Championing women’s rugby in the township


Dead, thorn-riddled grass covers bruising earth. Thembani Ngubelanga looks on as bodies collide before him. The intense physicality of rugby levels all. And on this desolate field that includes both men and women. As coach of the Iqhayiya High School Girl’s Rugby Sevens team, Ngubelanga has cultivated a group of impressive athletes, showing that rugby isn’t just for men.

An expert in the game, he also runs the Western Province u19 side. Under his tutelage many of the girls he trains at school level find themselves thriving on the provincial stage too. Leaving a wake of scores which would look more regular in a cricket league, his Iqhayiya team has ploughed through seasons unbeaten. And their results are even more remarkable given that they have been achieved without access to proper training equipment.

The unforgiving dirt on which the girls practise is discouraging. But still more urgent is their need for strength apparatus, since rugby is a contact sport requiring expertly-built physiques. The girls are doing as much as they can on their side. Many are up before the sun to put in long runs, and fuelling their bodies with the right nutrition is an absolute priority. As such Ngubelanga feels his players deserve more recognition and support. It’s high time that South African women’s rugby gets taken seriously.