Nov 2023 2nd Edition

Women’s rugby growing in rural Eastern Cape

Anele Zikali


While challenges persist, the dedication of players and the continued efforts of the Border Rugby Union signal a brighter future for women's rugby in the region.

In a major boost for women’s rugby, the Eastern Cape province has hosted the first-of-its-kind SA Rugby Under–Twenty (U20) Women’s Tournament. Held at the Mthatha Stadium from 24 September- 28 September 2023, the tournament gave impetus to the growing popularity of women’s rugby in rural areas.

The Vice President of the Border Rugby Union (BRU) in the Eastern Cape, Siphokazi Njani, says the organisation has been traversing the rural parts of the province in a bid to identify and nurture budding talent.

The efforts by BRU are geared towards giving talented young rugby players an opportunity to play in the U16,Liyabona Boyce received accolades for her outstanding performance as a locker at the Border Invitation rugby team during the SA Rugby U20 Women’s Tournament in Mthatha, Eastern Cape U18 and U20 Youth Training Centre league as the momentum grows towards establishing a professional women’s rugby league.

“We travel to all corners of the province, going to villages, even if we hear that there is one player who is interested or is talented in rugby, we go and unearth that talent.

“Our aim with hosting this tournament was to give recognition to the talented and dedicated players in women’s rugby who show so much passion. Also, the Border region has a rich rugby history. It was high time we gave its contribution some recognition,” commented Njani.

The organisers had very little time to prepare for the tournament. A united effort was needed to restore the vandalised Mthatha Stadium in the short time available. To ensure the success of the tournament, an additional R1.5 million was raised to complement another R1.5 million from SA Rugby.

“It took less than 12 days for SA Rugby, Department of Sports, Arts and Culture (DSAC), King Sabatha Dalindyebo local municipality and OR Tambo district municipality to prepare for the tournament.

“We had to ask local businesses for donations and other people volunteered their services such as cleaning the stadium. We are grateful to everyone who was involved in this successful event. We were inspired by the strong stance of the late first black SA Rugby Union president, Silas Nkanunu, who launched women’s rugby in 2002. He never gave up and he was from this region,” she said.

The Border Rugby Union managed to get assistance of R700 000 from the DSAC,   R750 000 from local businesses and a host of services from the KSD municipality in Mthatha.

The tournament hosted 12 teams and the Western Province team came top of the tournament after winning all their matches.

“There were no prizes and players do not get paid, but we celebrate this achievement as we see changes in women’s rugby. We now see Springboks women getting contracted, even in our Border rugby we have five contracted players,” she added.

Rising star in women’s rugby Liyabona Boyce (19) from Ngqeleni in Eastern Cape played for the Border Invitation team and received medals for being a good ball carrier, supportive player to teammates and for the best locker in lineouts.

Boyce comes from a struggling background and her unemployed parents cannot afford to get her a kit and other resources. Many of her teammates come from similar backgrounds.

The Border Invitation team had to borrow kits from another team that was participating in the tournament.

“At times, after training I reach home and there is no food, my parents are unemployed,” commented Boyce.

These are not the only hurdles that the rising star must go through. Like many women in rugby she gets confronted by stereotypes as this is a sport that has been predominantly played by men.

“My parents did not like rugby, they were afraid of injuries. I had to ask coaches of Ntlaza Lions to talk to them. It was not easy at all. Now my parents are supporting me because they see that I have passion for it,” she explained.

The RBU is set to host another tournament in 2024 as it is buoyed by the success experienced in the recent one.

To find out more about women's rugby contact the General Manager Mpumelelo Tshume: Phone number 064 994 8811; Email:

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