Zenay Jordaan

Zenay Jordaan. Photo: Kyle Kingsley Green

Watch: Rugby sensation Zenay Jordaan is all about togs and tenacity

Springbok Women’s flyhalf Zenay Jordaan speaks exclusively to The South African about her career highlights and the road ahead.

Zenay Jordaan

Zenay Jordaan. Photo: Kyle Kingsley Green

Fly-half Zenay Jordaan made her Springbok Sevens debut in 2008, aged just 17, and her 15-a-side bow the following year. Incredibly, the 28-year-old star has featured in two Women’s Rugby World Cups and three Rugby World Cup Sevens tournaments. 

In 2014, Zenay was one of the first 15 women to be handed a professional contract by South African Rugby Union (Saru) – and, after some debate, chose to cut short her training as a firefighter to focus on rugby, and wisely so. 

In December, as part of the Cape Town Sevens, she was a member of the South Africa sevens team who competed in front of a home crowd for the first time ever, as an invitational side at this series HSBC Cape Town Sevens. 

Zenay Jordaan opens up about girl power in Springbok rugby

Here Jordaan speaks exclusively to The South African about her stellar career, and looks ahead to the Stellenbosch tournament – part of HSBC Challenger Series – later in March.

Success could see the Imbokodo elevated to next season’s HSBC Women’s Sevens Series, which this campaign has a record eight legs, double the number in its inaugural season in 2012/2013.

The South African: How did you get into rugby and how did your early career develop?

Zenay Jordaan: It started from a really young age, at home. My dad [Wilfred Jordaan – a former Eastern Cape rugby player] is a very keen sportsman. My mum was also a provincial table-tennis player. But dad would wake me up at 3am to watch rugby games with him. 

I was very young when I started playing rugby in the street, which was a gravel track, with local boys – I was the only girl. We mostly played with tennis balls, but I was a bit selfish; I had my own rugby ball, but kept it inside – I didn’t want the boys to play with it. At primary school I played rugby, but again I was the only girl.

In 2005, I joined my local women’s club, the Middelburg Stormers. We trained with what we had, which was one ball between us all. We accepted what we had and worked with very little. 

TSA: Almost 10 years later, you became one of the first Springbok women’s players to receive a professional contract. How did that feel? And how have things changed?

ZJ: It was great — and unexpected. It was something all of us players wanted, and I’m a grateful that it happened during my career. I play rugby because I am passionate about the game, so to be paid doing it was a big bonus.

TSA: You’ve played international rugby since the age of 17. How have things changed?

ZJ: Back then – five years before the full-time contracts came in – it was more challenging. We didn’t have a base, proper facilities or access to gyms. We had to train with what we had. We had three-day camps of training together and then would break for a month or two. Before a tournament we would gather together again, for a refresh. It was very tough.

Now it has completely changed. The team stays together, and we’ve got proper equipment, facilities, everything. Also we live and train alongside the South African men’s sevens squad, so we learn a lot from them. It’s great to spend most of my time with the team and try to get better every day.

The men help us a lot, especially with positional advice, or if we don’t understand certain things. We can always talk to them about the different scenarios. It’s great to have them around, simply because they are arguably the best team on the sevens circuit.

TSA: How did it feel to run out at Cape Town Stadium as part of the HSBC Women’s Sevens Series in December?

ZJ: It was amazing, yeah. It was a really big event, and any sportsman or sportswoman would love to run out in front of their home crowd, so I felt very fortunate. Hopefully we will be able to get used to that feeling in the coming years.

TSA: You are next on sevens duty at the end of March in Stellenbosch during a new leg of the HSBC Challenger Series – a competition designed to boost rugby sevens’ development across the globe. Your dad missed you playing in Cape Town…will he attend this next tournament?

ZJ: Oh yes, definitely – both him and my mom. They are both very excited about coming down. We are currently preparing for the event because, if we are successful, we stand a chance of joining the HSBC Women’s Seven Series, which would be incredible.

TSA: Is there a feeling that interest in women’s rugby is growing in South Africa?

ZJ: I must say there’s much more interest now than when I started out. It’s great that many youth centres are putting on programmes for girls at under-16 and under-18 levels. That is helping development, and it’s clear women’s rugby is being taken much more seriously. There has been a big improvement – in the sevens and also the 15s – in the last few years.