The Indian Women’s Rugby team which recently clinched a silver in the Asian Rugby Sevens Trophy was felicitated on the eve of International Women’s Day by Rugby India in association with Societe Generale, Rugby India, Kalinga Institute and the Orissa Rugby Football Union. A two days ceremony, it was held at the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences – KISS in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha and was attended by over 5000 girls. As a part of Get into Rugby, the team interacted with the students while teaching and playing friendly rugby. Here’s what an overwhelmed Neha Pardeshi, the team captain, has to say, “This was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. The institute is doing a commendable job of actively encouraging rugby among students. They take this sport seriously. We’ve made some amazing memories while teaching the girls. They were super excited and keen to learn! It was an amazing feeling.” The Get into Rugby (GIR) programme is a World Rugby initiative which aims at teaching rugby in schools and motivating students to take up the sport. Odisha markedly has impressive talent when it comes to Rugby which is also the reason why the state’s Government is promoting this sport. And KISS is a huge platform to do that. Once under the shadows, rugby is moving towards becoming a sought after sport in the country.
India showed outstanding performance in the first 5 matches of the tournament by winning each game with quite a margin. They defeated Laos 22-7, Philippines 12-5, Nepal 43-0, Malaysia 26-12 and Pakistan by 5-0. But in the last match were beaten by South Korea by 0-29. When asked how she feels about the big accomplishment, Neha says, “It was amazing. We have put in our best show so far. Playing against strong contenders like South Korea has been a great learning experience. We also had a huge crowd support! The Indian Embassy in Laos was very welcoming. And the massive media response we received once back in India was something we’d never expected!” Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his show, ‘Mann Ki Baat’ has acknowledged and praised these Indian women for their feat. “This will surely help in creating awareness about the sport thus helping it to progress even more!” she adds.
“We’ve learnt that we are fast but we need to be faster. We lag when it comes to height and weight. We were babies in front of the Philippine heavyweights! So keeping that in mind we really need to play an intelligent game. And that’s what we do! Feline agility and brains together make our sword to battle this fast game. Your mind has to be in the game” she said exclusively to The Logical Indian when asked about their experience in Laos.
Societe Generale is the financial partner of Rugby India and also the title sponsor of the Indian National Rugby Sevens Team across all categories – Senior, Junior and Women. “They are really engaged in promoting Rugby in India. And for that they not only target the national teams but also the ones at the grass-root levels. Be it any sport, financial boost is the need of the hour. And a corporate company doing all this is something really unique. It is because of their investment and contribution that we get a lot of opportunities to play international. We get to play quality matches. Rugby India and Societe Generale share a very good relationship with each other.” Before the main event the team had a two weeks practise camp in Mumbai. “This camp was efficiently organized and we are very grateful to Societe General and Rugby India. We went through some rigorous trainings and fitness tests. For two days we practised on Mandwa beach in Alibaug, and each day’s schedule consisted of four back to back matches. It was tiring but we had to adapt to it.” This was in accordance with the actual schedule so that the players get a pretty good idea of the stamina they would need to play the matches. Nasser Hussain, the former captain of the Indian Men’s Rugby team is also the coach of the women’s team. “Nasser is an amazing person and the best coach we’ve had so far. He is extremely good at what he does. He has been with us since a long time now, so he knows our game in and out. And that really helps”, she says.
Rugby sevens is a variant of Rugby Union. The time duration of each Rugby Sevens match is 16 minutes. It consists of two halves of seven minutes with a two minute half-time break. Each team consists of seven players. With the U-18 girls finishing third in the Asia Rugby Sevens Championship held in Dubai last year, this sport seems to be having a tremendous potential in India. “The U-18 team is excellent. Their performance in Dubai was something that has made us proud and hopeful. This year we’ll be focusing on them,” she says. The women’s national team is now preparing for the Asian Women’s Seven Series which will take place in Sri Lanka. It will also act as a warm up for the Asian Games in Jakarta early next year.
The recent years have seen noticeable progress but women’s rugby in India still has a long way to go. And the splendid talent in store makes the future look promising!