Dunn and Dusted

Rugby. You know…that rough sport characterised by grunts, blood and sweaty men? It’s not really the best place for a lady, right? Wrong. The effervescent Dawn Dunn is having none of that stereotype, thank you very much! We chat to the familiar voice about rugby, being a woman in a man’s world, rugby, the World Cup and…yes. Rugby.

It might shock the world to know that Dawn Dunn was not the Victrix Ludorum at school. In fact, she never liked
sport at all. “I was a maths and science nerd who loved reading books,” Dawn tells me. “When the rest of the class was doing sport, I was relaxing under the tree with a book.” How, then, did she end up sounding off on East Coast Radio every week, dubbed the undisputed ‘Lady of Rugby’? The seed was planted during the emotional 1995 Rugby World Cup final in South Africa. While the familiar image of Nelson Mandela and former Springbok captain Francois Pienaar is etched in almost every South African’s mind, it struck a special chord with Dawn. “I watched it with my father,” Dawn’s eyes glow as she remembers. “I felt this click as I watched Tata lift that trophy. It was such a beautiful, perfect moment. I won’t forget it.”

A while later Dawn was talked into watching a match at The Shark Tank – our boys in black and white versus the Blue Bulls. “I didn’t know a thing about rugby, or the protocol at a match. But one thing was unmistakable: the passion and excitement was palpable throughout the stadium.” After that match, Dawn was hooked. Badly hooked. “I wanted to know everything I could about rugby. I watched everything, from Varsity Shield to Japanese and French, ITM rugby – and also women’s rugby – just so I could soak myself in it,” Dawn says. “I found myself completely immersed in the game… rugby has the power to either make me deliriously happy or utterly miserable for days.”

Initially, rugby was something Dawn shared with her beloved father, Ben Fynn. “Saturdays were reserved for rugby
with him. We’d start with a 7am brekkie and then settle in to watch all the games. I could speak to him ad nauseam about strategy, strengths, weaknesses; he was my sounding board!” When her father passed away four years ago, Dawn felt a massive void. Her husband Warwick asked her what would make her happy and her answer was, unsurprisingly, rugby. A month later, she got a call from East Coast Radio, asking her if she would like to join the Breakfast Show as a rugby commentator. By then, Dawn’s name was being kicked around in rugby circles; she believes this may have been a consequence of her weekly emails to the Sharks and the Springboks. “Oh, yes. I emailed them regularly,” Dawn gestures wildly, launching into the story of when she emailed former ‘Bok coach, Pieter de Villiers. “It was after John Smit’s 100th test match, against the All Blacks at Soccer City, August 2010. We lost and it broke my heart to watch Smitty sob – I bawled with him. So I emailed the team, telling them to put the loss behind them and remember that the emphasis was on the upcoming RWC 2011,” Dawn starts to clap. “Imagine my surprise when I heard Pieter de Villiers quoting my email, verbatim, at a media briefing?!”

Starting her radio career was like ‘coming home’, says Dawn. Her fiery temper and quick wit, coupled with withering
one liners and emphatic advice, have endeared her to women and earned respect among men. “I lose my nut,” Dawn exclaims. “Many people say I’m calmer in person!” She believes she has established herself as a strong female
voice on a sport that is traditionally male-dominated. “I have an instinct for rugby, honed by my ability to understand the structure and intricacies behind the game. I think the respect, from males specifically, is there because I can back up whatever I say with statistics and memory.”

Rugby, says Dawn, is the golden thread of unity South Africa needs. “Look, if you’ve ever been to a game then you
understand: the moment when our boys run onto the field and we stand to sing our national anthem, everyone is
together and united under the skin. It doesn’t matter who’s standing next to you, you gooi your arms around each
other and sing with pride.”

Naturally, Dawn’s life is currently consumed by the 2015 World Cup…and the hopes that our boys (pretty please asseblief!), will repeat the glory of 1995 and 2007, and bring home the trophy for the third time. “I love my ‘Bokke. I might not always agree with selection and strategy, but they are my boys. As a country, we need to put whatever gripes we have aside and get behind the ‘Boks. They need us to be united in support of them and give them #HomeGroundAdvantage.” “It is an honour and privilege to be the female voice of rugby.”

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