Trite quotations about beastly games and gentlemen aside, few will entertain notions of success from India’s rugby contingent this October.
After all, with virtually no legacy and fewer results, could one blame the average sport enthusiast for not harbouring sentiments of a dramatic finish from the boys in blue at the Commonwealth Games (CWG)?
However, the shift in the International Rugby Board (IRB) rankings speaks for itself.
India began the year ranked a lowly 85th. With wins in the Istanbul 7s tournament, the Bee’s International 7s tournament in Bradford, England and a fourth place finish at the Asian Rugby Sevens Championship held in New Delhi, the minnows trudged their way up 13 places to 72 (meanwhile, the national football team slumped from 130 to 160 in the FIFA rankings between January and August, 2010).
“The success has transformed the team - from their approach to the game to their fitness,” said Indian captain Nasser Hussain.
The team returned to the training camp in Balewadi, Pune on September 6 after completing the Shanghai Sevens tournament where they finished eighth after mucking it out with Asia’s best.
A post-half time resurgent victory against powerhouse Chinese Taipei (14-7) was adequate consolation.
The Indians are scheduled to arrive in Delhi on September 23 to train for the Games and a few practice matches against Scotland is on the cards.
In regard to the Pune camp, Hussain lamented: “While the infrastructure is world-class, the ground itself remains the biggest problem despite repeated complaints. It isn’t half as good as the practice venues in Delhi.”
His thoughts are echoed by the team’s Fijian coach, Usaia Buimaiwai. “There were problems with the diet and pitch. Things improved slowly. Everything takes time in India,” he said with a laugh.
India is pooled with Wales (reigning World Cup Sevens champions), South Africa (2002 Games bronze medal winners) and Tonga (ranked 16) for the CWG - all nations with plenty to display on the mantelpiece.
“The sides in the Pool have been around far longer than us. There is only so much training we can do and we’re hoping for the best. A win against any of these great sides would be mark in rugby history,” asserted Hussain.
“A single win would be great and two wins would be incredible. Their experience is their advantage,” Buimaiwai told HT.
The skipper added, “The home support should benefit us provided people turn up. The rugby fraternity in Delhi is eagerly looking forward to the CWG. That some excellent teams like New Zealand will be on display is an added bonus.”
With 21 days to go before the Games kick-off, does the grand tournament signal the end of popular exposure for and money flowing into the sport?
“I hope not, as all our effort would yield nothing,” said Nasser .
He went on to explain, “What rugby lacks here is visibility and it needs more coverage.
“About the money, the government has been generous with its funding and if this stops then the sport will take a backseat.”
Post-CWG, the Indian team will be playing in Sevens tournaments in Borneo, Malaysia and Singapore besides the Asian Games in Guangzhou.
For now, it’s the final lap of training for the burly men who wear fortitude on their sleeves. With all the recent triumphs, would India tasting victory in Delhi amount to wishful thinking? Maybe not.