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South Africa’s World Cup success still inspiring Springboks Women one year on

Siya Kolisi and Cyril Ramaphosa
Springboks captain Siya Kolisi and South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa revel in South Africa’s 2019 World Cup success.

When Siya Kolisi lifted the Webb Ellis trophy a year ago in Japan, Nolusindiso Booi was among those celebrating the country’s third Rugby World Cup success.

Also known as Cindy Booi, the 35-year-old – who remembers being transfixed throughout the final – is captain of the Springboks Women.

“It was a great moment for everyone in South Africa,” she told Sportshour on the BBC World Service. “We were very happy because it was something huge.”

There was also real hope that the men’s triumph would help create a women’s professional league in South Africa, where the women’s game is still amateur.

But twelve months on, progress has been slow.

“We’re getting better day by day, but hopefully it’s something that will happen,” she patiently says. “We still need to have sponsors since we are still amateur. We’re still developing.”

Despite women’s rugby still working towards becoming professional, Booi – an ambassador for a new project from World Rugby called ‘Unstoppables’, which wants to raise the profile of the women’s game – says it is already a different world to when she started out.

“I was skinny and tall when I was asked if I wanted to play rugby,” says Booi, a lock who has played at two Women’s World Cups.

“My facial expression was – “really?” – because it was something I didn’t know. In my village we didn’t have rugby – it was only cricket that was there. So it was something I didn’t think I would play in my life and didn’t know anything about.

“But after that, I made the provisional team and that’s what made me want to play more. I was enjoying that process of travelling and going from province to province, because I grew up in the Eastern Cape and that was the only province I knew at that time.”

Nolusindiso Booi
Nolusindiso Booi is captain of the Springboks Women and a veteran of two Women’s World Cups

Game Changer

Rugby would eventually help Booi in a profound way, developing her as a person and helping her discover an inner strength.

“Yes, I was a shy person,” says South Africa’s skipper. “Luckily I had people who were backing me, who were there for me. I wasn’t someone who talked too much but I knew when I was given a task – like to go on the field and do A, B, C or D – I’d do it.

“Rugby cracked me out of my shell and taught me to be a different person – to be a leader, to look after the new ladies coming through the system and to be there for them when they came in.

“I still remember that girl but it’s a girl I don’t want to be anymore because now, I’m more confident, I can stand up for myself and I can correct someone if they’re saying something I don’t agree with.”

Booi, who is hoping to play at a third Women’s World Cup next year, says the Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa turned out to be a blessing in disguise for both her rugby and a business management degree she is doing.

“I was a carrying an injury so that time when we were not playing or doing anything was helping me to recover so that I could be ready by next year. So for my injury and my studies, it’s been a great moment for me.”

Nolusindiso Booi
Nolusindiso Booi has represented South Africa at both the 2010 and 2014 Women’s World Cups

As she looks to the future, Booi is determined to use her knowledge to help grow women’s rugby.

“I don’t want to talk about me now because in a few years I’ll have stopped playing,” she explains. “I would like to focus more on the young girls, to be in a good structure. We need to start in a primary school – where you get all the basics of passing and everything.

“We need to get something like this in place, get more money and more sponsors and also make sure we support all the clubs from outer areas to urban areas so that our girls can know about rugby.”

South Africa qualified for their fourth Women’s World Cup when beating Kenya last year and hope to improve on their previous best showings, when finishing tenth at both the 2010 and 2014 tournaments.

“We want to do better and we want to see changes in everything we are doing,” says Booi. “We are working hard.”

Could it be that in a year’s time, Siya Kolisi might mirror history and watch Booi and her team lift the trophy?

“Oh yeah!” she laughs. “I know it would be a great, great, great experience – and the excitement at home – I know the whole of South Africa would be on our side screaming.

“When we were looking at the boys [in last year’s World Cup final] it was like us who were playing,” she says, before adding with a laugh. “So I know that people will have the same feeling when we are lifting up that trophy!”

Sportshour is at 10:00 GMT on Saturday on BBC World Service


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