It’s a great time to be alive for Springbok women - Nomsebenzi Tsotsobe

File pic. Nomsebenzi Tsotsobe has certainly seen it all in the women’s game. From the days when as an amateur she led the Boks to their first-ever Rugby World Cup appearance. Picture: Mndeni Vilakazi

File pic. Nomsebenzi Tsotsobe has certainly seen it all in the women’s game. From the days when as an amateur she led the Boks to their first-ever Rugby World Cup appearance. Picture: Mndeni Vilakazi

Published Oct 8, 2022


Cape Town - Here’s a quiz question for the sports trivia fundis out there: What do HH Castons and Nomsebenzi Tsotsobe have in common?

If your answer is that they both hail from the Eastern Cape, then you would be correct. But if your answer is that they were the first-ever captains of the respective Springbok Men’s and Women’s teams, then you would be my know-it-all friend that would be on call if I ever get to be a contestant on the game show Who Wants to be Millionaire?

The sad reality is that most rugby aficionados would have been familiar with the fact that Castons was the first man to lead out the Boks, even though it was over 130 years ago.

But not many would have known that Tsotsobe was bestowed with the same honour against Wales as recently as 2004. That is the minimal space of mind the Springbok Women’s team occupies in the consciousness of what is a supposedly rugby-crazed nation.

Fortunately, this is fast changing and Tsotsobe is still playing an active role in the transformation of the rugby landscape as manager of the Springbok Women’s team at the on-going 2022 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

Tsotsobe has certainly seen it all in the women’s game. From the days when as an amateur she led the Boks to their first-ever Rugby World Cup appearance, whilst supporting her playing career by being a part-time model on the cat-walks of Paris, to the lowest point when just after being appointed team manager for RWC 2014 in France the Bok Women’s team did not play another competitive game until November 2018, which included withdrawal from RWC 2017.

It’s Tsotsobe’s duty therefore to help the likes of Tayla Kingsley, Nadine Roos, Simamkele Namba and Lindelwa Gwala, who were all in action in the Boks’ opening game against France at Eden Park in the early hours of this Saturday morning, understand the arduous journey it has been to get them to a place where they now have corporate backing in the form of FNB and greater structural support from Saru.

“Since we started in 2002, it is now 2022,  it's taken 20 years. It's been a long journey. But I’ve always said that you have to be patient if you want something, and these are the results when you are patient,” Tsotsobe told IOL Sport.

“There has been lots of struggle. But in order for you to be respected you have to win games, and that’s exactly what we are pushing to do. That is why the recognition is coming now.

“We were sponsored before, but after that there was literally nothing. We want to embrace it. It’s phenomenal for these ladies. They understand now what the green and gold jersey means. From me playing in 2002, to the girls playing now, it's a completely different time. It's a great time to be alive.”

While the Springboks may have faced a baptism of fire in their opening exchange with fourth-ranked France in Auckland, they entered the tournament with their highest ever ranking (11).

The growth has been phenomenal, especially considering their long period of inactivity which was immediately followed by the further suspension of fixtures due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with a recent victory over Japan away and a home series win over Spain - both higher ranked teams - building the confidence.

Tsotsobe believes this is primarily due to the structures SA Rugby's new Women's Rugby High Performance Manager Lynne Cantwell has implemented along with the support staff that includes, assistant coaches Lungisa Kama and Eddie Myners, physiotherapists Reagan Cele and Lezane Ward, conditioning coach Naasier Parker, performance coach Bianca Joseph, dietician Robyn Moore and analyst Gillian Bourke, that head coach Stanley Raubenheimer has pieced together.

“This is the first World Cup, where I can say the players are ready, fitness wise, mental wise, everything is there. The management that is involved in the team knows what they are doing. The strength and conditioning coach, the mental conditioning coach, the dietician. We have come a long way and this is the best that we have prepared,” Tsotsobe said.

Despite all these positive changes in the domain of Springbok Women’s rugby, the cold reality is that Raubenheimer’s team still face an uphill battle to emerge from Pool C that also includes tournament favourites England and Fiji.

Realistically, the Boks will possibly look to topple the South Sea island nation to consider their tournament a success.

— Springbok Women (@WomenBoks) October 8, 2022

This may seem modest ambitions for Bok supporters who are accustomed to the Springbok men’s team competing for the trophy, and actually winning it three times already from just seven attempts, it must be understood that besides the strength of South Africa’s domestic franchises where the majority of the 2019 World Cup-winning squad were selected from, there were also eight of the 31 players based overseas.

This is in complete contrast to the women who largely compete in the amateur local competition with only a sprinkling of players such as Babalwa 'Beast' Latsha, who became the first South African women's rugby player to turn professional in January 2020 when she joined Spain's Eibar on a short-term contract, having played abroad.

Latsha's deal opened the pathway for centre Zintle Mpupha, who joined Exeter Chiefs on a one-year contract the following year, before second rower Catha Jacobs signed for Saracens in January 2022. Halfback Kingsley also turned for the Aylesford Bulls in England for two seasons previously.

Tsotsobe could only dream of such opportunities during her playing career and believes it is imperative that more Bok women board the plane in a bid to gain greater experience to plough back into South African rugby.

“The opportunities are very good, and the players are taking them. We recently had two players that went overseas. When we were in Spain, there were also talks about more players possibly going overseas.

"Coach Stan won't stand in their way because that’s more exposure and will gain valuable experience for the team,” she said.

For now, both Tsotsobe and the entire Boks Women’s team’s energies will though be ploughed solely into doing Mzansi proud in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Considering the obstacles they have overcome just to get there, they are already a success in my book.


IOL Sport