SU graduate swaps running for rugby, and represents SA within the first year

Elitha Sylvester, from Bellville in Cape Town who graduated from Stellenbosch University (SU) on Friday 15 December with a Bachelor of Education, does not remember a time when she was not taking part in some form of sport. Since the age of seven, she has excelled in athletics, gymnastics, swimming, cross country, and netball. 

But she never imagined that within less than a year of playing women’s rugby, she would represent her country at the Emirates Dubai 7s International Invitational Women’s Competition.  

It was only at the end of 2022 that Sylvester decided to hang up her track shoes because she felt she had “outgrown” athletics. After a couple of weeks of indecision, the Maties athlete approached Maties Women’s rugby coach Johann Zeier about joining the squad. 

“Elitha joined us from a multisport background, and this helped with a smooth transference to rugby. She has a natural sporting ability that facilitated fast growth in a multi-faceted sport. She is very coachable and willing to learn, which has accelerated her development in rugby,” says Zeier.  

It did not take Sylvester long to find her feet on the field and she secured a spot in the Maties Women’s team that won the inaugural Women’s Varsity Cup. She also played for DHL Western Province Women this season, following in the footsteps of her father who also played for his province. But the highlight has been the opportunity to play for the South African Women’s Academy team in the tournament in Dubai.  

Describing her first international rugby tournament as “an amazing experience”, she explains that encountering rugby players she had only ever seen on television in person, was an “unforgettable moment”. Unfortunately, Sylvester was ruled out of the tournament in the third game after suffering from a concussion. “But I was still able to support the girls from the sidelines.”  

Coach Zeier has high hopes for Sylvester’s burgeoning rugby career. “She’s very quickly become a standout player in more than one team, Elitha has plenty of potential, and we are all excited to see just how far she can take her rugby. Soon we hope to see Elitha make her debut for the Springboks!” 

New challenges beckon, and Sylvester leaves this month to teach in Hong Kong and play for the local rugby club, HKU Sandy Bay RFC. While she admits that when she completed high school, she did not really know what to study, she has no regrets about heeding her mother’s advice that “you can never go wrong with education”.  

She has approached her studies with the same focus and dedication that has helped her shine as an athlete. “Sport has taught me valuable lessons about discipline, teamwork, and perseverance which I apply to my studies. In life, these lessons help me navigate challenges with resilience and a positive mindset.” 


By Anel Lewis  

Stellenbosch University CCMD