Name : Merilees Govender
Date of Birth : 4 March 1997
Place of Birth : Durban, South Africa
Sport : Women Rugby
Position : Scrumhalf, loose forward
Club : UNAM Women
Sports is not a very easy career choice in Namibia and especially for girls and women how did it all start for you?
Well, initially my first sport was cricket which I played in primary school, when I got to grade 8, I started playing rugby, netball and a little bit of soccer and volleyball.
Rugby is a physical game, and its not regarded as a women sports, and in Namibia it is not very prominent, how and why did you choose to play it?
Well, I started playing at the age of 14, when I started playing for Kudu Rugby Club back then. And then Namibia women rugby died just as I moved to Durban to study. I returned home and enrolled at UNAM to pursue my law degree, and it was the that I Ms. Donatha, who was working as a sport medic for UNAM. Ms. Donatha is very wonderful person and was kind enough to invite me to help out with the men’s rugby team in the medic field while mentoring me. At this time women’s rugby was still nowhere.
Being a sport person, I got involved in the administration and management of the UNAM Rugby Club, through the late Mr. Werner Jeffrey (MHSRP). The Late Jeffrey created so many opportunities for me. To go and develop, and I feel owe a lot to him.
During this time while being part of the UNAM Rugby management I had the opportunity to work with Coach Johan Diergaardt where I learned a lot with regards to technical issues related to the game of rugby, including knowing what to do and knowing how it should be executed on the field.
Later that year, with sevens rugby coming up I was fortunate enough to get to the late Mr. Lesley Bougaard (Coach Les). He was the reason I started playing again, he saw the potential in me and on the first day made me train with the guys. For two years Coach Les made me train with the boys. I got stronger and fitter and my game knowledge was on another level. Because at this point not only did I understand the game, I was able to get the coaches perspective. After two years of training alone and not knowing if any women’s rugby would come up or if I would ever play, Coach Les got a whole bus of ladies from Rehoboth, all who were playing rugby, to join me in Windhoek.
Ever since that day Coach Les and I revived women’s rugby. Coach Les then made sure to call all the ex-rugby players who had left the game, when it died out back in 2015 to join us as well.
And I guess the rest is our story.
You sound like somebody who was very determined to be involved with the game after your return to the country, did somebody push you?
The Late Mr. Lesley Bougaard, may his soul rest in peace, definitely gave me a restart in playing rugby again I would say. To play rugby and make it a career, that was a choice I made myself as i am a very determinate person and if I want something, I also believe I have something to prove to myself
Most of us, have looked up to certain individual and the way they carry themselves, this shapes our life’s path. Is there any individual that come to mind in your life?
Well, my parents have always supported me even though my dad is not a fan of rugby. Coach Les had a very big influence as well as Mr. Werner Jefferey
You started playing sports at a very early age, and then you said you were determined to play no matter what, Why?
In all other aspects except cricket my body type was not the ideal body type… but I had technique and strong center of gravity. This is the reason why I make a brilliant scrumhalf and flank, cause I’m a jackal I don’t just work with the ball but I work off the ball mostly.
Well, like I said cricket was the first sport that presented itself to me that was ideal for my body type and I was good in.. at that age I had to play with the boys as there weren’t any girls teams.
Having being involved in the revival of women rugby, must have been a highlight of you sporting career, would you say?
I would like to say being the first ever scrumhalf for the Women’s National Team, was important milestone for my sporting career, but I being involved in the revive of women Rugby in Namibia with Coach Les, tops everything else. Trust me, being a female athlete, it wasn’t easy training with guys who played weekend in weekend out, and me just running around not knowing if I would ever get a chance to play.
After you left the country to go and study in Durban, you might have expected that someone would take a lead and revive women rugby, but when you came back nothing had happened, that must have been devastating?
On the flip side, can you recall a challenging or low point in your journey? How did you overcome it?
Well not really, one of the biggest was the negative backlash I got from the club I played for, after the Namibia game against Zambia back in November. I can take positive criticism but not bad mouthing. I believe there’s a difference and badmouthing and singling a player out is uncalled for.
Furthermore the way I overcame it was I chose to walk away from negativity. They never attempted to speak to me and I never did…So I left and I decided to play for UNAM.
For me rugby matches gets won by keeping to structure and knowing what you doing on the field and obviously beating a team with technicalities.
How do you handle setbacks and failures? Are there any strategies or mindsets that have helped you bounce back?
I believe in never looking back at what went wrong but why it went wrong. I believe that one needs to be told why it went wrong to correct it.
For example, in the last two games for Namibia I was told that I am not in the plans if I wanted to try for scrumhalf. Three scrum halves were chosen above me and I was chosen as flank, which is fine because it’s my secondary position.
But when push came to shove, I had to go on as scrumhalf in our first game against Zimbabwe where I was on the bench as a flank and I had to start scrumhalf against SA, and this is because none of the selected three scrum showed up. Which put me in an awkward position because I never trained for a game plan on 9. But I looked ahead and I told myself, “Merilees you can play anywhere. You are the only one that understands the structure and 9 is you prime position. you can do it”.
Having been involved in the revival of women rugby in Namibia, having played for the national team, has this helped you evolved as a person and a professional?
I believe that I have learned that not everyone is the same and that everyone should be respected and that everyone should get to know the person for who they and not for what you want them to be. People are different off and on the field. Trust me, adrenaline is everything.
You speak very passionately about women rugby; can you share any key lessons or insights either positive and negative?
Structure and knowing what to do is everything in the game. I believe that the team that wins is the team that forces their structure on the other team. If you are unable to do that means the opposition is one step ahead and is closing you down.
What advice would you give to young aspiring women who want to play rugby and be able to excel?
If there are young women interested in playing women rugby, they should set their mind and play rugby, play rugby. They should go to training, train and go home. A woman’s body gets put under a lot of pressure. As a woman, if you wanna be the best you have to beat the best, playing victim will only help you upto a certain level.
You should know why you want to play rugby and be honest with yourself. As a coach I would say learn to remove emotion from coaching. I think once you do things with emotion or be emotional, you’ll just end losing because like I said everyone is different and everyone is different on and off the field.
How do you manage to find a balance between your career and personal life? Are there any specific strategies you employ?
It was difficult especially going to Law classes from early in the morning until 16h30 and then rushing home to change, get something light to eat and back to training and back to studying and assignments, but if you want to make time you will. You just need to learn to prioritize what is important to you.
With all that is going on around your life, what kind of support system, if any, has been instrumental in your success?
Definitely my parents, especially my mom. She loves telling me how much I’ve grown and she loves watching me play. Also, recently my dad has moved a bit closer to the game, but he is the most calm and quiet spectator ever at a rugby match
Where did your inspiration and love of women rugby come from?
Well apart from me watching rugby a lot I really learnt a lot from Coach Les. I was always just a 15’s player. He introduced me to Sevens and showed me every trick in the book that I would later demonstrate to the guys what needs to be done. He was a real confidence boost with how I approach rugby as well as how important structure play is and set pieces. Unfortunately, structure play isn’t a thing as yet in our Women’s system.
What is your trick, in getting ready for any competition?
Well mostly just rugby training. At the moment there’s a bigger picture so it’s just a matter of building lung capacity for me.
I take training one step at a time. I try not to get nervous. I believe that one doesn’t get nervous if you doing something you love and you know exactly what you doing then there’s no need to be nervous. The feeling to be able to take hit after hit and not feel a thing.. and that’s how adrenaline works.
Most sports do not favor the females, are there any elements of the sport that you find particularly challenging or less enjoyable?
I think just the ladies still struggling to understand structured play and why certain structure needs to be played. Also them not knowing where to be on the field if a set piece didn’t work.. like the adjustment and the awareness of structure play is something that is not set as an importance as it was to Coach Les
How do you stay passionate and engaged in your work, even during tough times?
Rugby is part of me even if I want to hate it I can’t.
How has your involvement in this sport affected your life outside of it?
Well not much, I believe if you stay out of light you won’t get any recognition.. only those that search for it get it. I guess just being able to be a woman speaking on rugby in general on Absolute Rugby whether it’s about men’s rugby, women’s rugby, structure play, specific player. Because I watch rugby and I watch with an analyst view.
What are your goals and aspirations for the future, both in your career and personally?
Well at the moment I don’t want to say to much but definitely something different You have had a significant impact on women rugby but also on rugby as a whole, how do you want to be remembered?
I want to leave a silent legacy; my action must speak for themselves.
If you could go back in time, is there anything you would do differently in your career or life path?
We must all work on ourself because at the end of the day people will never appreciate you and will always take credit for something you did.