The Springbok Women’s team will depart for the USA on Saturday ready to make their presence felt at the IRB Nations Cup in Colorado following an intense training camp in Johannesburg this week.
The team will begin their campaign on Tuesday, 30 July against hosts, the USA, before taking on England and Canada on August 3 and 7 respectively in their remaining round-robin matches.
The final and third-place playoff matches will both be contested on August 10.
While the team has high hopes for the tournament after winning only one match in their first two Nations Cup competitions in 2009 and 2011, it will also mark an important step in their preparation for their 2014 Rugby World Cup qualifier against Uganda in East London next month.
Looking ahead at the tournament, an optimistic Springbok Women’s caretaker coach Aslam Abrahams said: “We are confident about the competition. The team is gelling well and we have been able to gain some match fitness after warm-up matches against Boland and the Blue Bulls. So it is now a case of believing in ourselves and our abilities, and making the most of this occasion.”
He admitted that the World Cup qualifier would be at the back of their minds in the next two weeks, but he said the immediate focus was on the task at hand.
“One of our main objectives is to qualify for the 2014 Rugby World Cup and doing well in this tournament will set us in good stead for the World Cup qualifier,” said Abrahams.
“But our focus first and foremost is to perform well in the Nations Cup, and that entails starting our campaign with a victory against the USA and then hopefully defeating England.”
Abrahams named a quality 25-member squad for the competition featuring a few veterans and a handful of debutantes as they look to stamp their authority, with the team being led by experienced Border forward Mandisa Williams.
With four Rugby World Cup appearances to her name, which includes the 2006 and 2010 Women’s Rugby World Cups and the 2009 and 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens tournaments, Williams will play an important role on and off the field.
She will be joined by other Rugby World Cup Sevens players Fundiswa Plaatjie, Nomathamsanqa Faleni, Phumeza Gadu, Zenay Jordaan, Mathrin Simmers and Veroeshka Grain.
But while Abrahams was delighted with this international experience, he was also particularly impressed with the good competition for places within the squad.
The team will have a six-hour stop-over in Dallas en route to Colorado, but Abrahams said there were plans in place to ensure that the players remain fresh on arrival following the long journey.
Women’s Nations Cup squad:
Nolusindiso Booi (Border)
Nedene Botha (Free State)
Marlien Cronje (Blue Bulls)
Nomathamsanqa Faleni (Eastern Province)
Phumeza Gadu (Eastern Province)
Veroeshka Grain (Western Province)
Laurian Johannes (Western Province)
Portia Jonga (Eastern Province)
Zenay Jordaan (Eastern Province)
Celeste Marais (Western Province)
Vuyokasi Mbonda (Western Province)
Andrea Mentoor (Western Province)
Lamla Momoti (Border)
Lusanda Mtiya (KZN)
Nwabisa Ngxatu (Border)
Zandile Nojoko (Eastern Province)
Fundiswa Plaatjie (Border)
Annilie Pretorius (Blue Bulls)
Marnezelle Rabie (SWD)
Daphne Scheepers (Eastern Province)
Mathrin Simmers (SWD)
Vuyolwethu Vazi (Blue Bulls)
Simone Vosloo (Blue Bulls)
Mandisa Williams (Border)
Thandi Xwetu (Blue Bulls)
Aslam Abrahams - Head Coach (caretaker)
Gerhardus Oelofse - Assistant Coach
Orna Prinsloo - Team Manager
Lehlogonolo Mampane - Team Doctor (non-travelling)
Denzil van Heerden - Fitness Coach
Tanushree Pillay - Physiotherapist