The amazing woman behind the Springboks

2019-11-28T19:47:45+02:00November 26th, 2019|

Springbok PR manager ANNELEE MURRAY talks to about her role with the team, being a ‘mom’ to the players, the highlights of her 225-Test stint and winning the SA Sport Industry Personality of the Year Award.

Congrats on the award, Aneelee. What does it mean to you?
The award means a lot to me because it was judged by the South African sporting industry – and not just rugby – including agencies, sponsors and people I’ve worked with over many years in different capacities and campaigns. It’s special too because [awards sponsor] Holland is recognising women in sport.

You grew up in a sports-mad family and played sport yourself. Tell us a bit about that.
Yes, my dad played rugby for Eastern Province as a flank and also captained the team, while my mom was a Proteas hockey player and also played for SA Universities. So we grew up alongside a field, whether it was rugby, hockey or cricket. I played provincial netball and also swam and did biathlons.

How did you end up working for SA Rugby?
I was at the right place at the right time. I took over from Lisa Bon, who put my name forward for the job after she accepted a similar role at the New Zealand Rugby Union.

You made your ‘Bok debut’ against Argentina in Buenos Aires in November 2000 and have been involved in 225 Tests in total. Do you know, off the top of your head, how many Bok coaches and captains you’ve worked with?
There have been seven coaches and I think 14 or 15 captains.

What exactly does your job entail?
It’s difficult to say, because it’s basically a bit of everything! My title is PR manager, but its admin, logistics, operations … it’s looking after players and their partners and families … it’s promoting the Springboks’ image and looking after the contractual responsibilities of our sponsors. They say it takes a village to raise a child and it takes a team of people to look after the Springbok team. It’s not just one person doing the job. What Rassie [Erasmus] did amazingly well is to create an environment of equality. Everyone was aligned with each other and knew what job they had to do. The assistant coach wasn’t less important than the head coach, for example, and they weren’t more important than the logistics manager or dietician. It’s been great to work in that environment for the past 18 months.

Annelee Murray

Annelee with the players’ partners in Japan

Current and former players refer to you as their ‘Bok mom’. Why is that?
I think it’s because they see or saw me as someone who looked after them when they were away from home – the team travels for six months of the year. I just automatically do things for them and care for them whenever I can, which they appreciate.

In an interview five years ago, you said loneliness was the toughest part of your job. Is that still the case?
Not as much, no. It is a lonely job but there are four ladies in the Bok management team now, whereas there was only one – or two at the most – when I first started. Everyone is just really busy the whole time and we all have a part to play to ensure the team’s success. There are times when you feel lonely and have been away from home for a long time, but we try to create a home environment in terms of the making the change room green and gold and ensuring the food is familiar. There are times when I like to be alone, though.

What are the highlights of your lengthy stint with the Boks?
Winning the World Cup in 2007 and 2019 and the British & Irish Lions series in 2009 stand out. But this World Cup win felt more than just winning a rugby game or tournament. It felt like a win for all South Africans and that’s amazing.

How much longer do you plan to be involved with the Boks?
I’m not sure of my plans. I’ll take some time off and then reaccess next year.

Interview by Simon Borchardt