Rugby

Men, women and a sport called rugby

By Roshni Ali
  • Published 22.10.16
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Rugby is the real feel for this girl in boots!

It is said that an athlete dies twice; the more painful death is the one that happens after retiring from sports. I had always been an ace athlete in my school and college days. But post-college, I didn’t really get the chance to pursue my passion as there is a woeful dearth of sporting opportunities for women here. So with a heavy heart, I got busy building a new business and gave up on my dream.  

This post-retirement phase tends to lead to severe depression. The body is used to its constant dose of serotonin and dopamine. These are neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that communicate information throughout our brain and body.
They greatly affect mood in individuals and are responsible for our general well-being. 

It was during this phase, when I had almost lost all hope to regain my former self and had resigned to my fate of an existence without sports, one day I met up with two very old friends, Danielle and Rachel, who invited me to come and try out rugby at CC&FC. I was thrilled!

I had no idea how to play the sport. I knew it would be physically demanding but I jumped at the opportunity. After all, I was getting to live my dream again!

Practice commenced early November last year. The first few weeks were the hardest. It was physically excruciating and mentally challenging. I thought I would pass out during practice. My muscles where in constant pain. And yet, I loved every single bit of it.

Rugby is all about control. You need to have your emotions in check. It is a violent game, yet if you lose your sanity during the game, you could end up with a red card, a swollen ankle or maybe even a broken neck; you need to control yourself, you need to see and understand the opponent, read their moves and then go in for a tackle.

The last one year was a hard one for me. I chose to step out of a business I myself built, ended a long-term relationship; the worst blow came when a few months ago, my father passed away. My father made me the athlete I was, right from the time when I was a nine-month-old toddler paddling away happily in the swimming pool. Getting back to sports made me feel more connected to my dad than I had been in a really long time. I could almost hear his voice in my head, scolding me at times and always egging me on to do better. Rugby became more than just a hobby, it was a homecoming for me — returning to a lifestyle of sports and finding strength within. 

Team of Wonder Women
The CC&FC women’s rugby team has some of the most incredible women I have ever met. Sumedha is actually my mother’s age. Her level of fitness is unbelievably inspirational. She completes Himalayan marathons and it’s not just the hey-don’t-I-look-good-after-running-up-and-down-the-tallest-mountain-range-of-the-world sort of fitness, but the kind that would make Wonder Woman proud!

Then there’s Shikha, who after a serious spinal cord injury comes back without a hint of fear to play the tournament! My forwards are such fearless women! If you see Sabha, Ushta, Bhavna or Archita go in for an attack you would probably run for your life. Then there is Sonalia, the secret glue of the team.

My team is the best example of how people from diverse backgrounds can leave their differences at the changing room and work together as a single, cohesive force. We have Americans and Adivasi girls rubbing shoulders, we have mothers and young college girls defend with their lives, we have girls who have never played sport and also girls whose families have sports legends, running miles at one go together. 

However, this team did not fall into place magically. Inia, our coach, along with Rohit and Sourojit have built this team. They had the patience, they were firm with a gentle approach. A team is built not with just the playbook on the field, but off it as well, in the locker room chats, the parties, the tears and laughs. 

The greatest feeling about this tournament (All India & South Asia Rugby Tournament at CC&FC) is that it was the first time in the history of India that a women’s 15 a-side rugby tournament was being held. We are giving birth to a new culture of women sports!

Social interactions can often seem very superficial, whether a family function, an office gathering or endless parties. But in rugby, everything you feel on the field is so real! Your teammates will passionately shout at you, you will cry, you will be inspired by the coaches, you will have a hearty laugh after the game and all the connections felt are absolutely real. 
I need it. You need it. That’s what sport does to you. Makes you come alive and how!

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They have made it a habit of winning the All India & South Asia Rugby Tournament. This year was no different as Army Red won the 83rd edition of the tourney, taking their tally to eight in the last nine seasons. The army men beat the Delhi Hurricanes, 18-5, in the finals held at CC&FC. Rahul Bose, actor and former Team India rugby player, and Lt. Gen Praveen Bakshi, handed over the trophy. “Making sure the players don’t get complacent is my biggest challenge. We play rugby for around four hours every day in our army camp in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. This is a tournament we look forward to every year and this time, it was really competitive,” smiled captain Sujai Lama (holding the trophy), who has been playing for India since 2005. 
 

It was a historic day for Indian rugby, with Odisha Rugby Football Association (ORFA) winning the inaugural All India Women’s Rugby XVs Championship, thumping Delhi Hurricanes 20-0, a day before the men’s final. The tournament saw six teams including Bihar Rugby Football Club, Young Rugby Club, hosts CC&FC, but it was ORFA which trumped them all. “We aren’t less than the boys and have always wanted a tournament for the women. Glad it happened!” said Bhagyalaxmi Barik (first row, fifth from right), the winning skipper. Guess what made her fall in love with the sport? “I always like fighting, so naturally I fell in love with rugby!” smiled Bhagyalaxmi who has been playing rugby since her college days at Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences. 

Text: Rwitoban Deb. Pictures: Shuvo Roychaudhury