When Piwokuhle Nyanda tried her hand at touch rugby five years ago, her potential prompted her coaches to draw comparisons with legendary Springbok wing Bryan Habana.
This encouraged Nyanda to pursue a career in the traditional format of rugby and little did she know that she too would inspire others along the way.
The Golden Lions Rugby Union (GLRU) and senior women’s utility back women’s team has embraced the opportunities the game presents to women players, including her call-up to the national team.
“With rugby, it’s either you love it or you hate it. I got involved with touch rugby and my coaches told me, ‘you could be the next Bryan Habana’,” says Nyanda, who is simply known to her peers as Piwo.
Her love affair with the sport led to her breakthrough at the Golden Lions and the Pirates Women’s Rugby Club.
She admitted it was not an easy journey, which was made even more challenging by the lack of support for women’s rugby and the lack of gender parity in the sport.
“Women’s access into rugby is generally delayed as we start playing in our 20s and 30s. At that point in time, one has had many other life experiences, making it harder to commit to your passion as you need to balance school, career, children and family life at the same time. We need to strive for better access for aspiring players, to play from a young age,” says Nyanda.
Thanks to Mastercard’s sponsorship of the GLRU amateur women’s club league and senior women’s team, Nyanda is pleased to see positive signs of change.
“Mastercard is one of the first companies to directly sponsor a women’s team in South Africa. It’s a big deal for us because they also sponsor the men’s Rugby World Cup. So they are the trendsetters and other companies might say, why not also invest in the development of women’s rugby?” says Nyanda.
“The sponsorship affords us an opportunity to develop and advance our game, while helping to build a more inclusive future where girls have equal opportunity to follow their passion and build professional careers.”
Committed to gender balance
Mastercard was recently named the Sponsor of the Year at the Johannesburg Women in Sports Awards for its ongoing commitment to developing women. Mastercard’s sponsorship of the GLRU falls firmly in line with its gender-balanced marketing initiatives and highlights their commitment to driving diversity and inclusion – particularly in women’s rugby at grassroots level.
Through this sponsorship Mastercard is boldly challenging the status quo, by firmly standing behind women’s rugby through their association with the league.
“At Mastercard, we have made gender equality a central, guiding theme, not only in our own diversity and inclusion efforts, but also in our business strategy. We are honoured to receive this accolade as it recognises our broader commitment to levelling the playing field everywhere,” says Suzanne Morel, country manager at Mastercard, South Africa.
“By investing in and developing women’s rugby, we are able to directly contribute much needed resources where we can make a significant difference, while raising the visibility and appeal to a broader range of fans, and inspire more women to play the game.”
Habana’s priceless surprise
As part of Mastercard’s Rugby World Cup 2019™ sponsorship, the company unveiled a priceless surprise under its Start Something Priceless platform, which saw its global ambassadors, Bryan Habana and Dan Carter treating Nyanda’s team, the Pirates Women’s Rugby Club in Johannesburg, to a talk and field coaching session.
This was so well received that Mastercard sponsored the Pirate’s Women’s Rugby club to participate in the 50th Dubai Rugby 7s Invitational Tournament in December 2019, where the team got to compete in their first overseas tournament.
“The experience of playing at the Dubai Rugby 7s when it was celebrating its 50th year was immeasurable. I don’t take for granted the opportunity we were given as a team, as not many are that fortunate. It was a great learning curve, we met and shared not only the field but life experiences with passionate women,” says Nyanda.
Passion into the future
Nyanda, who also doubles up as a development coach at school level, encourages young girls to try their hand at rugby.
“For me, it is also about creating opportunities, and some of them come in the form of scholarships so that there is a good balance between sport and education,” explains Nyanda.
Reflecting on her five-year journey in the game, Nyanda says her mission is far from complete. “My ultimate goal is to play at a Rugby World Cup.”
South Africa is among the 12 nations that have booked their berths at the global tournament in New Zealand in 2021.
Nyanda says donning the Women’s Springbok jersey while singing the national anthem is a humbling experience, which also demonstrates that “it is possible”.
Having come this far, Nyanda certainly deserves a place among those inspirational women who are breaking barriers and pursuing their passion for the game.