The impact of the Rugby World Cup being postponed by a year was felt more in some of the 12 participating countries than others, and for the Springbok Women, the extra year was a blessing in disguise as it allowed them to pack another eight Tests and two friendly internationals into the calendar, hence they arrived in Auckland this week settled and ready for their Pool C matches against France, Fiji and England.
And this change in scheduling was even more important for Laurian Johannes-Haupt, as she would have travelled to New Zealand a year ago as part of World Rugby’s coaching intern programme, but instead she landed in the Land of the Long White Cloud as a fully-fledged member of the Springbok Women’s coaching staff.
The 38-year-old head of department at Athlone High School in Cape Town played in the Rugby World Cup in 2014, and when the former Springbok Women prop was invited to join the intern programme of World Rugby, as DHL Western Province and Junior Springbok Women coach, she jumped at the opportunity.
“It was only supposed to be for a year, but when the tournament was moved out for another year, our programme was extended as well and that had fantastic results for me,” said Johannes-Haupt.
“It not only exposed me to top level rugby for another year, but in the process, I could learn from some real mentors and world class coaches – on a technical and tactical level from the likes of Springbok coaches Daan Human and Deon Davids, and from the coaching staff of our team as well.
“Stanley Raubenheimer, Eddie Myners and Lungisa Kama were always keen to share ideas and then gave me a specific role in the coaching set-up as well, so I actually became part of their coaching management, which was immense for me.
“A year ago, I would have been only an intern coach, but now I am here as part of the coaching staff and that is huge for me. The growth I experienced has also confirmed my real passion and that is for coaching.”
Johannes-Haupt takes care of the breakdown in their game, an area she feels where dominance and physicality are non-negotiables.
“I want to give credit to our Springbok Women and the way they have improved over the last couple of years – they really put in a lot of hard work, and extra work, to get to the next level,” she said.
“They are also looking after themselves well, they made the mind switch that in order to become a better player, you need to look after yourself as well, mentally and physically. The team’s progress is there for all to see.
“You could see this year in the SA Rugby Women’s Premier Division, when the national players played for their provinces, there was a clear difference between them and their provincial teammates. That growth has seen the team progress to beating the likes of Japan and Spain.”
Now France await in their RWC opener on 8 October and the Springbok Women are looking forward to the contest, which is scheduled to kick off at 03h15 (SA time).
For Laurian-Johannes, the honour of playing the opening match of the tournament is huge and well earned, but the team goal, she says, is clear: “We are not here to only compete; we are here to win.”