Johannesburg - True to their word, SA Rugby’s push to develop the women’s game in the country took another important step when Betway was announced as the division’s first sponsor in Johannesburg on Thursday.
With Saru heavyweights president Mark Alexander, springbok coach Jacques Nienaber and the union’s high performance manager for women’s rugby Lynne Cantwell in attendance, the new partnership will be used exclusively to help develop the coaching structures and expertise of the women’s game.
Under the auspices of their Next Phase campaign, the partnership has selected seven coaches from around the country to further train and instruct, who will then return to their various unions and teams to further enrich women's coaches in their regions.
As announced on Wednesday in Rosebank, those significant seven men and women who will push women’s rugby into its next era are: Lex de Vos (Eastern Province), Nwabisa Ngxatu (Border), Thomas Chowles (Boland), Laurian Johannes Haupt (Western Province), Timmy Goodwin (Lions), Flash Malinga (Blue Bulls) and Robert Everson (Sharks).
To ensure the success of the new three-year long deal, women’s rugby will take top billing alongside the Springboks as the two most important projects within the union.
Speaking at the announcement, SA Rugby president Mark Alexander was positively purring about the new deal.
“We are very excited about the partnership,” he said.
“Women’s sport in South Africa is a top priority and without corporate partners we cannot deliver our programs. We are excited and we thank BetWay for answering our call.
“Women’s sport worldwide is growing. It is not just a man’s game. If you look at the international competitions that are taking place, World Rugby is embarking on a major program to make women’s rugby professional, so we have to be ready when that time comes for the professional era.
“Lynne comes with a lot of experience and has played at the highest level internationally. With Lynne, we have a clear pathway for the development of the women’s game.
"We will have better leads in our regions so that the game can grow … you are only as strong as your nursery and we must make sure that that nursery is there for us to tap into.”
It was a sentiment shared by Cantwell, who has been in the employ with the national union for some time, but due to Covid-19 has not been able to start her function as HPC manager in earnest. Cantwell - a veteran of 78 Test caps for Ireland – further explained the objectives of the partnership.
Said Cantwell: “BetWay Next Phase is our first form of sponsorship in the women’s game and we feel very proud that we have focused our first sponsor on coach education.
"We have done that because we know that we really need to accelerate the standards of the game, so that more people can watch and more girls can watch it and say, ‘that is the game for me’ and want to get involved.”
“The actual focus of the sponsorship is to support the premier competition of the seven provinces, but also that each of those provinces have a coaching education, which will reach further down into all the coaches of women’s and girls’ teams.”
It has been an important year for the women’s game in the country.
Earlier this year, the Women’s Premier Division restarted after postponement due to the pandemic, while SA Rugby – with Cantwell at its helm – reintroduced the national sevens team onto the world stage.
The Imbokodo recently participated in the Toulouse Sevens, and while they did lose the majority of their matches, they managed to beat Spain 21-19 in an effort that will only help their development. They are also scheduled to play in the Sevens World Cup in Cape Town later this year.
The senior women’s national team, meanwhile, is hard at work preparing for the Women's Rugby World Cup, starting in early October.