Cape Town-born Sarah Levy shines in the international rugby arena

15s match against Ireland (Photo: Inpho Photography)

By Jaime Uranovsky

If anyone were destined to excel at rugby, it would be Sarah Levy.

Born in Cape Town and raised in San Diego, California from the age of three, Sarah comes from a line of rugby greats. Her paternal great-grandfather was the legendary Louis Babrow, one of the first Jewish Springboks, who played many a match for the prestigious Barbarians (an international, invite-only squad) and who also coached the sport at UCT. Her great uncles Peter and Nelson and her uncle Rob played rugby as well — the former for Western Province. Her father, Denis Levy, is another rugby fanatic.

While 26-year-old Sarah’s ancestry mean that her talent and skill are no surprise, her acceptance into the Eagles, the national US rugby team, as well as her various achievements so far, are truly exceptional, especially since she only began playing the sport at age 18 when she signed up at university and “just fell in love right away”.

Sarah laughingly explains that while she has a photo of herself as a baby holding a rugby ball, she did not, while growing up, pay the sport much attention.

She says, “Rugby isn’t a big sport in the US so I didn’t think about my family’s legacy as a huge deal. My dad would just watch rugby and… I didn’t know the rules or anything. Then, going to South Africa to visit my family, that’s when I realised this is a huge sport… so I didn’t really know the extent of it until I started playing and then all my dad’s older relatives started talking to me about what their family has done and how involved they were. That’s when I realised what a big deal this was.”

Sarah feels a close connection to South Africa, which “still feels like a big part of my life.” The last time that Sarah visited was right before the hard lockdown in March 2020 and she looks forward, schedule permitting, to returning. While she, of course, supports her own national US women’s rugby team, she admits that, “Whenever I watch the South African men’s team play the sevens in Vegas I always root for South Africa just because the players are so incredible.”

Sarah, who plays professional rugby fulltime and is simultaneously studying toward a doctorate in physical therapy, is versatile, playing winger in the fifteens and hooker, winger, centre or, lately, prop in the sevens. Her teammates, who she views as family, train for eight hours four days a week. She attends to her academics on weekends.

The player’s favourite aspect of rugby is the strategy required. She notes, “You learn how a team plays and then you adapt to that. Then they adapt to how you’re playing against them so it’s like a back-and-forth chess match.”

Every time Sarah reaches a career goal, she sets another. First, she wanted to play for the national US team; then she wanted to play professionally, full time; then it was playing series (thirteen teammates are selected to tour) — she recently achieved this by representing the US in Spain for the 2022 World Rugby Sevens Series. Her current goals are to play at the World Cup later this year and to compete at the 2024 Olympics.

She considers her biggest achievement thus far to have been invited to play for the Barbarians — like her great-grandfather — in November 2021 at Twickenham. She says that the experience reminded her how much she loves playing rugby. “It made me feel like a kid just playing and it was just such a great experience meeting people from all over the world.” During her game against the Springboks, Sarah scored three tries, securing the Barbarians’ victory.

The player is excited for the future of women’s rugby, especially since her Barbarians game attracted a record-breaking number of viewers. She is proof that the game is in good hands.

Sarah Levy (Photo: Travis Prior Photography)

• Published in the PDF edition of the February 2022 issue – Click here to get it.

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