MUMBAI: The Indian women’s rugby team took a huge step forward in their eventful journey, beating Singapore 21-19 in the Asian Rugby Women’s Championship Division I in Manila on Saturday to register their first-ever victory in rugby 15s.In a match where the momentum swung wildly, Indian scrum half Sumitra Nayak converted a penalty kick to seal a historic win. India finished third in the competition which also featured China and the Philippines.
India had given quite a good account of themselves in the opener against the Philippines, before going down 32-27. But the team roared back against a much higher-ranked Singapore on Saturday. While India is ranked 61st in Tests, Singapore is perched at 23. The team didn’t pay much heed to the massive gap, as two first-tries by the in-form Sweety Kumari put them in lead. Even though Singapore hit back and levelled the score, India pulled ahead 15-12 with another try.
Indian captain Vahbiz Bharucha opted for the penalty, which was successfully converted by Nayak. Singapore’s Annabel Woo Xui Ni scored her second try to give Singapore the lead for the very first time. But Nayak’s second penalty of the day, which came in the dying minutes, helped India seal the match. “Our Indian Women’s Rugby Team creates HISTORY!!” tweeted Rugby India. “India pull off a stunner against top-ranked Singapore to register their first ever test match victory! We tip our hats to you ladies.” World and Asian rugby bodies also chimed in their support via social media.
It is a remarkable achievement considering the team had debuted in the test (15s) format only last year. The country now has 2185 registered women’s rugby players. While Indian women have done quite well on the continental level in the faster rugby sevens — the format preferred at Olympics — for a decade, transitioning to the real thing has been a massive undertaking.
Most of India’s rugby talent come from humble backgrounds, and though lean and athletic, the women are not built big or for a contact sport like rugby. Speed is a massive asset in the sevens, but strength is all-important in the 15s. Having made their debut last year, the team has progressed well.