Growing up in the sprawling township of Khayelitsha, a few miles east of Cape Town International Airport, Babalwa Latsha did not have any visible rugby role models.
It was not until she attended university, in fact, that Latsha was exposed to the game which would come to shape her life.
The Harlequins prop grasped the oval ball with both hands and has gone on to become not only a mainstay of the Springbok Women side but also a pioneer who is a shining light for young women and girls across South Africa.
Latsha, the first African woman to sign a professional rugby contract, is proud of the strides that the women’s game has made in South Africa and is hopeful that hosting WXV 2 in Cape Town and Stellenbosch this October can accelerate that growth even further.
“I’m extremely excited. It's a great opportunity to showcase women's rugby in South Africa and Africa and across the globe, and we really are looking forward to hosting the world,” she told World Rugby.
“Representation is key and it's extremely important that young people see themselves through us and through our successes.
“We want a young girl from Khayelitsha or any other township to have a positive point of reference and to say that, 'Hey, Babalwa has made it and so can I'. We just need to help them to believe.”
“It’s really important to give back”
Although she currently plies her trade thousands of miles away in England, Latsha remains actively involved in community work in South Africa.
The prop is a director of the Menstruation Foundation, sits on the board of O Grace Land – an organisation that works with at-risk women leaving South Africa’s care system – and is a Laureus Sport and Beast Foundation ambassador.
“Doing community work is really close to my heart, you know, because I come from these communities and it's really important to me to give back,” she said.
“I think that so much can be done, and rugby is a perfect tool to relay those messages and to pass on the good work that I do and that perhaps others do as well.”
Latsha is hopeful that a successful WXV 2 campaign on home soil later this year can help inspire a new generation of young women and girls to pick up a rugby ball.
The Springbok Women will kick-off their campaign against Scotland at Danie Craven Stadium on 13 October, before playing Italy and Samoa on consecutive Fridays at Athlone Sports Stadium. Japan and the USA will also feature in the six-team competition.
“Our focus is purely on ourselves and our preparation and how well it is going, and [how well] it should go,” Latsha said.
“It's very exciting to be playing against the likes of Samoa and so forth. It's an exciting prospect and I think that it's a great platform for us as the Springbok Women, you know, to put our best foot forward and to give the best account of ourselves.”
Filling up stadiums
And the prop is well aware of the significance of WXV, World Rugby’s new annual global women’s 15s competition, to the development of the game in South Africa on the road to Rugby World Cup 2025 in England.
“In my opinion it's extremely important because I believe that the more rugby we play, the better and faster we develop as a side, which then makes us more competitive in the global scheme of things,” Latsha said.
“I think that it creates a levelling of the playing ground in terms of how much rugby we play because we know that Europe has the Six Nations, so it's great for us to have this type of competition so that we don't fall behind.
“What this then shows us [is] a great level of competition, and I believe that it will create a more competitive World Cup as well thinking beyond this particular competition.”
South Africa booked their place in WXV 2 by winning the Rugby Africa Women’s Cup 2023 in Madagascar in May, their final match against the hosts attended by 18,000 fans.
Latsha missed that tournament due to her club commitments in England but appeared in Harlequins’ Big Game against Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham in March.
Having been in Europe as attendance records were smashed on a near-weekly basis during this year’s Women’s Six Nations, she is keen to play in front of another large crowd when the inaugural edition of WXV 2 comes to South Africa’s Western Cape.
“It’s quite incredible and inspiring to see those numbers in different parts of the world,” Latsha said.
“I myself experienced it in the in the Big Game at Twickenham when we filled up the stadium with close to 20,000 people, that was phenomenal.
“I'm hoping that we'll get it right here in South Africa as well to try to reach as many people as possible to come and fill up the stadium. It is magnificent to play in a packed stadium, it's electric and I'm encouraging people to come out and support women's rugby in their numbers.”