AS A former Indian rugby captain and an international player with 34 Test caps, Nasser Hussain has seen the growth of the contact sport in India. The Mumbai-based 38-year-old still plays for clubs apart from the national level and the former player is still asked about rugby being a contact sport and the chances of injuries to the players. With the Senior National Rugby Sevens Championships in Chandigarh seeing the participation of over 25 teams in men’s category and 21 in women’s category, Hussain believes that the next hub for talent in rugby would be Haryana and Punjab.
“Rugby is a contact sport and a lot of junior players have their concerns. But our emphasis at the junior level has been on the time spent on the field. We start with player safety and right technique and how a player should fall. The emphasis is on the U-14 players playing non-contact rugby called touch rugby and graduate to the next level with time. Now we see players from Odisha, Bengal, Maharashtra and Delhi dominating women’s rugby. There is also a lot of talent coming from sports like wrestling, kabaddi and kho-kho and we will see a lot of players from Haryana and Punjab breaking into junior and senior national teams in the coming years,” said Hussain, also the general manager of Rugby India.
While Hussain played his debut Test for India in 1998, which was also the debut Test at the international arena for the Indian men’s rugby team, the last decade has seen the Indian women’s rugby team climbing the rankings in Asia. The team, which reached the quarter-finals in the 2010 Asian Games, played their first rugby 15 international Test match against Singapore earlier this month apart from facing Philippines. Half the players in the Indian women’s team in Singapore came from Odisha and Hussain terms the experience as a learning curve. “For a team, which started playing at the international level in 2009, the Indian women’s rugby team has done well. Last year, the Indian U-18 team finished third in the Asian Girls U-18 Rugby Tournament in Dubai apart from finishing fourth in the Youth Olympics qualifiers. Earlier this month, the senior women’s team played their first ever Test against the world-ranked 34th Singapore. Even though they lost 5-30 against Singapore, the experience will help them in the Asian Games too. India reached the quarterfinals in the 2010 Asian Games and this time, Japan, Hong Kong and China will be favourites to win a medal in Indonesia. A semi-final finish will boost their confidence. They will also play in Asian Rugby Sevens later this year,” added Hussain.
With rugby being included in the School Games Federation of India calendar of events, the sport has seen a rise in the number of players in the junior circuit recently. The Indian Rugby-Football Union is now focusing on the junior teams gaining exposure at the Asia level. “The inclusion of rugby in the SGFI event was a huge step for Indian rugby. Youngsters have started opting for the sport. If we talk about infrastructure, rugby requires same grass grounds like football or cricket. So, there is a need for multi-sport stadiums. We play in Bhalewadi and Chennai at football stadiums but it can happen all over India. At the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), which is an iconic cricket ground, rugby and football league matches are also played. The rugby players even use the same shoes as football players do,” said the former player.