Dual Springbok Women’s player Shona-Leah Weston has faced her fair share of career-threatening tumbles, from a serious ankle injury to a change in the landscape in women’s rugby. However, the former Sharks Women, player is back and her dream is alive and getting back on track.
In 2017 Weston stepped into a manhole and that changed her career trajectory indefinitely. It also didn’t help that upon her recovery, women’s rugby was facing its own ebbs and flows.
“Things were not great at the time, to be honest – I thought my playing career was over and seeing the setbacks to the women’s teams, I did not really see much sense in trying to make a comeback, so I rather focussed on getting back to full capacity as a personal trainer.”
While she recovers and contemplates a possible return, the 15s game was recuperating after being put on ice in 2014 after the Rugby World Cup, in the meantime, the national sevens squad was denied the chance to play in the 2016 Olympic Games.
For many the COVID-19 global pandemic, had its bitter moments, but for a few, it provided some light even at a dire time for the world over. Weston is one such person.
“At the end of the COVID-pandemic and the halt to all rugby in that time, I started to think about a comeback.”Springbok Women’s player Shona-Leah Weston
After the shock of an unprecedented time in all corners of the world Weston was working on a return to the game she loves so much.
“The fact that the national programmes were also gaining momentum again helped in that final decision to give it another go. I played for the Sharks Women in the Women’s Premier Division and then decided to join the sevens programme of the San Clemente Rhinos out in California.”
They say “even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise again” and that is true in this regard as stars where aligning for Weston. The Rhinos set up an Academy in Gordon’s Bay and travelled to South Africa.
Back home, Weston excelled for the team in their fifteens warm-up match against the Springbok Women in September and last month, for their sevens outfit against the Springbok Women’s Sevens. Her incredible performances caught the eye of Springbok Women Sevens coach Renfred Dazel. He asked her to join the squad again.
“There were so many emotions, but never doubt that I would say yes. In fact, that was always part of the trigger from me to make a comeback after COVID.”Springbok Women’s player Shona-Leah Weston
That beautiful story culminates in her joining the SA Sevens side, currently at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport, preparing for the opening legs of the 2024 HSBC SVNS in Dubai and Cape Town.
“There are so many good things happening with the team at the moment, there is clarity on where they are going, there is a purpose and a clear direction on what they want to achieve, something that lacked in previous years.”
The call to join the squad was also well received by the Rhinos coaching staff: “They knew how much I wanted this and how hard I worked to get into contention again, so they were happy for me. I know and coach Renfred made it clear, that I need to prove in training that I can make the team and I am 100% in agreement.”
As the Bok Women Sevens side gear up for the start of the new season, Weston is impressed by the clear vision and goal for the squad: “The leadership is very strong and that provides a lot of clarity and direction – this team know where they are going and what is needed to get there,” she said.
“We want to stay on the circuit and next year want to be competitive at the Olympics.”
Playing in the Olympic Games is unfinished business for Weston, who would have been part of the team to Rio in 2016 and also represented South Africa in judo: “I always wanted to be part of the Olympics and the fact that I can have another chance is just beyond words.
The Springbok Women’s Sevens team to play in Dubai will be named next week. South Africa will also name a Springbok Women’s Sevens ‘A’ side that will play in the international invitational tournament in Dubai, where they were runners up last year.
Weston is relishing the opportunity to once again don the green and gold.
“Coach Renfred knows me from the last time I played, and I trust his judgement. I will work very hard to prove myself in this set-up, that is the only given. For now, I am just taking it all in and savouring the opportunity to be back with this team I care so much about, and fight shoulder to shoulder to improve every day.”
Photo Caption: A devastating ankle injury ruled out Shona-Leah Weston from SA Women’s Rugby 10 years ago, but she’s back in the fold, ready to go for the Bok Women Sevens team in Dubai and Cape Town. Photo: Supplied