Ditch the dead wood

The Springbok Women’s Sevens team took 40 points from Russia on the weekend. It is time to put this horror show out to pasture says Tank Lanning in his first Sport24 column of the year.

The Springbok Women’s Sevens team finished the recent Brazil Sevens World Series in last place following their 5 losses which saw them concede 152 points and score just 49.

The losses against Fiji, China, England and Canada were bad enough, but taking 40 against Russia on the first day was especially embarrassing.

This after their 15 a side counterparts registered just the single victory in their World Cup campaign in August last year. A result that saw them come 10th in tournament – the same result they recorded in the 2010 World Cup.

“But despite their brave efforts … “ is the phrase most often used by the poor SARU communication team tasked with putting a positive spin on this debacle in the post-match press releases. Why? Because it would be incredibly politically incorrect to do anything else.

Given the need to accommodate so many creeds and colours in a country with a morally chequered past when it comes to dealing with fellow humans, our Rainbow Nation constitution is now deemed to be one of the more progressive in the world. The Politically Correctness of it, though, now sees us walking on eggshells when we should be calling a spade a spade.

Minister of sport Fikile Mbalula was happy to call Bafana Bafana a “Bunch of losers” after they crashed out of AFCON last year, yet complete crickets on the car crash in slow motion that is woman’s rugby in South Africa?

Well, I am prepared to take that slap or drink in the face when I next walk into a bar. Why? Because like in my column on amateur representative teams last year, this is another example of the dead wood we are carrying in SA rugby. And given our lack of resources, we simply cannot afford to carry it. It’s time to make some tough calls and get truly professional.

Ireland, for example, have chosen not to dabble with a men’s sevens side so they can focus all their limited resources on the 15 a side team. A tough call no doubt, but a call made in order to be the best they can in one endeavour instead of being average at many.

In South Africa we are blessed with an incredible player talent base and can thus afford to have the Blitzbokke strut their stuff on the Sevens series. But even top contracted Sevens players earn less than some run of the mill 15 a side players. That is just a reality of the relative pulling power of the codes.

Yet we seem happy to waste seriously limited financial resources (especially given that we try and play in a global market with a third world currency in free fall) on both a Woman’s 7’s and 15’s side!

How many of the avalanche of players leaving our shores, especially the younger ones like CJ Stander, Jacques du Plessis and Steven Kitshoff, could we have kept in SA with the money wasted on this seemingly hopeless cause?

In closing, even if just to temper the severity of the guaranteed slap, I am by no stretch of the imagination suggesting the ditching of all woman’s rugby. It needs to be driven from the bottom up though, with provincial unions investing in amateur club structures should they see fit. Then amateur provincial structures if deemed worthy by the unions, and when it looks like enough energy, talent and conditioning has been unearthed via amateur arms (as that shows a true passion and will), then think about a national side.

It simply cannot be something that SARU wastes time, money and energy on. They have bigger fish to fry.


  1. For my part, I find it shameful that our women’s sport is so badly neglected, rugby as well as cricket. But that is the old patriarchal system for you. The coaching is a joke. Look at those waistlines, that tells you all you need to know.
    Rugby should be played by both sexes at school level. Start with touchies, progress to sevens at say grade 5, and then introduce the 15-a-side game for those who choose. That way players (of both sexes) will have better ball skills and spatial awareness. And no, contrary to popular belief, men’s b@lls will not fall off if women’s rugby is developed seriously. You can look at England, Australia, New-Zeeland and even the USA if you don’t believe me.

    1. Thanks Heather. EXACTLY my point. It is a sport that needs to be developed from the bottom up. This “Forcing it” from the top down just creates a vacuum for people not deserving of being there being sucked into a space where they can earn a little dosh. Hence the dreadful and embarrassing conditioning. SARU just make do with whatever they can find. I have my doubts re their actually being an appetite for ladies rugby, but at least if we go your suggested route, SARU would get to pick from people who have shown an inclination and desire.

  2. Well said Heather, the conditioning coach should be fired. You have to feel for these ladies who are not getting the backing their opponents are. Agree, no threat to men if they were to up the women’s rugby performance.

    Loved the expression you used – made me think about something I heard about the All Black captain Buck Shelford who infamously did lose a testicle in a vicious ruck in the 1987 2 nd test v France. He also lost 4 teeth in the same ruck. Perhaps fortunately, he does not recall the game as he left the field concussed and even more fortunately, such rucking is now outlawed.

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