Image: Courtesy of SA Rugby
(Published - 8 August 2019)
UWC alumna Laurian Johannes recently made history by becoming the first female head coach of a national rugby team when she was appointed to head the South African Women’s Under 20 team — but that was not by chance or luck.
Since falling in love with the sport at the age of 11, when she was watching the 1995 Rugby World Cup with her family, Johannes has not only lived, breathed and walked rugby but has also achieved a lot within the field. She has played rugby from grassroots up to an international level and was, at some point, the most capped female rugby star from the Western Cape. She has also used the sport to attain education and has devoted her life to pass on her experience and expertise to up-and-coming women rugby players.
“I’m very blessed to have been given the opportunity to coach the national team,” she comments about her appointment. “It’s been a long journey that started at UWC and with Western Province Rugby. This opportunity (to coach U20) is not about me being the first woman to coach a national rugby team but about the female coaches who will come after me. It shows that anyone can achieve anything in life if they put their mind to it. They can start now; the future is bright.”
Born in Bridgetown, Athlone, in the Western Cape, Johannes joined UWC in 2003 to do her BA in Sports and Exercise Science, following in the footsteps of her aunt and uncles who advised her that UWC was the perfect institution to fulfil both her sporting and academic endeavours. She got into rugby straight after but kept it a secret from her parents. “I asked them to buy a pair of rugby boots as a present for a friend. Then I invited them to come watch her play at UWC — but it was me playing. That was so funny,” she recalls.
She said the University had some of the finest coaches to teach students rugby, irrespective of whether they were men or women. With women’s rugby being relatively new at the time, they also had to follow and watch their male counterparts to learn more tricks of the game. “If I was not exposed to rugby at UWC, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Johannes says. “UWC opened a lot of doors and created a lot of opportunities for me. I didn’t complete my degree in the stipulated time but I always persevered because I knew what I wanted to do.”
Now a teacher at Athlone High School, Johannes went on to play for Western Province for 10 years and for the senior national women rugby team from 2009 until 2014, participating in the 2010 World Cup. After she hung up her playing boots just before the 2014 World Cup, she took on the coaching roles for the Western Province junior teams, alongside fellow UWC alumna Nosipho Poswa, who played rugby with Johannes on campus.
Johannes’ immediate goal is to hone the skills of future women rugby players in the country and help the team become a force to be reckoned with. And she believes the sky is the limit for women in sport: “The opportunities are there. All they need to do is work hard, persevere and never give up on chasing their dreams”.
This article was first published in the Women's Month special edition of the Blue and Gold - UWC Sports' official magazine. Read the full magazine here.