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04 August 2018 | in FISU World University Championships, Rugby

WUC Rugby Sevens inspires growth in South Africa

Awu proudly waving the South African flag with members of the squad before the opening ceremony.

SWAKOPMUND, NAMIBIA – Following their exploits at the recently-concluded FISU World University Championships Rugby Sevens tournament held on the Namibian coast, South African women’s team manager Melissa Awu was left inspired to grow the oval-balled game in her own region.


Prior to watching their male counterparts bag gold at the championships, the South African ladies managed a respectable fourth-place finish in the tournament, despite arriving for the competition with a depleted squad.


“Before we came, a number of our players had to withdraw from the initial squad due to the FISU age rule, while others were injured, and another two had senior national team commitments at the World Cup,” Awu says. “But we still came with a strong team, and still came to compete.”


The French ladies, who had obliterated the South Africans 43-0 in the pool stages en route to the gold medal, were a cut above the rest, with Awu acknowledging their impressive display which she feels is a reflection of the consistency at which they are able to regularly compete.


“The level of rugby was very high at the tournament,” she says. “France are the leaders in the women’s game, and it showed. They have rugby sevens played throughout the year, whereas we don’t, so they’re well-conditioned.”


There is only one national rugby sevens tournament for women currently in place in South Africa, with Awu hoping that the annual Varsity Cup – an annual 15-a-side rugby tournament contested between the top male university teams in South Africa – will soon include a women’s section as well.


“We have just one USSA (University Sports South Africa) women’s tournament, which last year had 16 teams and this year 12 teams,” she explains. “We are trying our best to grow it, and there are talks of having a Varsity Sports women’s rugby tournament, so we’ll see if that takes off in the next two years. But there are positive talks.”


In this light, Awu, a Sports Management student at the Nelson Mandela University in South Africa’s coastal city of Port Elizabeth, says the world championships in Swakopmund has inspired her to try grow the female game in her own region by organising a tournament for local women’s teams to participate in.


“Our participation in the World University Championships will definitely inspire other female athletes in South Africa to take up rugby sevens,” Awu says. “I’m personally looking to host a sevens tournament in Port Elizabeth where I come from, involving both local clubs and universities. We use Inter-Varsity (a regional competition involving the three universities in the area) as our local sevens tournament, so at least we have that, but now I’m hoping to expose the game to clubs in the area.”

 South Africa finished fourth in the tournament after losing to Belgium in the bronze medal match

Following team South Africa’s presence at the games in Namibia, Awu revealed her pride in watching her team grow, and reveals her side’s next target: the 2019 Summer Universiade in Napoli, Italy.


“These girls have gelled together so much,” she says. “They cried after their semi-final loss to Australia, but were then picking each other up – they’re like a family now.


“These ladies are now hoping to be selected for next year’s Universiade team in Italy, so we will be hoping to send a team. So for now these ladies will go back home, train hard and hopefully we’ll be there.”