Pitching for women's rugby

Pitching for women's rugby

Lofty Goal

Pitching for women's rugby

Roughing it out: The women are optimistic and believe that the Indian women’s rugby team will be a force to reckon with in the near future PIC wfs

When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recently voted in favour of introducing rugby in the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympics, it brought cheer to the 560 women rugby players (participants at last year’s national-level tournament from which the national team was selected) in India. While Indian women entered rugby fields three years ago, the national team was formed merely two years ago with an eye on the Asian Games in Pattaya, Thailand, this year. Since then they have been playing hard and getting noticed at the international level.

“We are No 12 in Asia (out of 14 teams) and I am hoping that by this year we will reach the No 4 slot. And if the Indian Olympic Sports Committee okays our participation, we will be among the 12 teams participating in the 2016 Olympics,” reveals Greg Davey, Development Manager, national women’s rugby team.

Raring to go

The 13-member national team was handpicked from teams that participated in last year’s national-level tournament that had entries from the country’s four geographical zones and included teams from Pune, Mumbai, Kolkata, Mumbai Railway Police, Assam, Nanded, Bhubaneswar, Jammu & Kashmir and Kerala. The current team has a large number of young women — aged between 16 and 22 years — from Pune.

Also known as rugby football, the game has two rival teams aiming to score a goal in the opponent’s post, positioned at either ends of the rectangular field.

However, unlike football, rugby players run with the ball in hand, even as their equally-charged opponents try to snatch the oval-shaped ball off them. Rugby is played in over a hundred countries to ecstatic crowds.

When push comes to shove

Vhabiz Barucha (16), probably the youngest rugby player to represent India, sums up the spirit with which players rough it out on the grass field, “In which other sport can we legally push and shove our opponent to win the game?” A student of Pune’s prestigious Fergusson College and an avid footballer, Barucha would watch her brother, Yazad, train at the city’s Khare Football and Rugby Association also known as the KFANDRA Club. Yazad is now on the national football team. “One day, Khare sir asked me to step aside to train for rugby. Initially, my father, who is an optician, commented, ‘Wrestling, football and now rugby? Are you sure you want to play this game?’ But I was hooked on the game,” recalls the talented forward player.

 Avani Sabade, team captain, has been playing rugby for the past five years. Currently enrolled in a Philosophy (Masters) course, Pune University, the 21-year-old says, “Rugby is a complete contact-and- team game. I had initially joined the Pune District Rugby and Football Association to train to be a football player but was lured to this game.”

Sabade belongs to a sports-loving family. Her mother, Shubhada, is a former Maharashtra state-level rifle shooter, while father Rajiv Sabade is a sports journalist. Graduating from Fergusson College also ensured that sport would be high on her priority list.

Shweta Prachande, a third-year Commerce student in Pune, has several fitness programmes on her list that even involve travelling to other cities. A Bharathanatyam dancer who trained under Sucheta Chapekar and is currently training with Priyadarshini Govind of Chennai, Prachande also learns martial arts. So how does she find time for serious classical dance when rugby sees her shuttling between Chennai and Pune? She says, “My college has given me special permission. Whenever my dance teacher returns to Chennai from her international tours, I go and stay in her house to take lessons. When I am not learning dance, I exercise at YMCA — doing weights and crunches. Besides, I am learning martial arts in Chennai. For rugby, one needs to be extremely physically fit. A month prior to any tournament, I am in Pune practising rugby. Rugby is for keeps. Even if I stop playing, I will be part of the game as a referee.”

Learning from mistakes

About their international debut at the Asia Women’s Rugby 7’s Tournament in Pattaya Barucha says, “The other teams —playing for some years — were so good, fast and strong. That being our first international experience, we learnt what we lacked. By interacting with other teams, we now know in what areas we need to do better.”
Adds Sabade, “It was great to win our debut game in a second division match. No doubt we lost subsequently. But we realised that we needed to build on physical strength. Now, we have trained in weights and have improved our stamina.”

Davey is optimistic and believes that in the near future the Indian women’s rugby team will be a force to reckon with. “It is only the inexperience and lack of exposure to international events that is keeping the Indian women down. Soon they will outdo the others,” he says. So watch this space.