As Africa’s first female professional rugby player, Babalwa Latsha is used to breaking down barriers.
Last Saturday, Latsha once again stood at the vanguard as a piece of South African rugby history was made during the opening round of the Women’s Premier Division 2021.
Each of the weekend’s three matches were streamed on the official SA Rugby website, while Western Province’s fixture against the Boland Dames in Cape Town was broadcast live on SuperSport.
It was the first time a women’s rugby match had been shown live on television in South Africa, and as Western Province captain, Latsha played a pivotal role.
“Tell the world that South African women’s rugby is on TV,” Latsha tweeted shortly before leading her team out.
Tries from Alichia Arries (2), Felicia Jacobs, Vuyo Maqholo, Donelle Snyders and Sinazo Mcatshulwa helped to secure a 38-6 victory for Western Province, as friends, family and supporters of both teams watched on from home.
“It was quite a watershed moment for me as a leader of the team, but for the team as a whole and for women's rugby in South Africa,” Latsha told World Rugby.
“It's a clear indication of the intent of actually growing the game and making it visible and accessible, [and] in turn then inspiring the next generation of young female rugby players.
“And for me, on that day, that was what it was about. It's to allow the sport to be accessible and visible to all.”
‘Now is the right time’
Latsha hopes the milestone is one that can be built on in South Africa, and says “the fact that women's rugby is finally on television” has been “very warmly welcomed”.
“The fact is that now is the best time and now is the right time for women's rugby in our country, and on the continent as well, to be elevated in a bigger and better way,” she added.
“But generally, the feeling around that is a sense of fulfilment, a sense of pride and a sense that, you know, these are conversations that we've been having and dreams as well that we've been having on actually having women's rugby displayed to the whole world.”
Broadcasters SuperSport will televise one match per weekend during the 11-week Women’s Premier Division 2021, including the final on 17 July.
SA Rugby had initially committed to streaming each match of this season’s tournament as part of a wider plan to increase the profile and visibility of the women’s game in the country.
Lynne Cantwell, SA Rugby’s High Performance Manager for Women’s rugby, says the strategy is to show girls that the game is “a place where they go to be safe, to feel valued, to be welcomed and encouraged to grow as people and players”.
“Trying to embed the women's code of a sport into any organisation is massively about the true integration of it,” Cantwell said.
❤️ There will be no love lost in the Women's Premier Division this weekend— Springbok Women (@WomenBoks) May 14, 2021
📺 All the action will be live on @SuperSport and https://t.co/8VZ0rRFirn
👉 Round 2 preview: https://t.co/VZbFH8ZoHZ@BlueBullsRugby @WP_RUGBY @bolandkavaliers @TheSharksZA @border_rugby @ep_elephants pic.twitter.com/svdVUJ6a9I
“So, that would mean that all of the processes and procedures that go into play, to accreditation, to get access to stadiums, to stadium quality, are all the same for the boys and the girls. And in line with that, that's where the broadcast talks came in.
“Two months ago, we had started to connect with all of the provinces to say, look, this is what we'd like the structure to look like in your provincial teams. And, that's where we talked about quality of coaching and strength and conditioning and nutrition and medical.
“We'd started those conversations, although that might take a year or two to get off the ground. But, the other thing we had said when we looked at it is how do we, one, stream the games so that all the games are visible?
“That then escalated to the next level to be able to get one of the games to be broadcast.”
The women’s game in South Africa has never been as visible as the moment Latsha walked her team out alongside Boland at Cape Town Stadium.
Does the Springbok star have a message for any girls who might be thinking about taking up rugby having watched the match on TV last weekend?
“Act on that interest immediately!” she said. “First by just joining a club, you know, understanding the game, enjoying it more than anything, working hard at it.
“And, I think opportunity recognises hard work. I would want to tell her to allow herself to be open to learning and to the inspiration that she may draw from seeing us be on TV.”