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Pune women tackle stereotypes to take Indian rugby to the top

Neha Pardeshi, national sevens rugby team captain, when not on national duty, is working at grassroots to ensure that the game is on.

pune Updated: Jun 18, 2018 15:05 IST
Pranav Shahaney
Pranav Shahaney
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,rugby,Neha Pardeshi
Girls scrummage during a rugby practice session at Hills and Dales society on Saturday. Shreya Pardeshi trains the upcoming stars in Neha’s absence. (Shankar Narayan/HT PHOTO)

Earlier this month, rugby was elevated to new heights in the country when the women’s national team participated in their first XVs tournament in Singapore. While the team was on the rugby world map in the sevens circuit for the past few years, this was a firm step towards eradicating stereotypes about the game not being one for women.

Neha Pardeshi, the 25-year-old from Sardar Dastur High School in Pune, is a mainstay in the women’s rugby team ever since its inception in 2009. She has done not only her city, but the entire nation proud with her tireless performance on the international circuit for nearly a decade.

Neha, also the captain of the Indian sevens rugby side, was a key component in the XVs side that participated in Singapore. Leaving her job as a marketing manager at A La Conceirge services, Pardeshi decided to dedicate herself to the sport and ensure that it finds a foothold in the country.

“Since last September I have been working with kids and coaching them about the various aspects of the game. Whenever I have a break from the national team, I’m in Pune training the young girls at Hills and Dales society in Undri. Apart from this, I have also approached a number of schools and have asked them to encourage their students to participate in a sport like rugby. For me, the main aim is to spread the values and principles of the sport and not just what happens on the field of play,” said Neha.

Everyone is invited

Pardeshi also quickly shot down perceptions about rugby being a sport filled with health hazards. While it might be a physical contact sport that could often be perceived as extremely aggressive, she explained how the chances of injuries in rugby are minimal.

“The whole perception about it being an aggressive sport is wrong. Rugby has so many technicalities like how to tackle and how to maintain ones balance and fall after being tackled. The techniques are an important part of the game and every player has to follow them. This reduces the chances of injuries. Also, when it comes to injuries, they are a part and parcel of every contact sport. In fact, the chances of one being injured in football is higher than in rugby,” she said.

All-round athlete

Being a national level handball player, fencer and even a runner, Pardeshi is a Jill of all trades. She has been a competitor since her teenage days and the fighting spirit in her has only grown stronger ever since. She took up the rugby because it offered her something different and was not well established at the time. She hoped to bring about a change.

After placing the country on the international map, she is now on the lookout for more people like her to take the sport forward.

Looking at the growth of the game in India and the role of the rugby union, Neha said, “Initially there were not many girls playing the sport. However, the rugby union is now more focused on the girls’ teams because they are performing much better than the boys. At the school level too, participation among girls is considerably higher than the boys. The same is the case at the national level. I’m extremely happy with the level of woman’s rugby in the country and would love to start an academy of my own so that I can help others learn from my international experience.”

Introduction to rugby sevens

1. Matches last just 15 minutes – two halves of seven minutes plus a minute break – played on a full sized rugby pitch.

2. Teams have three forwards and four backs plus five replacements. Draws aren’t allowed with extra time played to settle ties.

First Published: Jun 18, 2018 15:04 IST