How star powerlifter Amber Schonert muscled her way into the Bok scrum
With records already under her belt in the squat and bench press, Amber Schonert took up rugby after watching the Springbok Women play – and soon found herself among them.
The Springbok Women are filled with converts from other sports, from netball and cricket to athletics. Their newest convert, tighthead prop Amber Schonert, has emerged from the world of powerlifting.
Schonert (31), originally from Durban but now living in England, recently signed for the Sale Sharks from Championship side Cheltenham Tigers.
Her brother-in-law Nick Schonert – a former Junior Springbok prop – plays for the Sale Sharks men’s side.
In fact, it was because of him, as well as her husband Kurt, who plays for Richmond in England, that Schonert got involved with the oval ball.
“I only started playing rugby about a year and a half ago. I got into it just because I wanted to play a sport,” she told Daily Maverick.
“My husband plays, and my brother-in-law plays at a very high level too. They just said to me, ‘Go play rugby, you’ll enjoy it’.
“I had a friend who pulled me in. I went to my first practice and I absolutely loved it and I never looked back … That was a year and a half ago.”
Not even a dream
Schonert was inspired to start playing rugby when she watched the Springbok Women play the Barbarians at Twickenham at the end of 2021 – a match they lost 60-5.
“It wasn’t even a dream,” she said. “I watched the girls play. I went to go and watch that game, and that was my first inspiration to play.
“I watched that game and I thought, wouldn’t it be amazing to play for South Africa? And here I am.”
Playing for Cheltenham Tigers in the Championship, Schonert knew it would be a challenge to be recognised by the powers that be at SA Rugby.
“I took it upon myself as I was playing overseas and I just messaged coach Louis [Koen] and I said, hey, here’s a few of my clips, I just want to let you know that I am in England,” she said.
“I wasn’t sure if they would even know I was in England, so I just let them know that that’s where I was and that I was interested in taking my rugby career further.”
Schonert was first called up to the national team in May this year for the Rugby Africa Women’s Cup in Madagascar, which South Africa won convincingly against Kenya, Madagascar and Cameroon.
“At the beginning it was all about … just getting the experience, maybe just coming on a camp, but I was lucky enough that [Koen] took me to Madagascar straight away and developed me, which was great,” she said.
The win in Madagascar meant South Africa qualified for the second tier of the WXV, in which they are currently participating.
The WXV is a three-tier global competition with six nations in each, evenly divided across two pools.
The Springbok Women lost their opening match 31-17 to Scotland at Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch on 13 October.
Coming off the bench, Schonert was part of an irrepressible Springbok scrum unit that won four penalties against Scotland.
According to the diminutive powerhouse, moving across to rugby and scrumming was helped by the strength training she had done when she was powerlifting – a sport she wasn’t too bad at.
The multitalented prop, who also works as a tattoo artist, holds two British Powerlifting Union records, in squat and bench press.
“I did powerlifting, which is squats, bench press and deadlifts,” Schonert said.
“I’ve set some world records in them as well. I represented England a little bit in it as well, so it’s quite good.
“It’s great that I trained before, because it’s quite an easy crossover as we do all those kinds of movements in the gym anyway. You need that strength to play rugby. It really transported me over into rugby quite easily.”
Apart from talent, according to Schonert, there’s one important characteristic you need to represent the Springbok Women.
“I think if you have a competitive spirit, which is what our team is all about, you’ll be able to play,” she said.
“That’s all it is. It’s just about being competitive.” DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.