Women’s rugby is ready to take its “biggest step forward” this weekend as the inaugural WXV 2 and WXV 3 tournaments get underway in Stellenbosch and Dubai.
It is hoped that WXV, World Rugby’s new three-level annual global women’s 15s competition, can help supercharge the test game by giving national teams access to more top-level matches.
That was certainly a sentiment echoed by the players who gathered in Cape Town and Dubai on Wednesday to take part in the captains’ photocall for each tournament.
Scotland captain Rachel Malcolm will lead her side out against the hosts at Danie Craven Stadium on Friday in the second match of WXV 2 2023 and she believes it will be another important staging post in the evolution of the women’s game.
"I think it’s incredibly important,” Malcolm said. “It’s probably the biggest step forward in the women’s game to get more exposure to high-level rugby and to get women’s rugby out there and inspire little girls and let them know that there’s opportunities like this out there is really important for us.
"But I think in terms of developing the game, it’s important for all of these teams to get the opportunity to play different styles of rugby.
“We don’t play teams like South Africa very often so it’s a massive opportunity for us to play them, and to play USA and Japan, which are teams not in the Women’s Six Nations. [It] will be a completely different challenge for us, and it will help us push on as a team as a result.”
Babalwa Latsha is excited by the prospect of captaining the WXV 2 hosts over the next three weeks and hopes to inspire future Springbok Women in the process.
“We’re exceptionally proud and excited to be hosting the world [on] our shores. I think it’s a brilliant opportunity for South African women’s rugby and women’s rugby globally to be able to showcase our talents in such a broad platform,” Latsha said.
“It’s quite an exciting prospect for me to lead my side in such a fantastic spectacle of women’s rugby. Leadership is something that’s close to my heart.
“Our [goal] is to represent our brand of rugby the best that we can with the hopes of inspiring the next generation of young South African women rugby players and this is really fantastic for women’s rugby as a whole.”
WXV 2 will kick off at 14:00 local time (GMT+2) on Friday when Italy take on Japan at Danie Craven Stadium, before Latsha’s South Africa meet Malcolm’s Scotland at 16:30 local time.
On Saturday, USA and Samoa will get their campaigns started as they face each other at 14:00 local time in Stellenbosch.
An hour after the first ball has been kicked in WXV in Stellenbosch on Friday, WXV 3 will get underway in Dubai as Fiji play Colombia at The Sevens Stadium at 17:00 local time (GMT+4).
Ireland and Kazakhstan will then make their entrance to the tournament as the final match of day one kicks off at 19:30 local time in the UAE.
The first round of action will conclude on Saturday, when Spain take on Kenya at The Sevens Stadium, kick-off 17:00 local time.
Kazakhstan captain Karina Sazontova said: "This is a big step in us being able to bring Kazakhstan women's rugby back to the world rugby scene. Preparation has been pretty long and hard but we're really excited to be here.
"We've been away from international rugby for a while and we're now back with a new team, new girls and a giant fire in our eyes to play and bring our rugby back to the highest level.
“This is a really big moment for us, and we want to make the game as successful in our country as it was for our ancestors, for my first coach and everyone else involved with Kazakhstan Rugby.
"First of all, we want to enjoy our game but, of course, we also want to win the tournament. We want to keep playing in this tournament and stay at this level. Playing for my country, representing our flag means very much."
WXV 1, which features the Rugby World Cup 2021 winning Black Ferns, England, France, Canada, Australia and Wales, will get underway in New Zealand on 20 October.