Mandisa Williams is a rugby union hero in South Africa. From a young girl being introduced to rugby by her father at age 10, the 2016 South African Rugby Union’s Women’s player of has since been smashing records and stereotypes. Recently, she visited ChildFund Rugby’s partnership in Limpopo, South Africa, to inspire girls who want to follow her path. 

“I am looking forward to seeing them and their skills and I expect it to be a lot of fun. Rugby skills are not easy but we are also bridging the gap and building social cohesion. There are so many issues going on around the country, so we want to get the girls, and the boys, to be ready for this world,” said Mandisa a day before she travelled with Charlotte Caslick to the Nkowankowa Stadium in Greater Tzaneen, where they will be joining activities with ChildFund Rugby partner Coaches from Blue Bulls Rugby Union.

Charlotte and Mandisa were both fresh from Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 in South Africa – which was the second Rugby World Cup with ChildFund Rugby as the Principal Charity. At the Sevens, Mandisa was a World Rugby Ambassador. 

For the former South African women’s sevens and fifteens rugby player and captain, and now a TV commentator, Reconnect South Africa is important for kids in Limpopo. “In terms of teaching life skills, we need to teach them rugby values, but life skills from a young age are important. They need to balance their development, if we develop the child’s mind then they can take on the world for any challenge they might face out there.”

After helping the new coaches run sessions with kids who had never played rugby, and then seeing the excitement of the eight teams arrive and prepare for the afternoon’s tournament, Mandisa was reminded of her own struggles.

“It’s been difficult. When we started with women’s rugby in South Africa there were so many challenges – we started club rugby and now South Africa has put in a lot of work with youth training centres and forming partnerships for important initiatives like these with ChildFund Rugby.”

Her own introduction to rugby in South Africa is legendary as she joined a rugby club her father founded, and by the age of 16 she was invited to local provincial club Border Bulldogs. Later, she was selected for the team to play in the women’s Currie Cup – the country’s premier domestic (and longest running) rugby tournament, before earning the famous green national colours as a Springbok. 

“This is an amazing day for development, especially for a country like South Africa which just started focusing on women’s rugby 20 years ago. I’m part of that as I was developed 15 years ago,” Mandisa said. “I am looking forward to the expansion of ChildFund Rugby’s partnerships. Women’s and girl’s rugby – we need to grab it with two hands. It’s a starting point here in South Africa and for the African region as well. I can’t wait to work with ChildFund Rugby more in the future.” 

Mandisa is also a women’s rugby coach who is about to join the Blue Bulls Rugby Union as a forwards coach for South Africa’s first professional women’s franchise in the United Rugby Championship.