Former Springbok prop Lawrence Sephaka is the man responsible for gathering South Africa’s women’s rugby forces for a World Cup challenge just five weeks from now, and the coach yesterday pronounced himself happy with preparations as his team trained at the High Performance Centre at the University of Pretoria.
“There’s excitement all round, the players are all on a high and things are going good. It’s important to me that we keep on improving, because we have higher places to get to, and this is a great bunch of girls, very funny and sociable. There’s a great camaraderie,” Sephaka told The Pretoria News yesterday.
South Africa have been drawn with big guns Australia and hosts France, as well as Wales, in the World Cup, which starts on August 1, but Sephaka is more concerned with continuing the process of improvement that has been so apparent with the women’s Springboks, rather than individual matches.
“We are a rugby-loving nation and it’s worrying that we are only ranked 10th in the world. We’re a proud nation so we want to improve on that, but we need to follow the steps to get there, otherwise we could miss some things and stumble. So we’re not going to focus on individual games, but rather on our implementation. That will determine how we grow,” Sephaka said.
The owner of 24 Springbok caps said South Africa’s success at the World Cup would be down to quality set-pieces and physicality.
“We pride ourselves on our set-pieces because that will give us good ball to play from. If we don’t get good ball then we can’t strike through our backs and I believe we have a pretty talented backline. But we need to put them on the front foot. We need to take whatever pressure we’re under and also convert our chances,” Sephaka said.
“But if we cut out physicality from our game then we’ll also have a problem. We must embrace it and all these girls love that challenge, they love collisions, they live for it. I can give them targets and challenges and they just want to go and take out players. It gives them confidence.
“They love contact, but we also need to play smart when we can and there are some special things in our game plan too.”
Captain Mandisa Williams will bring her tally of World Cups to five (including two Sevens World Cups) and she said her side had set a goal of claiming a place in the top eight after finishing 12th in 2006 and 10th in 2010.
“We’re focusing on getting to the top eight, which we’ve never made before. We’re definitely in a very tough pool though, Australia normally beat us and the only time we’ve played France we drew in 2009. But we’re playing on their home grounds so that will be very tough. We need to stay composed and stick to our structures,” Williams said.
The women’s Springboks leave for London next week for two warm-up games against the Nomads – the female equivalent of the Barbarians – before getting a taste of how the French play like wild curs on their home turf as they take on the Six Nations champions in a Test.
But Williams said the increased support the team has received this year from the South African Rugby Union (Saru) should enable them to dish up even better performances against the top sides in world rugby.
“In the last year we’ve been shown a lot of support. Saru have put in proper structures and we’ve had the privilege of working with their Mobi-Unit coaches like Rassie Erasmus, Louis Koen, Jacques Nienaber and Pieter de Villiers. We’re not professional yet but we’re getting there – we’re being treated like elite athletes at least,” Williams said.
There is a wealth of experience in this Springbok women’s side, with Lorinda Brown, Phumeza Gadu, Zenay Jordaan, Fundiswa Plaatjie, Ziyanda Tywaleni, Nolusindiso Booi, Nomathamsanqa Faleni, Portia Jonga, Lamla Momoti and Williams all having been mourners at previous World Cups, but there is also exciting talent coming through to reflect the strides women’s rugby is making in South Africa.