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Giant leap for Indian women in rugby
« on: June 12, 2009, 07:37:30 PM »

Giant leap for Indian women in rugby
28 May 2009, 2109 hrs IST, Pradeep Vijayakar,TNN   

MUMBAI: Indian sportswomen will take a giant leap when a national side will be sent by the national federation, Rugby India, to the prestigious Asian Women's Rugby 7s Tournament to be held at Pattaya, Thailand on May 30 and 31.

It's the first time the rugby women, or rather girls, will leave Indian shores.

Avani Sabade from Pune will lead the 13-member squad consisting of Neha Pardeshi, Shruti Marathe, Ketaki Khare, Vahbiz Bharucha, Shweta Parchande, Gayatri Salunke, Niharika Bal, Anu Kulkarni, Vaishnavi Sose, Surabhi Date, Sangeeta Minz and Jashobani Pradhan.

The team was selected from the top performers at the All India Women's 7s Tournament held here at Bombay Gymkhana during the last week. Sixteen teams from across the country representing Pune, Orissa, Jungle Crows, Frank Anthony, Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, Assam, Rhinos, YRC, Railway Police, Nanded, J&K, Mumbai Barbarians, Mumbai Magicians, Bhubaneshwar and Kerala competed and showcased their brilliant talent during the tournament.

Pramod Khanna, president, Rugby India said, "This is a historic occasion for both India and the sport. We are very proud to present the country's first women's rugby team. It is a great step in the evolution of this game in our country. Participation and interest for rugby is steadily growing in India and the awareness amongst women will only help take it to the next level."

Avani Sabade, the skipper, said, "It is a great honour. The tour will provide us with the right exposure and will also go a long way in helping us improve our game and build confidence for the long term."

The Indian team has been supported by various corporate houses and brands such as Kingfisher, the beverage sponsor; E4E, the IT partner and Kukri as the apparel sponsor.

The team is accompanied by national coach Usaia Buimuiwai, manager Leena Bal, Dr. Aijaz Ashai, the team physiotherapist, Dr. Rita Choudhari and Aga Hussain, vice-president, Rugby India.

Apart from India, thirteen other international teams will compete in the Thailand tournament.

Women's rugby owes its origin to a match between Bombay and Pune girls for the Bombay Cup. Pramod Khanna, president of the Indian Rugby Union, recalled, "The Pune girls wanted to play outside their city so we gave them the chance."

Last year two Pune teams played at Bombay Gymkhana and one of them won by scoring a lone try scored by Tejaswini Khare.

That surname cropped up again thrice that day. The winning skipper was Kirti Khare and no relation of the try scorer. And the coach was Suhrud Khare, again no relation.

Suhrud and Swapnil Khare, two brothers were born and brought up in Swaziland in southern Africa where their father was a pharmacologist. They played football and then rugby and on coming back to Pune, introduced the sport there.

Pune, who have 11 out of the 13 in the side, lost some ten players last year as they went abroad for higher education.

The new lot showed good tackling, did the basics well, they had more skill than they displayed. The occasion got to them but once the crowd began egging them on they did well. In one match, the referee, international Emil, wanted an uncontested scrum. But when he saw that their technique in scrimmaging was good he allowed contested scrum.

Most girls are converts from soccer. When asked if they had opposition from the parents of the girls to their taking to rugby, coach Khare said: "Some parents were wary. But we reassured them by showing them the drills. We told them that we allowed contact rugby only after they had imbibed the proper technique. Any wary parent was demonstrated a small game and they loved it. We start with a double-handed touch contact. Once the girls start contact rugby they don't want any other."

What about injuries and these would disfigure them and spoil their marriage prospects. No such fears. One girl had a bust nose. But she was crying only because they took her out of the game. Vabiz said, "When we grow up we will take care of ourselves."

Playing rugby is a test of tenacity of the Pune girls. For, they don't have the luxury of Mumbai girls on playing on lush turf like the Bombay Gymkhana. They play in mornings on the red soil mudpack of the Law College grounds. It's worse when they play at the Pune University ground which is rock-hard.

Surabhi Date switched from football to rugby. She said she liked rugby because "we love to whack one another."

Kirti Khare plays judo which can be a good grounding for rugby. Asked about injury she said: "It's all in the mind, there are more injuries in judo than rugby."

Such thinking augurs well for the future of the sport among the girls.

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