Brawling in public is likely to invite a rap on the knuckles from your parents. Especially if you are a girl. But here, the elders were running up and down the field, shouting, “Take her down! Take her down!”
There was pushing and shoving, hands flaying and the girls obeyed that command. What they lacked in experience, they made up with exuberance in the first women’s national rugby tournament, at the Bombay Gymkhana over the weekend. Many of them were stepping onto the rugby field for the first time, but that didn’t stop them from giving it their all. They tackled, fell on each other and when they got their hands on the oval ball, ran for their life towards the touch line.
And behind all the aggression was the amazement. Not only for the players, but also for anyone who stopped a bit to watch them play with such uninhibited spirit.
“Anyone who has the courage to step on the rugby field is number one in my book,” said Sugot Khare, coach of the Pune team which emerged champions.
The pre-tournament favourites, Pune lived up to the tag as they quashed the challenge of Jungle Crows 19-5 in the Cup final. Though the Pune girls have been playing the sport for the past 3-4 years and the Crows drew all their players from the athletic track, it was anything but a mismatch. A testament to Pune’s finesse was that 11 of their girls made it to the list of 24 probables selected to represent India at the Asian Women’s 7’s tournament in Pattaya, Thailand, on May 30 and 31.
“Rugby is not just hitting people randomly, you require skill and strength to do well,” said Anu Kulkarni of Pune. Even as they showed their winners’ medals off, the Pune girls wept, hugged and smiled for the cameras.
“That’s what happens when all your hard work pays off,” Khare said. “It is a very physical sport but I never had trouble convincing the parents to let the girls play. In fact, boys’ parents are more worried about injuries.”
Another heartening thing was that the national men’s rugby team, due to leave for Malaysia for the Asian 5’s Div II tournament, supported the tournament and the players. Their captain, Nasser Hussian, led the brigade refereeing the Cup final.
“Some of the girls were so fast, even I had problems keeping up with them!” said Nasser. “It’s a great thing for women’s rugby. You could see the teams growing over the two days and the intensity they played with was amazing.”