Hrishikesh Pendse’s sure-footed long strides are a custom, flaunted in and around the Bombay Gymkhana after a practice session. But not many recognise him, as he strolls towards a nearby coffee shop. A few stares do come his way, though they can be entirely credited to his 6’2’’ frame and muscular physique. But that’s just how India’s rugby captain enjoys it. “It’s a lot less hectic and it’s peaceful,” he says while enjoying his beverage. He does however recognise that his days of unknown bliss are numbered. He will soon be playing in Japan, a land where tall, musular rugby players are no strangers to fans. “They can even tell you random stats like the shoe-size,” he says, laughing. The move headed to the Orient comes after Pendse was offered a season’s contract at a professional rugby team in Tokyo – Suntory Sungoliath.
Interestingly enough, the deal came through after Pendse failed a trial with a lower ranked Japanese team earlier this year. But his agent in New Zealand had dispatched his ‘video curriculum vitae’ to her correspondent in Japan. “Soon I got a call asking me to come over for a trial. It was a no-brainer. They are among the top two in Japan,” Pendse mentions.
The week-long trial itself was an experience he won’t be forgetting anytime soon. “They took us through an absolute grind. Morning sessions were in the gym, and there were fitness sessions in the afternoon,” he says, reliving every detail. A handbook was also distributed among the prospective players. It contained plays and methods the team employed during matches, as well as sections highlighting its policies. The literature was meant to be studied and applied during the Saturday game, which would serve as the final stage of the tryouts. “The book was essentially homework. We had to study it and get accustomed to their playing style,” he claims.
Eventually the game went well, or at least that’s what the forward thought before the results were announced. “I knew I played well but they were pretty aloof about the whole thing. All they did was invite me to dinner that evening. I wasn’t sure if they were going to say thank you for coming, or hint that I get used to the food,” he says, smiling. The dinner proved to be the latter. And quite literally so. The meeting was held at a low-key restaurant that was known for serving parts of meat that aren’t often put on a plate. “It wasn’t that bad to taste, to be honest. But I’m going there to play. I don’t mind the food,” he says, laughing.
Pendse’s demeanour projects a feeling of controlled excitement. There is a clear measure of eagerness towards Japan, but this will not be continued…