The FNB NMMU Madibaz’s newly appointed rugby manager, Melissa Awu, has come a long way since her childhood memories of watching the 1995 Rugby World Cup in her New Brighton family home and seeing her grandmother’s excitement as the Springboks lifted the trophy.
After falling in love with the sport, Awu, now 31, charted her own course towards becoming a respected sports administrator and believes she can help take Madibaz rugby to new heights.
“This is the dream job. I am from Port Elizabeth, I studied at NMMU, and I have travelled a lot to further my career,” she said.
“Everything has led to me coming home and managing the sport closest to my heart at my old institution.”
Awu took up the position on December 1 and looks forward to finding her feet before the start of university rugby’s busiest and most challenging period – the FNB Varsity Cup competition.
“I have met with the players and coach and the guys are in great shape,” she said confidently.
“They look ready to take on the Varsity Cup and I know we can make a great impact in the 2016 competition. We are going in there to win it.”
Awu might not have played rugby herself, but her family and career background have more than prepared her for the task at hand.
She hails from a sporting family with a footballing father, a mother who played netball and a brother who participated in various forms of martial arts.
While attending Pearson High School, Awu was selected for the hockey and football first teams, and even turned out for the under-17 provincial football team.
In 2005 she finished her sports management degree at NMMU and shortly thereafter enrolled for an internship at EP Rugby. That turned into a public relations and marketing position at the now defunct Southern Spears.
She then took up a sports administration position at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. There she was in charge of administration and events for no fewer than eight sporting codes, among them rugby, squash and even mixed martial arts.
A stint at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria followed, where she managed four sporting codes, which did not include rugby.
Tackling matters with her trademark passion, however, she drove her way into the rugby setup, helping to start up women’s rugby at TUT.
“Rugby is very much still a man’s world, but I choose not to look at it like that. I grew up around boys, worked with men in sport my whole career, and I have proven myself.
“In the same way, women’s rugby is very close to my heart, and I want to help build and develop this sport for women,” said Awu.
She is determined to bring that same focus to her alma mater. A women’s team was established a year ago and is still in its early stages of development but she believes it can grow as one of the Madibaz’s priority sports.
“We are also fortunate to have such a remarkable high performance complex at NMMU. In the highly competitive world of university sport a facility like this is crucial for development across all sporting codes.”
Awu said her transition into the new position had been made easier by the fact that she knows the campus and some of the faces in the university’s sporting structures, among them the Madibaz head coach David Maidza.
“I know David from working with him at EP Rugby, and I look forward to working with him again. Our team is in very good hands.”
And while her career has taken her across the country and many sporting codes, she still has a constant reminder of where it all began for her.
Behind her desk hangs a poster of former Springbok captain Francois Pienaar, capturing the moment of victory when the final whistle blew in the 1995 World Cup final.