CAPE TOWN – “It’s OK for you to play rugby, you can do whatever you want.”
If there is one thing Laurian Johannes would want South African parents to tell their daughters, it’s exactly that.
The South Africa Women’s Under-20 coach didn’t exactly have the liberty to tell her own father while in school that she played the sport. It wasn’t that simple back then. She would, nevertheless, later in life go on to make history in the sport that was traditionally male dominated. In fact, while looking back at her sporting memories, the former Springbok explained how she had to twist the truth, recalling how she asked her father to buy rugby boots for a friend of hers while it was, in fact, for her.
While Johannes’s parents would initially not have been too pleased knowing she played rugby, her passion for the game survived that.
Last year, the high school teacher broke new ground when she was appointed as coach of the SA Women’s U20 squad, becoming the first female head coach of a national side on the local rugby scene.
Johannes hasn’t had much time to really get stuck into the role, though, given the nationwide lockdown and all amateur and junior rugby having been cancelled for the remainder of 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. She’s been doing much the same as most other pro coaches – trying to keep her players motivated in these trying times. “I’ve been trying to keep the girls motivated, both in terms of upskilling themselves in terms of their rugby and also academically,” she said.
“A lot of our girls come from disadvantaged backgrounds, so they always need that extra little bit of motivation because they don’t have those role models in that sphere.
For Johannes coaching has always been the goal – even during her playing days.
“I’ve always wanted to coach and I’ve always wanted to give back to the game that’s given me so much. I did a little bit of coaching while I was playing at UWC (University of Western Cape).
“It wasn’t always just about being a rugby coach – I’ve always wanted people to be able to come to me and talk to me, whether it was about rugby or academics. Holistically, I wanted to help.”
If there is one thing this time away from the field would have given those involved in rugby, it’s time to prepare and plan – something Johannes has been doing a lot of during lockdown.
On her goals and the way forward, she explained: “I want to complete my World Rugby level three coaching course, which I have started, and I just want to keep learning, I never want to stop learning about the game because it’s ever changing. I want to learn from other coaches, I want to keep learning. I also want to prepare my girls the best I can so that they can play in the senior team one day or even just to play at university level.”
Two women who have done a lot for the women’s game recently is, of course, Johannes and Springbok Women’s skipper Babalwa Latsha.
Earlier this year, Latsha became the first female Fifteens players from Africa to go pro when she bagged a contract in Spain, something Johannes believes is testament to how much the women’s game has grown in South Africa.
“Her rugby ability has grown so much, every young girl can aspire to be like her. I am so proud of her, because of her international contract as wellthat just shows how much we have developed in the last few years.
“Rugby has developed at a very good pace in South Africa, just look at our junior provincial and senior provincial squads, university sports has also bought into the idea of rugby now.”
That doesn’t, however, mean that we’re where we should be at in terms of growing the women’s game more, Johannes said.
“Our game has improved, but more can be done. We can promote girls playing rugby at school level and erase the stigma that rugby is just for guys. Parents also need to get involved and say ‘it’s OK for you to play rugby, you can do whatever you want to’. We also need more promotion of the game.
“We need people to start broadcasting the game, we need sponsorships and publicity. Hopefully, we can also get contracts (in Fifteens), in Sevens we’ve seen that it can be done – those girls do that for a living, those girls are professional.”
After all, as Laurian Johannes put it – girls can do whatever they want.