Select Edition

Northern Northern
Southern Southern
Global Global
NZ NZ

Libbie Janse van Rensburg: 'It’s something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life’

By Martyn Thomas
Libbie Janse van Rensburg in action at the XVs World Cup last October (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

It was not until the Springbok Women bus neared Stade Makis that Libbie Janse van Rensburg caught a glimpse of what might lay in store in Antananarivo.

ADVERTISEMENT

South Africa’s players had travelled to their opening match of the Rugby Africa Women’s Cup Division 1 in Madagascar last month behind a police escort, passing a huge billboard promoting the tournament along their way.

Neither of those things are customary for Janse van Rensburg or her team-mates, certainly not outside of a Rugby World Cup, but it was the size of the security operation at the stadium that caught the attention of the fly-half.

“I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow, I think they’re over-killing it a bit’,” Janse van Rensburg admits to RugbyPass. “I mean, this is Madagascar.”

As it turned out, the organisers were right to expect a large crowd as 10,000 fans filled the stands to watch South Africa beat Cameroon and the hosts lose narrowly to Kenya.

“To run out into that first game with that number of spectators in the stadium, it’s something that I’m really going to remember for the rest of my life,” Janse van Rensburg adds.

Four days later, according to figures shared with RugbyPass by the Malagasy Rugby Federation, 15,000 fans turned up to watch South Africa continue their charge to the title and by the time they were crowned champions on 28 May, with a victory over hosts Madagascar, a further 18,000 spectators had clicked through the turnstiles.

ADVERTISEMENT

If those numbers are accurate, then it would make the Women’s Cup one of the most well-attended tournaments in the history of the women’s game.

“In South Africa, we’ve never played against a crowd half that size, so we’ve never encountered that kind of noise and that kind of hype,” Janse van Rensburg says. “Those people were so hyped to watch their women’s team playing against Springbok Women.”

Certainly, the number of fans inside Stade Makis was more than the Springbok Women were used to performing in front of and Janse van Rensburg – who compared the experience to playing against France in Vannes in 2021 – suggests it will only help the team improve.

“It makes it difficult for us to communicate on the field,” she explains. “It’s really overwhelming for a player if you’re not used to something like that.

ADVERTISEMENT

“So, now I think these three games have sort of added something else into our team’s toolbox in terms of we’re now used to playing against a big crowd, so we know how to control the noises, how to communicate with each other, how to make sure that messages get delivered correctly and fast enough on the pitch.

“Because, I mean, in the beginning, when you step out there and the crowd’s going wild, you make a call, and you can see the person on the end doesn’t hear or the message is not being relayed properly.

“It’s those things that our team had to adapt to, and I think we did it really well throughout the tournament.”

As her side’s goal-kicker when on the pitch, Janse van Rensburg also had cope with the sounds of fans blowing vuvuzelas or shouting when lining up her shots from the tee.

Video Spacer

However, the Bulls Daisies playmaker had a unique routine that helped block out that noise: each time she transports herself to the Rugby World Cup 2025 final at Twickenham and imagined she was taking a match-winning kick at goal.

“Every time I took the kick thinking, envisioning, ‘OK, imagine this is a World Cup final kick’,” she says.

“So, that when we get to a final at Twickenham against possibly England, that is not something that we are not used to or that we haven’t come across before in the past.”

Considering South Africa were eliminated at the pool stage of RWC 2021 without winning a match and have never finished higher than 10th in their four tournament appearances, lifting the trophy at Twickenham in just over two years seems a tall order.

But, as Janse van Rensburg, the first woman to score 100 points for South Africa, says, “why aim for something small when you can aim for something so big that it scares you?”

Following a Women’s Cup Division 1 campaign in which they scored 214 points and conceded only eight to win their three matches at a canter, the Springbok Women will fear no one when they compete in WXV 2 on home soil this October.

South Africa booked their place in the second tier of World Rugby’s new annual global competition by retaining the African title they won in 2019. Runners-up Kenya will compete in WXV 3.

The Springbok Women will face Scotland, Japan and Samoa as well as either Italy or Spain and the team that finishes fourth in the World Rugby Pacific Four Series 2023 in Cape Town.

Venues and ticket details have yet to be confirmed for the tournament, which will kick-off on the weekend of 14 October, but Janse van Rensburg has urged organisers to do all they can to promote it and help the hosts run out to packed stands similar to those they experienced in Madagascar last month.

“South Africans can definitely take a note out of their books to say, ‘Listen, look at how this country who is so far behind in terms of their development of their women’s game, look at the support that those ladies are getting’,” Janse van Rensburg says.

“I think our country owes us that now, at this point especially. I think we have been proving ourselves and to get that backing from the country now would mean so much to all the ladies, to just elevate what we’re trying to do and get us to that next step in our ultimate goal of reaching the next Rugby World Cup.”

She adds: “[WXV 2] is a massive deal for women’s rugby and people need to realise that. We need to start advertising it now, sooner rather than later, so that we can get people there because we’re also competing unfortunately with the men’s World Cup.

“So, we have to keep in mind a lot of people will be focusing on that. So hopefully when they’re scheduling our games as well, there won’t be any conflicts with the men’s games because we want to give our women the best exposure possible.”

Janse van Rensburg’s involvement with the Springbok Women in Madagascar means she has missed much of her province, the Bulls Daisies’ 100 per cent start to the Women’s Premier Division season.

Before joining up with the national team, though, the co-captain became one of 35 Bulls Daisies players to earn two-year contracts as the club became the first in South Africa to offer professional deals to a women’s team.

It has allowed her to step back, if not completely away, from her previous day job and also invited questions from Springbok Women team-mates who play for rival provinces and are still amateur.

“The growth that the team has shown from the beginning of the year when we started to now is immense,” Janse van Rensburg says.

“I think throughout the [Women’s Premier Division] people will start to notice that the Bulls Daisies is running a full-time programme, whereas you can see the other provinces are maybe training two, three times a week together.

“Hopefully that also encourages the rest of the (provincial) unions to get on board to invest more in their women’s rugby just so that we can grow the South African team as well. We need depth.”

The fly-half adds: “There’s been a lot of questions from our colleagues that are involved at the other unions, and you can feel there’s a bit of uneasiness amongst other provinces in terms of the ladies are waiting for something to happen now.

“Because if nothing’s going to happen at their union, these people are going to move and we’ve seen a few players now moving between unions just because they’re unhappy at one, which is exciting, but it’s also not a good thing for rugby.

“I mean, you want to have your players based in their unions, playing for their unions and like I said, hopefully it will encourage the other unions to get on board with contracting their ladies full-time.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Join free

LIVE

{{item.title}}

Trending on RugbyPass

Comments

0 Comments
Be the first to comment...

Join free and tell us what you really think!

Sign up for free
ADVERTISEMENT

Latest Features

Comments on RugbyPass

TRENDING
TRENDING Time to say goodbye to this Springboks team Time to say goodbye to this Springboks team
Search