When Tanya Scholtz meets up with the Springbok Women squad in the UK next month, she will hope to achieve something her late father, Ronald never had the opportunity to.
Uncapped hooker Scholtz only took up rugby in 2014 as a means to acclimatise to life in Guernsey, where the chartered accountant had moved for work.
However, she grew up surrounded by the game in the Western Cape. Dad Ronald was an accomplished number eight who captained the non-racial South African Rugby Union team during a playing career that spanned 11 years (1970-81).
Under the oppressive apartheid regime, Ronald was unable to represent the Springboks, but his achievements were honoured in December 2017, eight months before he passed away from cancer, when he was recognised as a Sport Legend by the Western Cape Government.
“He was a brilliant, brilliant rugby player and didn't necessarily get the recognition that he deserved because of apartheid,” Scholtz told World Rugby.
“If you don’t ask, you’ll never know”
Scholtz could make her international debut when the Springbok Women take on Wales and the Barbarians Women next month, something that would have made Ronald ecstatic.
“I definitely think my dad would be super proud. He was the biggest supporter of his family and whatever achievements we had, even if they were quite small,” she said.
“So, he would be super proud, and it would be really an emotional thing for him as well, I think, because rugby was my dad's sport, and it was what he was really good at.
“You know, growing up the things that people would say about him… when I was a child hearing what other people said about my dad really definitely impacted me.
“What they would say about his ability on the rugby pitch and his stubbornness. My dad wouldn't like losing, so put in 100 per cent every time he was on that pitch.
“So, I definitely hope that my dad is looking down and super happy and proud of not only what I've achieved with, but the rest of my family.
“I definitely think I have a lot of aspects of my dad [in my game] and that competitive spirit, I think, is something that he's definitely handed down to me.”
Although Scholtz only started playing rugby seven years ago, it was when she “started standing out a little bit” that she made the decision to reach out to Springbok Women coach Stanley Raubenheimer.
“I just thought to myself, ‘Well, I'm very similar to my dad’. My mum always says that I play like he did,” she said.
“There's a lot of effort and time being put into developing rugby for women [in South Africa] and I just thought, well, this is probably the best time for me to contact the coach and to try because I had been in really good form before the pandemic started.
“I thought I might as well ask because if you don't ask, you'll never know. I'm really, really glad that coach Stanley was able to see that I am quite serious about being part of the team, and that he gave me this opportunity and he was open to listen to me and just see what potential I may have.”
Having emailed Raubenheimer with her playing CV, newspaper clippings and video footage, she was delighted to be invited to a training camp in South Africa.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic meant she has been unable to take part in any of the team’s camps since, while travel restrictions mean she will only join up with the squad for the UK leg of their European tour next month.
“I’m looking forward to meeting the team-mates that I have in the squad [and] people on the team that I haven't met before,” Scholtz added.
“Also, the ones that I did meet, because they really made a big impression on me, and the talent and the love of rugby is really so clear to see within the squad.”
The ongoing pandemic has also impacted the number of matches Scholtz has been able to play for her club, Guernsey Raiders.
A travel corridor between the Channel Island and the Isle of Man ensured the team at least had some fixtures, while training tips for Scholtz arrived from South Africa.
The Raiders have returned to action in the fourth tier of English women’s rugby this month and are scheduled to take on Blackheath Ladies II on Sunday.
Scholtz will hope to use the match to gauge her form and fitness ahead of joining up with South Africa. So how does it feel to be only a few weeks away from a potential international debut?
“It’s crazy, I'm so excited and ecstatic about it,” she said. “I never actually thought that this opportunity would come my way and now that it has, I'm really grateful and humbled to be part of the squad.
“If I do get to play in a test, that's like my dream come true. But, if I don't get to play in a test, if I don't get capped, I'm still so grateful because it's just more than anything I ever thought possible.”
Crazy though the ambition may be, but Rugby World Cup 2021 is less than one year away – does Scholtz harbour ambitions of appearing in New Zealand?
“Absolutely, that would be my ultimate dream… it’s the best experience that you could have playing rugby,” Scholtz said.
“I know that there are a lot of things that I can still work on and improve and I'm definitely doing that and looking to get better and better every time I train and go out on that rugby pitch.
“I think this experience with the rest of the South African women's squad, it's going to enable me to assess what I need to do to ensure that I can form part of that squad.
“It would be such an honour and a privilege for me to wear the green and gold at that tournament.”
(Main photo credit: Martin Gray)