South Africa national rugby league team

The South Africa national rugby league team to date have competed at two Rugby League World Cups in 1995 and 2000.

South Africa
Team information
NicknameThe Rhinos
Governing bodySouth African Rugby League
Head coachTjaart van der Walt
CaptainShane Gillham
Home stadiumBrakpan Stadium
IRL ranking25th
First colours
Team results
First international
 Great Britain 49 – 30 South Africa 
(Durban, South Africa; 23 August 1962)
Biggest win
 Brazil 0 – 82 South Africa 
(Noosa, Australia; 5 June 2022)
Biggest defeat
 Australia 86 – 6 South Africa 
(Gateshead, England; 10 October 1995)
World Cup
Appearances2 (first time in 1995)
Best resultGroup stage, 1995, 2000

Rugby league was originally introduced to South Africa in the 1950s with the staging of several series tournaments within the country that saw fixtures between the English and the French however this concept failed to generate the needed interest and was not upheld. The South Africans did not see further international rugby league until the 1960s where the first national side undertook fixtures against the visiting British and a tour to Australia. From the 1960s onwards the international fixture list for the South Africans was minimal and it was not until the early 1990s when they began to play with some lasting regularity.

Since they began playing international rugby league South Africa have always found it difficult to compete against the more established nations and so progress and improvement have been slow. Possibly their greatest achievement to date has been the qualification and participation in two World Cups in both 1995 and 2000 where South Africa failed to win a fixture after being seeded in tough groups at both tournaments where they had to play world champions Australia along with England, Fiji, France, Papua New Guinea and Tonga.

South Africa traditionally play in a predominately green uniform with black shorts, they have commonly been referred to as The Rhinos since the early 1990s. The South African emblem is a red and yellow King Protea plant which is the national flower of South Africa. South African internationals are played at a variety of venues throughout the country with no singular home ground being used.

It has often been said that South Africa has great potential for rugby league, but the sport has a relatively low profile in the country with rugby union being the predominant and more established code. This is exacerbated by the fact that very few schools offer rugby league as an extracurricular activity and there are relatively few youth clubs. The popularity of the South Africa national rugby union team and South Africa national rugby sevens team in the country further hinders the development of rugby league as potential players are groomed to play in the national and provincial Rugby union teams and the national Rugby sevens team from a young age.


Rugby league first gained attention in South Africa when the English and French attempted expansion in the 1950s for the purpose of creating further international opposition.[1] Three games were then played between the two nations on the continent but both sides viewed the matches as nothing more than friendly fixtures so never undertook the games in a serious manner and the public never subsequently took to the three exhibition games. Though rugby league was only seriously played in South Africa beginning in the 1950s, the sport was not unknown to South Africans prior to that decade; for example, a number of notable black and Coloured rugby union players, such as David Barends, Green Vigo, and Enslin Dlambulo, code-switched from union to league and moved overseas, in part because of the allure of professionalism, while also escaping the apartheid regime.[2]

Over the next several years, rugby league lay dormant in South Africa and it was not until the 1960s when talks of creating a national side began. After much discussion within South Africa, it was eventually agreed for a national side to play a touring Great Britain and then undertake a tour of Australasia. The first South African national side played their first competitive fixture on 23 August 1962 and put on a good showing against the much stronger British but eventually lost by nineteen points 49–30. The following two fixtures turned out to be much the same with the South Africans being defeated on another two occasions but putting in good performances whilst never being comprehensively beaten. The South Africans embarked on their first tour eleven months later with a twenty-four-man squad that included several former Springboks. The tour started with several friendly fixtures against various minor representative sides where they gained two comfortable victories; the first international fixture of the tour took place in Brisbane against the world champion Australians and the South Africans performed with courage[citation needed] but eventually lost the match 34–6. The following test was played a week later in Sydney that again saw the team put in a tough effort but lost again 54–21. South Africa left Australia without an international win and be low on confidence heading to New Zealand to play a sole fixture against the New Zealand national side whom were expected to win comfortably. However, the match turned out to be a tough encounter and surprisingly saw the team gain its first international victory 4–3[3] The South Africans featured several Australian players bought in to cover injuries and improve the quality of the side and so the match against New Zealand is not counted as a test match.[4]

Official rankings as of 21 December 2022
Rank Change Team Pts %
1   3   Australia 100.00
2   1   New Zealand 93.00
3   4   Samoa 87.00
4   1   England 73.00
5   3   Tonga 58.00
6   1   Papua New Guinea 47.00
7   1   Fiji 45.00
8   5   Lebanon 36.00
9     France 28.00
10   6   Wales 23.00
11   1   Ireland 23.00
12   8   Cook Islands 20.00
13   8   Jamaica 17.00
14   3   Italy 17.00
15   7   Serbia 15.00
16   5   Greece 14.00
17   2   Scotland 14.00
18   4   Netherlands 13.00
19   9   Malta 11.00
20   1   Turkey 8.00
21   4   Germany 6.00
22   18   Brazil 6.00
23   9   Chile 6.00
24   4   Nigeria 6.00
25   5   South Africa 6.00
26   5   Ghana 6.00
27   9   Czech Republic 6.00
28   2   Ukraine 5.00
29   5   Philippines 4.00
30   8   Poland 3.00
31   5   Cameroon 3.00
32     Kenya 3.00
33   4   Spain 3.00
34   7   Bulgaria 3.00
35   12   Norway 2.00
36   9   Colombia 2.00
37   2   Hungary* 1.00
38   11   United States 1.00
39   5   Montenegro 1.00
40   3   Bosnia and Herzegovina 1.00
41   2   Solomon Islands 1.00
42   8   Sweden 1.00
43   10   Morocco 1.00
44   6   Canada 1.00
45     Japan 1.00
46   4   Vanuatu 1.00
47     El Salvador 0.00
48   1   Belgium 1.00
49   3   Denmark 0.00
50   3   Latvia 0.00
51     Argentina 0.00
Complete rankings at INTRL.SPORT

After this first string of international fixtures the South Africans became disheartened after only winning four of the thirteen tour matches and rugby league again lay dormant for decades.

The Rugby League World Cup tournament had been scheduled to be held in France in 1965, this time with the inclusion of the South African team.[5] However the tournament was abandoned.

The early 1990s saw new South African administrators begin to rebuild the international facet of South African rugby. During 1992, the South African national side again played for the first time in years against several combined African representative teams and the following years saw things look more promising for the Africans with their qualification into the 1995 World Cup and more regularity in international fixtures. Their first World Cup saw the South Africans seeded into the toughest group of the competition containing Australia, England and Fiji. The South Africans found their three group matches extremely difficult and failed to win a match during the tournament.

2000- presentEdit

The following years saw the South Africans play on an inconsistent basis against several touring sides and qualify for their second consecutive World Cup in 2000. Leading into the tournament they were hopeful of gaining their first Cup win after being drawn into an easier yet still competitive group with France, Papua New Guinea and Tonga.[6] After initial optimism leading into the competition the South Africans faced Tonga in their first world cup fixture and be comprehensively beaten 66–18.[7] The following world cup matches added further disappointment and diminish all optimism the South Africans originally had with further heavy losses to both Papua New Guinea[8] and the French.[9]

After a second disappointing World Cup the side again began playing irregularly with one off fixtures over the next several years and it was not until 2006 when they again undertook another tour. A tour to Italy was undertaken in June 2006, which saw the South Africans play in two tests and a nines competition in Montelanico.

In 2008, the South Africa Rhinos were scheduled to participate in the 2008 Rugby League World Cup Qualifiers in the Atlantic pool also featuring the USA, Japan and the West Indies. The winner of the tournament entered into the repecharge round for the chance to qualify for the 2008 Rugby League World Cup. South Africa withdrew alongside the West Indies due to financial reasons, leaving the tournament as a one off fixture between the US and Japan. As a result of their withdrawal South Africa forfeited the opportunity to qualify for the World Cup.

In 2011 however, the South Africa national rugby league team participated in the Atlantic Qualification Tournament as part of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup Qualifiers. The winner of the tournament qualified for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup that is to be held in England and Wales. Despite beating Canada 36–22 in a warm-up match before the beginning of the tournament,[10] South Africa nevertheless lost to USA 40–4 in the opening match of the tournament.[11]

In 2015 South Africa were confirmed to take on Lebanon in a one-off 2017 Rugby League World Cup qualifier in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. However the match was shifted to a two match playoff in Pretoria, South Africa due to a controversial arrest of the leader of UAE rugby league who was in charge of organizing the initial match at the Dubai Sports City complex.[12]

Current squadEdit

  • Tyler Thomas
  • Darren O'Donovan
  • Will Smith
  • Byron Hutchinson
  • Juan Benadie
  • Coby Thomas
  • Kamren Cryer
  • Joel Tubbs
  • Hugo de Villiers
  • Zach van Loggerenberg
  • Shane Gillham
  • Seth Buckley
  • Marcelle Viljoen
  • Johannes Erasmus van Zyl
  • Jason King
  • Garry Bautz
  • Chelsea Michael Adams
  • Andre-Carl Joubert
  • Tjaart Van Der Walt
  • Ash Bull
  • Jason Cutler
  • Louis Musson
  • Bevan De Vries
  • Keegan Turner
  • Jackson Frei
  • Mitchell Frei
  • Brendan Frei
  • Edward Proudler
  • Ayden Perry
  • Jonathan Soares
  • Allan Kasselman
  • Jean Coetzer
  • Robin Howell
  • Stephanus Esterhuyse
  • Jean-Charl Smith
  • Damian Diedricks
  • Gideon Mzembe
  • Joshua Hill

Notable playersEdit

Since rugby league has been known to the nation of South Africa since the 1950s many players of South African birth or heritage have gone on to attain notability in representing either South Africa, other nations or appearing in major domestic leagues around the world, some of the more notable South Africans have included:

Player Position Association to South Africa Distinctions
Fred Anderson Hooker Born Cape Town Former South African Captain
Played for Canterbury & South Sydney
Jamie Bloem Fullback / Wing Born Cape Town Former South African Captain
1995 & 2000 World Cup appearances
Tom van Vollenhoven Wing Born South Africa Debatably greatest South African player
Dual international
Jarrod Saffy Second Row Born Benoni Played in the NRL with the Wests Tigers and St. George Illawarra Dragons
Sean Rutgerson Prop/Second Row Played in the NRL with the Canberra Raiders and in the Super League with the Salford Red Devils. Played for South Africa in the 2000 Rugby League World Cup.
Christiaan Roets Centre Born in Pretoria He represented South Africa in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup qualifying competition. He played for Wales in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup. He has played his club rugby league with the South Wales Scorpions and the North Wales Crusaders in the Kingstone Press Championship 1.


  • Below is a list of test matches played by the South Africa XIII up until 18 December 2020.[13]
Country Matches Won Drawn Lost Win% For Aga Diff
  Australia 3 0 0 3 0% 33 174 –141
  Canada 1 1 0 0 100% 36 22 +14
  Cook Islands 1 0 0 1 0% 6 66 –60
  England 1 0 0 1 0% 0 46 –46
  Fiji 1 0 0 1 0% 6 52 –46
  France 2 0 0 2 0% 23 86 –63
  Great Britain 3 0 0 3 0% 86 133 –47
  Italy 3 2 0 1 66.67% 144 44 +100
  Jamaica 2 0 0 2 0% 28 70 –42
  Lebanon 2 0 0 2 0% 28 90 –62
  Malta 1 1 0 0 100% 30 24 +6
  Papua New Guinea 1 0 0 1 0% 0 16 –16
  New Zealand 1 1 0 0 100% 4 3 +1
  Niue 3 0 0 3 0% 26 142 –116
  Philippines 1 1 0 0 100% 32 28 +4
  Russia 2 0 0 2 0% 45 52 –7
  Tonga 1 0 0 1 0% 18 66 –48
  United States 1 0 0 1 0% 4 40 –36
  Wales 1 0 0 1 0% 12 40 –28
Total 31 6 0 25 19.35% 561 1194 –633



Opposition Venue Date Result
Lancashire Lancashire 5 October 55–12
Cumbria Cumbria 8 October 44–34
Yorkshire Leeds 12 October 66–6
BARLA Hull 17 October ---


  • SA (34) vs British defence Force (38)
  • SA (12) vs Australian Universities (42)
  • SA "A" (24) vs British community Lions (42)
  • SA (6) vs British community Lions (36)


Date Result Competition Venue Attendance
9 October 2011   South Africa def.   Canada 36–22 Friendly  Fletcher's Field, Markham, Ontario Not known
15 October 2011   United States def.   South Africa 40–4 2013 Rugby League World Cup Qualifiers  Philadelphia 300 approx
19 October 2011   Jamaica def.   South Africa 20–6 Not known


Date Result Competition Venue Attendance
2 May 2015   Niue def.   South Africa 48–4 Friendly  Leumeah Not Known
25 October 2015   Lebanon def.   South Africa 40–12 2017 Rugby League World Cup Qualifier  Brakpan Stadium, Pretoria Not Known
31 October 2015   Lebanon def.   South Africa 50–16 Not Known


Date Result Competition Venue Attendance
29 October 2016   Niue def.   South Africa 55-22 Friendly  Brakpan Stadium, Pretoria TBC
11 November 2016   Niue def.   South Africa 44-0 TBC


Date Result Competition Venue Attendance
24 June 2018   South Africa def.   Malta 30-24   St Mary's Stadium, Sydney TBC
12 October 2018   Italy def   South Africa 18-8   Kellyville Ridge Sadium, Sydney TBC


Date Result Competition Venue Attendance
21 June 2019   Cook Islands def.   South Africa 66-6 2021 Rugby League World Cup qualification   Wentworthville Ringrose park, NSW TBC

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ History of rugby league in South Africa South African Rugby League Retrieved 18 May 2007.
  2. ^ Dall, Nick (8 November 2019). "South Africa's History of Black Rugby Dates Back More Than a Century". Ozy. Retrieved 8 December 2019.
  3. ^ South African Tour of Australasia International Competitions Website Retrieved 18 May 2007.
  4. ^ Coffey and Wood The Kiwis: 100 Years of International Rugby League ISBN 1-86971-090-8
  5. ^ AAP; Reuter (15 August 1962). "League Cup Year Fixed". The Sydney Morning Herald. Auckland. p. 18. Archived from the original on 3 January 2013. Retrieved 6 October 2009.
  6. ^ Rhinos aim to break duck BBC Sport Retrieved 20 May 2007.
  7. ^ Tonga too strong for Rhinos BBC Sport Retrieved 20 May 2007.
  8. ^ Kumuls see off dogged Rhinos BBC Sport Retrieved 20 May 2007.
  9. ^ French seal spot in last eight BBC Sport Retrieved 20 May 2007.
  10. ^ RLEF
  11. ^ RLEF
  12. ^ "Venue changed for Middle East-Africa RLWC qualifier". Asia Pacific Rugby League Confederation. 24 July 2015. Retrieved 26 September 2015.
  13. ^ "Head To Head". Rugby League Project. Retrieved 18 December 2020.

External linksEdit