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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

37-year-old braves shoulder injury,returns to rugby roots

Kunal Bhansali makes a comeback,scores his side’s only try in the final against Indian Army.

Written by Shivani Naik | Mumbai | Published: October 29, 2013 3:21:02 am

For Kunal Bhansali,much has changed of Mumbai’s skyline between 2001-11 — the time that he was away in the US studying urban design,and then working as a professional architect. But the 37-year-old was glad that Bombay Gymkhana’s colonial silhouette looked just as before,and as unchanged as the club’s rugby core.

This Saturday,Bhansali,who started playing rugby back in 1996 when just out of school,he followed his buddy Faisal Siddiqui to the Gymkhana’s greens and picked the oblong ball,scored his side’s only try in the final of the All India against Indian Army to share Cup honours (after a 10-10 score) and complete an emotional comeback to the sport.

Waking up for morning trainings had become increasingly difficult,and Bhansali admits the ageing body struggled to keep up especially after a shoulder injury,but the side’s second-oldest member shrugged off those creaking bones for the dash of his life as he chipped the ball from his own 22-m line after a kick from No 10 Nasser,chased hard,watched the Army full-back trip,and pounced on the bobbing ball for a heroic touchdown.

“I had no hope I’d get there in time and the ball seemed to go out of bounds. But he slipped and I got a lucky bounce,so at three-fourths in the run,I sailed through,” he says,adding that though he might have defied his 37 years,“I wished I was 28,because playing’s gotten tough. But I wish to play for a couple more years”.

While in the US,rugby had taken a backseat these last few years,till he took up a real-estate related job two years ago. “I’d continued in University and then with a Division 2 club in new York called Village Lions,but the shoulder injury meant I stopped.”

Having always played among the backs,Bhansali lined up as outside-centre when he returned to Bombay Gymkhana. “The core was still around,and there was a bunch of new boys. Our average age was a little on the higher side,but rugby as a sport came naturally to me,so it was obvious that I would wind up at Bombay Gym again. I hope they’re happy to have me back,” he says.

Though he underplays his role in the only try the yellow-black-stripes managed — “Not too much of my doing,I was at the right place,right time” — he admits he’d never dreamt of being a try-scorer in an All-India final. Fear of injury recurring is no deterrent either. “It’s a hard sport,and we knew Army would be tougher. Injury’s a part of this game,but am I apprehensive about getting hurt on the field? No. Are there chances of getting injured? Definitely. That changes nothing in my level of enthusiasm,” he says.

shivani.naik@expressindia.com

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