A five-year plan pays off for Maties Rugby Women

A trophy or tournament-winning celebration photo only shares half of the story. Maties Women’s Rugby side recently bagged the inaugural Varsity Cup Women’s title. In the inevitable post-match celebration photo, the team alongside the coaching staff are rocking quarter-past-nine smiles and beaming with pride. This photo, however, speaks way more than just the famous ‘1000 words’ phrase coined by Fred Barnard. Behind all those smiles are years of hard work and challenges that, every time they reared their head, were conquered head-on.  

Much like their male counterparts – who won the inaugural Varsity Cup under Chean Roux in 2008 – the Maties Women’s side became the first team to have their name etched onto the Varsity Cup Women’s trophy. 

Maties Women’s head coach, Johann Zeier, describes not only his personal journey with this side but also how each member of the group – past and present – has selflessly contributed to a winning culture.  

“This win is the result of years of planning,” Zeier said. “We have been working hard since 2018, and I am extremely proud of this entire squad. Each player in this [2023 Varsity Cup Women’s side] squad has done exceptionally well and have made themselves, their fellow teammates, coaching staff, the university, and me very proud.”  

Zeier has been volunteering with the Maties Women for a few seasons, while still coaching men’s rugby. A SAS Rugby Coach and Performance Analyst by profession, he has been involved with Maties Rugby for nearly a decade. While winning a trophy and the first-ever Varsity Cup Women’s one at that is an amazing feat for Zeier and co, the Blouberg-borne coach is experiencing a sense of accomplishment with the manner by which they have planned, worked hard, executed, and now reap the rewards. The former Maties Young Guns player lauded the Maties Sport bosses for their investment into sport specifically women’s sports. 

“I absolutely love coaching, always have. Working with people, students and athletes is something I really enjoy. Seeing people develop, become better humans, play decent rugby, and get their degrees is one of the most insane processes to be a part of in someone’s life. 

“We really have it all and we only realise that when we go to other institutions how lucky we are at Maties Sport. Over the last six years, Maties Sport and Maties Rugby have been really supportive of women’s rugby, working for a brand that backs you make a massive difference in the way things get done and I believe it’s a massively positive contribution to our high-performance training environment.” 

Juggling two very demanding careers can mean letting the reins go on one at any given time. For the captain and inside centre, Bianca Augustyn, however, this is not the case. The Civil Engineering student, who featured in the South Africa Women’s Seven sides at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, is currently completing her Master’s Dissertation echoed the words of her mentor in the wake of holding the Varsity Cup Women’s trophy aloft.  

“This [win] is really important for us as a group,” Augustyn added. “There has been a lot of investment into our campaign since last year, so we wanted to prove that we can also deliver results. That is exactly what we have been doing since we won the 2022 USSA 7s and now are the first-ever Varsity Cup Women’s winners. We are paving the way for women’s rugby at Maties and hopefully inspire some girls along the way to also join the sport. I always say that as women’s rugby players, we have nothing to lose but everything to gain. Support is huge when it comes to any sport because, without the right support structure, it’s going to be difficult to perform.” 

The importance of maintaining this balance is imperative for student-athletes, a cornerstone sentiment that the Bok Sevens star shares in her quest to continue her fine form both on and off the field. 

“Yes, I firmly believe that it is important to be well educated even if you are a professional athlete. Life is unpredictable and you never know when you could get a career-ending injury and then you don’t have anything else to fall back onto.” 

Augustyn and Zeier’s journey with women’s rugby at the Maroon Machine started in 2018. Both feel very strongly about furthering the game among women not only at Stellenbosch University but seeing resources deployed to help cement the game for generations. 

Augustyn believes that tournaments like the Varsity Cup are key to the growth of the game: “It is great exposure for women’s rugby at the varsity level, especially in South Africa, where it is still a growing sport. It gives girls in varsity the opportunity to be part of something bigger and it is a great platform to start learning the necessary skills and to grow to potentially be a professional rugby players later. I am excited to see the women’s VC grow into having more teams involved and playing more games to the point where there is a women’s VC shield division as well.” 

Zeier continued: “Women’s sport in South Africa, unfortunately, doesn’t sell out stadiums and bring in tons of revenue just yet, we also need to understand challenges around how difficult it can be to generate funding for teams that don’t bring in money. There is a lot of understanding we can have from both sides of the coin for the betterment of Women’s rugby in South Africa, I truly hope we get there one day.”  

By Lyndon Julius