Laurian Johannes - new South Africa Women's U20 head coach

Laurian Johannes: "I always wanted to give back to the game I love so passionately"

Laurian Johannes may have had to 'trick' her father into buying her first pair of boots, but her passion and drive has seen her go on to play for South Africa and now become the country's first female head coach of a national team. She's not quite finished yet, though, with one big dream still to accomplish.

Laurian Johannes insists she is “in it to win it” as she ponders life as the first female head coach of a South African national team.

Johannes was confirmed as the new South Africa Women’s U20 coach last week having spent the past four years working within Western Province’s age-grade structures.

Her first task in the historic role will be to select a squad for back-to-back games against Zimbabwe at the end of June.

Those fixtures will be the first fulfilled by a Springbok Women’s U20 side since the 2013 Nations Cup in England, a tournament in which South Africa narrowly beat the hosts before losing heavily to the USA and Canada.

Despite the U20 side’s time away from the international stage, Johannes – who has witnessed her players’ development first-hand as Western Province U18 coach – is confident of their potential as she attempts to provide a stepping stone between age-grade rugby and the senior national team.

“We’re all systems go,” she said. “We have a group of girls that are very excited to be playing internationals again. The squad is moving in the right direction.

“The group of girls we have, they’re very talented.

Inspiring the next generation

“There’s a lot that we’ve already earmarked basically for international rugby on a senior level but for now they are with us, and we are grooming them and trying to get them as fit as we can for international rugby, for when they are called up to the senior team.”

Johannes was still a fully paid-up member of the front row union the last time a South Africa Women’s U20 team took to the field.

The prop, who represented her country at Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010, was a fixture for Western Province and less than a year away from becoming the most-capped provincial player in South Africa.

She will be joined in her new role by her former Western Province team-mate Natasha Hofmeester, who has been appointed team manager. It means the young South Africans will not have far to look for proof of what can be achieved.

“Definitely, I’m hoping to inspire them with regards to working hard because it wasn’t easy to just become the most-capped player in our union because we played very little games per year,” Johannes said.

“So, it took me quite a while to get there but that was purely through hard work and dedication and passion for what I love doing.

“So I’m hoping to instil those values and morals in my team to persevere and do the best that they can.”

Friendly face

Hofmeester and Johannes are “good buddies” away from the rugby pitch, which the latter hopes will stand them in good stead as they begin working together.

“Natasha and I are friends, so we get along super and we share such a lot of information with regards to rugby.

“And it’s so awesome to be coaching at this level with Natasha because we just feed off each other.

“We’ve played provincial level together and now we’re back together internationally.”

Match fitness has already been identified as the main area where gains will need to be made if Johannes’ side are to compete on the global stage.

By her own admission it will take a lot of hard work to get the team to where she wants it to be but Johannes is no stranger to a little tough graft.

Like many of her generation she was seduced by rugby union during Rugby World Cup 1995, and having watched Francois Pienaar hoist the Webb Ellis Cup, she says, “I told my parents ‘I want to do that’.”

Boots trickery

However, it was not until she enrolled at the University of the Western Cape that the opportunity to do so presented itself. Although even then, it wasn’t straightforward.

“I kind of told a bit of a lie to my dad, to my family in order for them to get me rugby boots,” Johannes explained.

“I told them I was playing badminton and then I got them to buy a pair of boots for a ‘friend’ I didn’t have, but [they were] actually for me.

“And then I invited him to the ‘badminton’ game but it was actually a rugby game and he saw me on the field and he’s been my number one supporter ever since.”

Johannes admits that her father “was a bit angry for the first 10 seconds” but recognising the passion his daughter had for the game he quickly came around to the idea.

He has had a lot to cheer in the intervening decade and a half too. Johannes ranks her 50th cap alongside her appearance at Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010 as her proudest achievements in the game.

Of the tournament in England, she said: “It was a fantastic experience because I got to rub shoulders with the best in the business in the women’s game.

Aiming for the top

“We played against New Zealand and Australia and Wales, and it was an awesome, awesome experience.”

Since hanging up her boots in 2014, Johannes has balanced her day-to-day job as a school teacher with her quest to become the head coach of the South Africa Women’s senior team.

“It was definitely always one of my ambitions because I always wanted to give back to the game that I love so passionately,” she said.

“Yeah, it was always going to be coaching. I was always going to coach after playing. That was always the dream.

“My goals and my dreams are to be the coach of the national team, the national senior team. That is something that I’ll really strive and work hard towards.

“I’m not afraid of working hard so I would really love to be the coach of the national team one day.”

But for now, Johannes will strive to help as many players tread that same path between the U20 side and the senior national team.

Photos: SA Rugby

Leidy Soto - Colombia
Women's Feature News Women in Rugby
‘Unstoppable’ Soto ready for next challenge
As Colombia prepares to tackle Brazil in an historic test match in Medellín on Sunday, Leidy Soto – one of the Unstoppables in World Rugby's #TryAndStopUs campaign – is in the thick of things.
WRWC17 A view of the USA team huddle 13/8/2017
Media release Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby
World Rugby announces gender neutral naming for Rugby World Cup tournaments
World Rugby has announced that its flagship 15s and sevens Rugby World Cup properties will no longer include gender in their titles.
Namaka Public School GIR Plus girls with participants of the Oceania Rugby women in leadership participants
Women's Feature News Women in Rugby
Oceania holds inaugural Women's Leadership Workshop
The inaugural Oceania Women's Rugby Leadership Workshop took place in Fiji last week, attended by coaches, medical officials, development manager and women in leadership roles.
Annelies Acda - Women's Executive Leadership Scholarship recipient
Women's Feature News Women in Rugby
Annelies Acda: “I’m using this opportunity as a learning curve”
One of the World Rugby Women's Executive Leadership Scholarship recipients in 2019, Annelies Acda is determined to seize this opportunity to help improve her leadership skills in order to promote rugby, its core values and its ability to tackle a range of social issues in the Netherlands.
Kenya v Uganda - Rugby Africa Women's World Cup
World rankings Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Kenya reach historic high in rankings
Despite missing out on automatic qualification for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2021, Kenya can console themselves with a new all-time high position in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings.
Rugby Africa Women's Cup 2019: South Africa v Kenya - CREDIT: Gallo Images
Media release Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby
South Africa qualify for Women's Rugby World Cup 2021
South Africa are the first regional qualifiers for Women's Rugby World Cup 2021 after beating Kenya to win the Rugby Africa Women's Cup which doubled as the qualification pathway.
Australia v New Zealand
World rankings Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Black Ferns go for Moore of the same
New Zealand coach Glenn Moore sticks with a winning formula as his side look to wrap up a 2-0 series win over Australia and cement their place at the top of the World Rugby Women's Rankings.
Stacey Waaka - New Zealand
Women's Feature News Women in Rugby
Stacey Waaka: “I believe everything happens for a reason”
One of the ‘Unstoppables’ in World Rugby’s new campaign to promote women in rugby, Black Ferns star Stacey Waaka is one of a select few to have won Rugby World Cups in sevens and 15s but she may never have had the opportunity to write her name into the history books after being involved in a serious bus crash aged 15.
Danielle Waterman with Italy squad
Sevens Men's Feature News Women in Rugby
Danielle Waterman: "Take any opportunity with both hands"
An unexpected opportunity to coach the Italy men's open sevens side at the World Police and Fire Games in China this week has only reaffirmed Women's Rugby World Cup winner Danielle Waterman's belief that gender isn't what matters in a coach, it's being confident and working hard that earns a team's respect.
Rugby Africa Women's Cup 2019: South Africa v Madagascar
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby
South Africa and Kenya set up title decider
South Africa and Kenya will meet in a winner-takes-all title decider in the Rugby Africa Women's Cup 2019 on Saturday with the victors qualifying for Women's Rugby World Cup 2021.