“I contacted the coach and asked him what’s the likelihood of me being able to train with them,” Tanya Scholtz says of her introduction to international rugby union.
While the likelihood of someone calling up Eddie Jones, Andy Farrell or Ian Foster and asking for a call-up to England, Ireland or New Zealand seems rather remote, this is how Guernsey-based Scholtz began a journey that has ended up with her being selected for South Africa women’s European tour this autumn.
“I’ve always felt like I do have something a bit special,” says the hooker.
“When I started playing rugby in Guernsey, in the beginning I was still getting my head around it because I’d never played it before.
“But then in the last few years I felt I can do this and play for South Africa.”
Scholtz has not had a lot of rugby union to play of late – the Channel Island-based Guernsey Raiders were in the fourth tier of English women’s rugby before the Covid-19 lockdown – and she still balances her training with working full time as a chartered accountant in the global offshore finance centre that is Guernsey.
“The only game we really had lately was against the Isle of Man, and I think I performed quite well in that game, so I did send the coach some of that footage,” she explains.
“He just checks in every now and again on how my training is going, how I am feeling and whether we have had games.”
‘They see a bit of my dad in me’
Scholtz’s other inspiration on the rugby field comes from her father, who was a talented player during the time of apartheid in South Africa.
“He wasn’t able to reach the heights or the full potential that he should have if society had been a democracy back then in South Africa,” she tells BBC Radio Guernsey.
“He was an avid rugby player, he loved rugby more than anything apart from his family.
“He passed away in 2018 and ever since that happened it’s been more of a goal for me, something that I want to do in memory of my dad.
“For my family it’s special as well because they know the reasons behind it. For them, they see a bit of my dad in me – it makes them super excited and super proud.”
‘I never set out to make rugby such a big part of my life’
With sport a big presence in Scholtz’s life growing up, it is no surprise to find out that she was a good netball player – as a high school student she played the sport to provincial level and continued when she was at university.
But after beginning her traineeship in accountancy her time for sport diminished and it was not until she moved to Guernsey in 2014 that she first took up rugby union.
“I thought it was a nice place to get my fitness back on track, lose some weight and I was like ‘I’ve always wanted to play rugby’,” she explains.
“I heard there was a women’s rugby team so I was like ‘why don’t I give it a go?’, so someone at work put me in contact with the captain of the ladies’ team back then in 2014 and that’s when I played my first rugby game and started training.
“I never set out to make rugby such a big part of my life, but it’s just something that I really enjoy and I love, and it’s naturally become that.”
Aiming for a first cap
But for the pandemic Scholtz could have made her debut for the Springboks already – she took part in a training camp with South Africa before the onset of Covid-19.
Alongside players from famous South African club names such as the Sharks, Western Province and the Bulls, Guernsey’s Scholtz is the only Europe-based player to be picked in the squad which will play France on 6 November and the Barbarians at Twickenham on 27 November as part of a four-game tour.
“I’m hoping I get capped and be able to play a game, but it’s just a privilege and an honour just to join them and be named in the squad,” says Scholtz.
“I’ve got no expectations, but I’m going to give it my best shot and do everything I can to make the team.
“I want women in Guernsey and around the world to know that you can play rugby, you can be successful, you can be as tough and as good on the rugby pitch as men.
“I’m very excited and I hope that I can inspire some of the girls in our team to keep at it.”