The allure of rugby? Discipline and passion… All other sports have strength and speed and conditioning, but not all have discipline and passion.
-Aga Hussain, Vice President of Indian Rugby Football Union
How I know I’ve arrived: Lost in the rain on my way to a press conference, I had whip out my new Indian mobile (as they call ’em) and call the captain of the Indian Rugby men’s national side to give my soggy, crotchety autowallah directions.
We sputtered through the traffic (and up and over sidewalks) and finally arrived at the Deccan Gymkhana club. Mr. Aga Hussain and Mr. Maneck Unwala, treasurer of the IRFU, had come to announce the All India Women’s Rugby 7’s tournament to be held this weekend. Consisting of 20 teams converging upon Pune from all over India, this tournament is the start of something big: from this weekend, the national pool will be selected. It is this selection who will be sent later this season to the HSBC Asian Sevens Series, the first ranking tournament in Asia…and, perhaps for some of them down the road, to the Olympics.
Mr. Hussain spoke purposefully, elaborating on the need for media support. He detailed a plan in which Rugby Indian would be divided up into six governing bodies — north, south, east, west, central, and armed forces — with each region representing the various states. But, he stressed, the hub of all things Indian Rugby would be centered here down in Pune.
I had the chance to meet a bunch of the women — some had started playing more recently, some having played as long as six years — and almost all of which who had represented India in international competition. We sat quietly as the press, their heads cocked at the notion that women play rugby, threw some questions out on to the floor.
As the press left, the conversation turned to the oh, more conventional things, such as the three recent ACL tears on the team, the 6 a.m. practices, tales of epic tackles and the credibility-defining question of “so what kinds of bones have you broken?”
Ah. So I can go half way around the world and some things never change.
Ketaki, one of the most veteran girls on the team and my new amiga, met up with me on MG Road the day after the conference. She’s played rugby for six years, was a nationally ranked judo athlete and once got her tongue pierced just to test how high her pain tolerance was pre-ACL surgery. I like this girl. After buzzing through town on her moped (am I in a movie?) we stopped at a small place in the Koregoan Park district (home to the infamous Osho ashram) to grab a bite and talked all things life and friends, of course, rugby…mostly, the ins and outs of the game and what makes — or breaks — a team.
I completely echo her and Mr. Hussain’s sentiments about the necessary passion and discipline that you just can’t play rugby without (it’d be like…baking cookies without butter. Travesty!). Passion and discipline aren’t unique to this sport by any means, but the way that these qualities manifest themselves in rugby culture is. Ruggers are probably some of the most passionate (and somewhat nutty) people that I know. Passion is innate. It manifests itself in furiously-driven scrums and the long-charge from the fleet-footed back line. The discipline is seen in the willingness — the genuine desire — to run those extra suicides and log those cold, early morning runs. These two qualities need to work in tandem. Without honing and carefully disciplining passion, and being passionately disciplined… How can you play rugby? What are you more than just another body wearing a number?
We totally saw eye-to-eye on everything. There’s that common willingness to lay someone out (and get laid out, let’s be honest) that just, you know, forges these crazy friendships… and, from what I’ve seen, this happens where ever in the world you may be. I heard the following somewhere, at some point — and, okay, let me be realllly corny for a hot sec — : ‘it doesn’t matter where you go in the world, if there is another rugger in the room, you’ll always have a friend.’ Ca-yooot, right?? But I think it’s true! Ruggers all speak the common crazy language of bruises, black eyes, and hopefully, passion.
So, this weekend: it’s all rugby, all the time from 9am-6pm both days. Twenty teams from all over India. Stay tuned for photos —
And so, it all begins!