Babalwa Latsha is captaining the Springbok Women’s team just five years after she began playing rugby at the University of the Western Cape. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
Latsha hails from the Cape Town township of Khayelitsha, which is where she was introduced to the game during her gap year by the Vuka Rugby Programme, which is run by the SA Rugby Legends.
However, it was at the University of the Western Cape, where she studied for a law degree, that ‘the rugby bug bit’. She played in an annual sevens tournament for universities and five years later is captaining the Bok Women’s team in their qualifying matches for the 2021 Women’s World Cup.
Latsha – a 92kg, 1.74m prop – represents Western Province and was named their Player of the Year in 2016. A year later, she won the SA Rugby Women’s Top Achiever award.
In 2018, Latsha played for the Bok Women’s Sevens team at the Sevens World Cup in the USA. She then made her Test debut against Spain on the Bok Women’s end-of-year tour of Europe and, as vice-captain, played in all four tour matches.
Now, in the absence of the injured Nolusindiso Booi, Latsha is leading the side.
— Springbok Women (@WomenBoks) August 9, 2019
Having started to play rugby relatively late in life, Latsha believes it’s important for girls to be introduced to the game at a young age if South African women’s rugby is to really take off.
‘The sooner they start playing, the better,’ she says. ‘Fortunately, SA Rugby has a system that is focusing on girls rugby.
‘Universities also have a big role to play in the development of young women as you want them to be able to play the game while they are studying.’
Latsha completed her Bachelor of Laws degree in 2018 and graduated in April this year.
‘I would love to practice as an attorney one day,’ she says. ‘That is my long-term goal. However, my short-term goal is to focus on my rugby. I want to help the Bok Women’s team to qualify for the 2021 World Cup and then prepare full-time for it.
‘Over the years, I’ve developed my ability to multi-task so I should be able to practise law and play rugby!’
Latsha says it will take time for South African women’s rugby to get a point where the national players have full-time professional rugby contracts.
‘Women’s rugby is one of the fastest-growing sports in South Africa and there’s a lot of interest in it among young women. I believe we can get to a point where the national players are contracted by SA Rugby, but it won’t happen overnight.
‘We didn’t play Test rugby for four years [after the 2014 World Cup] so we have a bit of catching up to do. Once we get to that desired level, we can look to become fully professional.’