CNBCTV18.com caught up with the captain of India's men's rugby team, Prince Khatri, who was in Mumbai for an event to promote the sport. Prince spoke at length about how he first learnt about rugby, his village near Sonepat, his three brothers — all of whom represent the national team — his international experiences, and lots more.
Technology services and consulting company Capgemini has partnered with India's Rugby 7s Women's & Girls, and Rugby 7s Men & Boys teams to strengthen the sport in India. They officially announced their partnership with the Indian Rugby Football Union on Wednesday, September 14, at a press event in Mumbai.
At the event, CNBCTV18.com caught up with the captain of India's men's national rugby team, Prince Khatri.
Khatri spoke at length about how he first learnt about rugby, his village near Sonepat, his three brothers, all of whom are playing rugby, his international experiences, and lots more.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
Q: How did you learn about rugby?
Khatri: My elder brother also used to play rugby and he was leading the men's rugby team for a long time. So I learnt about the sport from him. I first felt motivated to play rugby came when in 2010 India hosted the Commonwealth Games and Rugby 7s was part of those Games. When I saw the matches live I was inspired to play. I found it fun because it is very physical sport.
Then we came across a rugby club in Delhi by the name of Delhi Hurricanes. There we would get together every weekend and train. My journey in rugby began from there.
Now all four of us (brothers) play in the national team. We have been representing India for the past five years.
Q: You come from a village in Haryana. So have you shifted to Delhi?
Khatri: There are 8-10 boys in my village in Haryana who now play rugby. Our club is in Vasant Kunj, so we travel to Delhi from our village every weekend to play rugby there. The village is some 65 km away from the club and involves a 90-minute drive. We have also started training in our village.
Q: How did the club in Delhi help you?
Khatri: In the initial days, many foreigners would join us at the club. So we played with them and we also became friends. The club has helped in building a culture of rugby and helped players like me bond with people from other countries.
Q: You come from a wrestling background. What made you switch from wrestling to rugby?
Khatri: I used to do wrestling but when I saw a few South Africans playing the sport it gave me the confidence to try it. Initially, I used to think that only tall people can play rugby. But that is not true. When I saw a South African, who was only 5 feet 5 inches, playing for a big team like South Africa, I grew in confidence. Now I am one of the shortest players in the Indian squad.
Q: When and which was your first international match?
Khatri: My first international match was in 2012 when I played against Pakistan and Malaysia. The matches were held in Malaysia. It was my first tour. It was a proud and game-changing moment for me and gave me exposure to athletes from other countries.
Q: Any experiences that you can share about your overseas tours?
Khatri: Before the recent Asian Championship in Jakarta we had a training camp in Cape Town, South Africa. There we got the opportunity to play with the local university teams. We met some of South Africa’s top players. They were training in the academy. They were all so humble. It was a very heart-touching moment for me.
Q: What do you think should be done to make rugby a big sport in India?
Khatri: I have played rugby for eight years now. I am optimistic about the plan being laid out by the Rugby Federation. Earlier, we used to meet only twice a year. We used to train for just two weeks before the matches. So there has been a lack of consistency, ups and downs. Because of that the men's team ranking never went up.
But now I am seeing a change in the last six months. For the first time, we have a training camp for 50 days. It has been sponsored by the Odisha government. We have been exposed to high-performance training centres, gyms, pools, and proper training grounds. All that has been possible because of Rahul Bose (President, Rugby India) and the way he has involved himself in each and every step of the planning.
Q: Kerala gives India a lot of athletes, Tamil Nadu has a lot of chess players, and Haryana produces wrestlers. So which region of India in your experience has the potential to give young talented rugby players?
Khatri: The pipeline of young rugby players is there in states like Haryana and Punjab — because rugby is similar to kabbadi, which is very popular in North India. Then in Maharashtra, the Kolhapur region also has promising young players, who can graduate to rugby. I feel those kabbadi players have plenty of talent. Right now those players don't know that rugby is a sport. But once they become aware about it, that should be a game-changing moment for India.
Rugby needs strength and size. These two units of India have immense potential. If we are able to tap players from these regions then we will see a lot of change.
Q: How will the plans laid out by Rugby India benefit you?
Khatri: We will be in constant touch with the trainers, coaches and nutritionists. And most importantly, we will earn from rugby. I have a gym in Delhi, which provides my livelihood. We are very hopeful that for the first time you will see full-time rugby players in India.
Q: Did you ever watch Rahul Bose playing rugby?
Khatri: No. I never watched him playing rugby. I am 29 now, so when Rahul used to play I was just a kid.
Q: Who is your favourite rugby player?
Khatri: Fiji's Jerry Tuwai is my favourite rugby player.