Women’s international rugby has a new team with Madagascar set to enter the test arena in Johannesburg this weekend.
Named after the small Lemurs that occupy Madagascar and the adjoining islands, the Maki's first international assignment is against Kenya in the Rugby Africa Women's Cup, a competition that doubles as the region's qualification process for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2021 in New Zealand and also features hosts South Africa and Uganda.
Held over three days – 9, 13 and 16 August – the quadrangular tournament will provide the region’s automatic qualifier for Women's Rugby World Cup 2021 with the runner-up to face a South American team in a play-off for a place in the global repechage.
“Rugby Africa was right to invite us to this tournament. We have been waiting impatiently for this moment, to know where we are at compared to the others and to know if we have a chance to qualify,” says Madagascar head coach Ravoavahy Lanto Nirina, who is also in charge of the national sevens team.
Madagascar have long been known as a genuine rugby nation in the men’s game and the dawning of a new era in the women’s game has caught the public’s imagination, too.
“It's fantastic! Whenever there is a team that stands out in Madagascar, we talk about it and people are very interested. It's a great honour for me to go out there and take the girls (to South Africa). It will be very, very high level and that's why we cannot wait to be there!” said Nirina.
Sizing up to the challenge
While Madagascar doesn't have a World Rugby Women’s Ranking yet for obvious reasons, South Africa are 11th, Kenya 28th and Uganda 44th. And with only a few weeks of preparation behind them, Nirina is well aware of the challenge awaiting his team of shop workers and maids.
“Kenya, our first opponent, is naturally a sporting nation. In our case, our size is not our strong point and that's why we will catch up with our agility, our quality of play – technical and tactical – and our cohesion,” reasoned Nirina.
“It was a little complicated to prepare. I am especially looking, for example, for strong girls to put in the front row. The backs are all from the sevens, so that's fine.
“The girls are very excited. They think this opportunity to play the qualification is a dream. I have to work a lot on the mindset with them because if they get too excited about the tournament, I do not know if they will perform well enough.”
Despite only getting together a few weeks ago, the team have been putting the hours in on the training field to be as best prepared as they can be given the constraints.
“There is very good momentum in the group at the moment; hopefully, we can surprise a few people,” concluded Nirina.