Chapter 1 – First Days in South Africa


Right as we touched down in Cape Town they played “Happy” over the PA system and I threw my fists in the air and exclaimed “WE MADE IT!” in a volume less than capslock portrays but with the energy of capslock (#powerpose). I disembarked the plane and was greeted by a warm South African breeze. I’m hereee!!!

At baggage claim I breathed a sigh of relief when my small suitcase containing the beloved foam roller was sighted. Hendrik and Marius found me as I walked through customs and told me that Americans always look confused when coming out. I was feeling a little confused so that’s accurate for me at least. We hopped in the Maties Academy Referees van and headed off toward Stellenbosch. For the first night I stayed in a guest room with Hendrik’s family since it was after midnight and he didn’t want to wake the boys up at the house. On the way there, we chatted about a few things:

  • My 1st reffing gig is tomorrow. Woahoho! They told me so casually.
  • In SA there’s U8, U10, U11, U13, U15, U16, U19, probably a lot more “U”s in there that I’m missing, university teams, senior club, EVERYTHING! At least for boys/men that is.
  • We won’t be reffing any women here. There’s only 1 women’s team around here at Stellenbosch University
  • Thursdays there are $5 (50 Rand) all-you-can-eat Pizza nights
  • Friday wine tours
  • Bleep: SA minimum for (national panel?) women is 10.5 and 12.5 for men
  • Don’t be fooled by U13 & youths – very competitive here. Teams have full time coaches, vocal parents, etc.
  • I said I have a lot to work on :) and Marius said “That’s why you’re here.” –> YUP!!

Upon arriving at Hendrik’s house I borrowed his phone to FB message my family since there was no wifi. And that concludes my first 3 hours in South Africa!

Setting the Scene, AKA What are we doing here? FAQ

Stellenbosch is very sunny, warm, and sometimes breezy. I love it! There’s a constant backdrop of mountains that you’ll see it in the pictures. It’s beautiful. Someone I met yesterday told me it reminds him of Denver, and I can see the similarities. About every 10 minutes on Friday I cheerily announced, “It’s so warm here!”  As context for those who don’t know, it snowed on Monday in Boston.

I’m staying in a house with the 4 other academy students and 2 university students. The 4 other students are Ryan (SA), Geoff (Zim), Evan (USA), and Kahlil.  Since I’m the only female student and/or because there’s an odd number of us, I get a room to myself!

We eat lunch and dinner at a local high school every day around 1pm and 6pm. I avoid dairy since I’m pretty sure I’ve developed lactose intolerance, but luckily can still eat pizza and ice cream, phew!

The internet is not as accessible as it is in the states. At least I have not heard of free wifi at coffee shops around every corner like it is in Boston and Providence. The others who have been here for a couple months already haven’t found a means to free wifi yet either. We got a hotspot but somehow burned through 80% of the data in 2 days and it ran out on the third, so as I’m writing this I’m not sure when the next time we have internet access will be. But we gotta have faith faith faith.

OK those are all the answers I have so far. Back to the story!

Friday March 14, Day 1

On  Friday, my schedule looked something like this:

  • Wakeup 7:30
  • Met other academy students on the way to the university’s athletic facilities
  • Pool aerobics session (8-9)
  • Stretching class (9-10)
  • Short break to watch rugby on TV at the gym
  • Cardio Sesh (10-11)
  • Get bedding and move things into my new room
  • Lunch
  • Trials at Paul Roos with U14, U15 cancelled, U16, U19 (5th and 6th sides)
  • Then watched the 1st half of their A side match @ 5pm
  • Dinner
  • Unpack, check emails (internet!!!), prep for the next day

At the trials (tryouts) I refereed about

  • 13 min U16
  • 30 min U19
  • 23 min U19

The biggest work-on from Hendrik is, don’t run figure eights! I was taking really loopy running lines in the first game when the ball was moved away from the breakdown to get behind the backs. (Was this overcompensation from finding myself ahead of the play last week?) Instead, from the A-line of the breakdown, once it’s managed, move out (this was OK), and then head straight to where I anticipate the ball is going, NOT behind the 1st receiver. Running through to the defensive line is ok too as long as you don’t go too far through. I adjusted to flatter lines in the following U19 games and it was MUCH BETTER. Still a lot of room for improvement. In faster games, without the straighter lines there’s no way I’d be able to keep up. Good point. Thanks Hendrik!

Also, there is no whistle when the ball goes into touch, as is often done in the US. Noted.

My overall impression of the rugby at this age compared to the U19 I’ve seen in the states is that there was more kicking, more offloading, and better ball movement. Faster and more organized rugby in general. I guess that can be expected since most of these lads have been handling the rugby ball since they were 4!

I had a really great time reffing and running around. So many smiles.

Watching the A side match in the evening.
Watching the A side match in the evening.

Saturday March 15, Day 2


  • Woke up at 6:40 to banging on my door. I’d missed my alarms >< FFFFF! It was 5 minutes before our ride.
  • U11 and U13 tournament in Paarl
  • U19 v U20 (or U21?) intersquad Maties match
    •  Observed Evan and Geoff split reffing 4 15min periods
  • Dinner
  • Chill, sort things out
  • Went out to the clubs, Terrace and Tollies…

Junior Tournament

We were briefed about the junior tournament the day before on Friday afternoon in the stadium office. It was nice to see a clean and clear schedule before the morning of the tournament! At this tournament there was 7s, 10s, and 15s for U11 and U13 teams. Most (or all) of the teams had multiple sides. The variations included:

  • No kicking in half-field games, and only kicking in full field U13 games from within their own 22
  • Scrum call for ages before U19 is “Crouch, Bind (they bind & lean in), Scrum (ball goes in)”
  • 3m instead of 5m for primary school lineouts
  • Offside at scrum for defending 9 is the ball – there is no “pocket”
    • For primary school, it’s the tunnel/equator of the scrum
    • When the hooter sounded, the game immediately ended so all fields started, ended, and stayed on schedule together. Brilliant!
    • No boots. Barefoot on Saturday!

I had an excellent! Terrific! Magnificent! Fun! FUNNN!!!!! time at the tournament. Well, we didn’t keep official scores so maybe it wasn’t a “tournament” per say. I had never reffed U11 or U13 before Saturday and it was such a positive experience! The kids were quick, smart, organized, and had impressive handling. They had great attitudes, played very positive rugby, and seemed to be having a great time playing the game. Especially at this age when almost all of them are still very small and don’t have the size to overpower or crash through multiple defenders, there was a lot of great offloading and fluid phases of attack – a characteristic of southern hemisphere rugby? :) The tournament staff was friendly. I mostly walked around with a smile on my face saying “Hello” to anyone who made eye contact with me. I met a lot of strangers and they all welcomed me to my 2nd day in SA, wishing me a good time. At the conclusion of the games I went back to the building area and ate the 3 most delicious and juicy plums I’ve ever had. They reminded me of a scene from Avatar when Jake enters his new body and eats a Pandoran fruit… but I can’t find it on YouTube at the moment. I deemed them AVATAR PLUMS. Mmmmmm

First 2 days were full of rugby
First 2 days were full of rugby
The rugby life.
The rugby life.

More pictures from the youth rugby morning can be found here! (Thanks Kahlil)

Sunday March 16, Day 3

If we’re being technical, I guess this day continued right on from Saturday night, seeing as we got back to the house maybe around 3-4am and I ended up going to sleep a few hours later… The club scene warrants a post of its own, but I will say I do miss the days of rolling into Gallery on a Saturday night in Providence 30 deep with our rugby team!

My Sunday (day of rest!) looked something like this:

  • Woke up at noon
  • Walked to local high school (Highschool Stellenbosch) for lunch
  • Came back and napped until 3
  • Walked to the shops (they were closed) and back
  • Wrote journals
  • Dinner
  • Wrote more


  • I want to get more sleep than I’ve had on my first 3 days here. I don’t even know how I stayed up for 24 hours on Saturday from 6am to 6am without coffee, tea, or soda – maybe RUGBY is my caffeine?
  • After 5 walks there and back (again, a Hobbit’s tale) I finally remembered how to get to and from the high school for meals.
    • I’d say it’s about a 10min walk each way?
    • The shops were all closed on Sunday. My bad. Now on the to-do list are:
      • Buy outlet converter @ hardware store
      • Buy cheap phone w minutes @ phone store
      • Buy tape @ pharmacy
      • The mall is a 30 min walk in the other direction from our house so that’s an adventure for another day! (Near the clubs we went to last night)
Evan, Geoff, and Kahlil walking to dinner.
Evan, Geoff, and Kahlil walking to dinner.

And that concludes the three day saga in South Africa! Thanks for reading everyone. I’m loving it here so far!!!!! Going to become a better referee :) I’m not sure what tomorrow (Monday) holds, but I hear we will wake up around 6am for a morning run on the mountain trail and then meet at 9am in the stadium for class! Let’s do it!

Chapter 1 – First Days in South Africa

5 thoughts on “Chapter 1 – First Days in South Africa

  1. Em! This all sounds amaaaaazing. I wish I could visit and soak up some of that warmth and rugby amazingness. This is going to make my first outdoor practice tonight even more painful now that I’ve seen your sunny beautiful pictures. Not exactly the same as our 32-degree MRSA-ridden turf field on the Hudson.

    It’s a little disappointing to hear that there is so little girls/women’s rugby, but it sounds like you are going to be busting down people’s preconceptions of what ‘awesome rugby ref in training’ looks like, so that’s amazing!

    This sounds like your rugby dream–can’t wait to keep reading more updates! Sending lots of love. <3 <3 <3

    PS. Lactose intolerance = welcome to your mid-twenties for Asian people. It suuucks. But TG pizza is still okay for me too!


    1. E says:

      Aydz! I’m late on the reply and you’ve already had your first outdoor practice, but don’t worry it’s not always sunny and beautiful here! :P It rained yesterday and reminded me of our homeland in Providence. Hahaha TG for pizza! But noooo I’m in mid-twenties denial- still eating any free cheese I can find but my stomach hates my brain for making me do it.


  2. Mai says:

    EmHsieh! Awesome post!
    You get to work the YOUTHS!
    They are so cute yet precisioned in those photos eh?
    This is going to be the best time of your life. Seriously. Rugby 24/7?! Actually though,
    go to bed.
    We’re all super psyched for you em and CHEERING YOU ON!
    I would respond more, but I am at work! BAHhumbug
    Rep hard!
    Whenever you enter a club,
    You’re always rolling 30 BWRFC deep



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