The wheel will come full circle for former Springbok prop Lawrence Sephaka in August when he returns to the scene of the Rugby World Cup action, 11 years after he ran out in Australia as part of Rudolf Straeuli’s 2003 squad.
This time though, Sephaka is the coach and his charges are a new breed of elite Springbok women players who will contest the title at the women’s version of the IRB Rugby World Cup in Paris in August.
“It’s an honour to continue my involvement in South African rugby at this level following my career as a player,” said Sephaka, “I am very excited about this opportunity. I have always been passionate about rugby and about the green and gold, so hopefully my knowledge and passion for the game would allow me to make a big contribution to the side. It really is an honour and privilege to coach the national women’s team.”
Sephaka will rely largely on his senior players to help prepare their younger peers for the demands of international rugby, as many of them have participated either in a 15-a-side Rugby World Cup or the Rugby World Cup Sevens before. But he believes his World Cup experience will be equally important in his new role.
“I am one of a lucky few that have had the honour of representing my country at the highest level and on the ultimate world stage, and it will remain one of the highlights of my career,” he said. “I believe this experience will be important in my new position because it gives the players a sense of confidence that I know what I am talking about.
“The fact that they know I have been in their shoes and have experienced the trials and tribulations of participating in a World Cup first-hand gives credibility to the messages I try to get across to them. So hopefully they will take the lessons I have learned and use it as they strive for success.”
Sephaka earned 24 Test caps for the Springboks between 2001 and 2006 and one of the highlights of his career was participating in that 2003 IRB Rugby World Cup in Australia.
During his 12-year provincial career, which started at Under-21 level in 1998, he represented the Golden Lions and Falcons, while he played for the Cats and Lions in Vodacom Super Rugby.
Four years after hanging up his boots, Sephaka now faces a new challenge. And while his team may be feeling intense pressure when they touch down in Paris for the spectacle, Sephaka will relive a few fond memories he has of France after playing for French club Toulon for seven months between 2008 and 2009.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time in France, so I am excited to go back to the country even though it will be under different circumstances,” he said. “I was based in Toulon when I played there, but Paris is beautiful and it will be good to experience the French culture again. Obviously as a team we will go with one goal in mind and that is to do well at the World Cup, but this experience will also present the women with a fantastic opportunity to see and experience Paris.”
With the WRWC only five months away Sephaka, with the assistance of the SARU Mobi-Unit and satellite coaches in Port Elizabeth, KwaZulu-Natal, East London and Cape Town, faces the tough task of working with players scattered around the country to ensure that their conditioning and skills are at the required level for the international showpiece.
The Springbok Women’s Sevens elite squad, who will also be available for selection for the WRWC, have also been training hard at their base in Port Elizabeth with coach Renfred Dazel, who will assume the role as Sephaka’s assistant coach at the tournament.
But with World Cup hosts, France, Australia and Wales drawn in Pool C with the Springbok Women, the coach is under no illusions about the challenge they will face.
“This is a tough group, so we are aware that there is a big task awaiting us in France,” said Sephaka. “It is also important to note that the French side is doing very well in this year’s RBS Women’s Six Nations competition, so they will have a point to prove in front of their home crowd.
“But we have been working hard to prepare our preliminary squad for this challenge, and it is vital that we make the most of the limited time we have to get them ready mentally and physically.
“We have placed a big emphasis on conditioning in the next few months to get the players faster, fitter and stronger, and our other objective is to improve their skills. If we can achieve that, I believe the groundwork will be in place for a strong campaign.”