Border hosting the Blue Bulls, KwaZulu-Natal taking on Eastern Province, and defending champions Western Province going up against their Western Cape neighbours Boland. DM

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