x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Pakistan's kabaddi converts are taking to rugby well

Players from subcontinent helping to develop sport without financial support and start well at the Emirates International Sevens.

The UAE Shaheen side managed to hold off the Pakistanis who did well considering the sport is still in its nascent stages in their country. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
The UAE Shaheen side managed to hold off the Pakistanis who did well considering the sport is still in its nascent stages in their country. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

DUBAI // Rugby union's history is dotted with stories of players who have fallen through the cracks in other sports and converted to the oval ball game with rich success.

Swapping from the neighbouring code, rugby league, is the most obvious transition, but there are others, too.

For example, both David Strettle and Danny Care, the England players, only gave rugby a go after being told they were too flimsy for football.

Mohanned Shaker is one of the UAE's leading Emirati rugby players, but he started out in handball, while Afghanistan's best player is a converted kick-boxer.

Yesterday at The Sevens, though, may have provided a unique case in rugby: someone converting from kabaddi, the idiosyncratic South Asian team sport where players systematically hold hands then try to raid the other team's area all while chanting and holding their breath.

And Khalid Hussain can play a bit, too.

Having swapped his staff kabaddi team with the police department back in Pakistan, he proved a star of his nation's sevens team on the opening day of the Emirates International Sevens.

Wearing bright orange boots, his speed made him difficult to stop, and he was the most potent attacking force in an impressive Pakistan side.

All he needs to do now is remember to breath and stop chanting "kabaddi, kabaddi," as he is charges down the wing. "There is a lot of running in kabaddi and it helps with tackling, too," said Kashif Khwaja, 32, the Pakistan captain, who revealed rugby comes a long way down the pecking order of sports in his homeland.

"Good players get paid well to play kabaddi because the sport is so well-liked. If there is a tournament where some feudal lords are watching and a guy does really well, they will give out lots of money."

Do the players get paid for rugby? Laughable idea, apparently. "This is what we get for playing rugby," the Pakistan centre Adnan Niazi joked, holding up a bar of chocolate he was eating between matches.

"It is still a new sport in Pakistan and only played in some districts. But we are developing it."

Niazi is the only player in Pakistan's tour party here for this weekend's tournament who is based outside the country.

He is a long-term Dubai resident, where he plays for Wasps, and answered the call to help the national team when three of their players who work in the army were refused visas to travel.

While Pakistan impressed in winning their first two matches, the UAE's fully Emirati team were the outstanding side on Day 1 of the tournament.

With their most established two players, Cyrus Homayoun in the backs and Shaker in the pack, bringing their experience to bear, the national team won all three of their matches.

They even beat the Pakistanis in the last match of the day, to cheer the UAE performance manager Duncan Hall.

"Pakistan have played a lot of rugby and they are much more experienced than our guys, man for man," Hall said.

"The guys have developed well. They played good rugby where they controlled the ball, they passed well and ran into spaces well."


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