The coaches met at Heathrow, ready and excited for the first coaching trip to India since 2010. The last Penguin playing tour was in 1990 and with HSBC Penguin Academy coaches Ben Fisher (Scotland), Rory Couper (Scotland), Matt Maudsley (England) and Simon Burns (England), all on their first trip to India and eagerly anticipating their exciting itinerary, there was excitement in the air for the twelve days ahead.
The trip to India was developed by the HSBC Penguin Coaching Academy in conjunction with partners HSBC and World Rugby.
Following a brief stop off in Mumbai, in the form of a quick trip to the beach in the rain, the coaches arrived in Kolkata to rest and get ready for the 4.30am pick up the next morning and the short flight to the first coaching stop in the city of Patna.
The first coaching session was with 350 boys and girls aged 12-14 from the Open Minds BIRLA School. They had never experienced rugby before, and had not even seen a rugby ball. The session was delivered with the help of the Rugby India development staff and consisted of evasion games, passing games, scoring tries, scrums and even our driver Naseem, and the school head teacher got involved.
The session was delivered on the sandy area where the school buses usually park and some pot holes had to be filled in before the session commenced.
The coaches spent some time after the session mingling with the children, signing lots of autographs and there were many smiles all around. The head teacher was keen to know when the next session would be – a good way to finish the visit.
Rugby India hosted a regional level 7-a-side tournament in Patna at the same time as the HSBC Penguins were in town, and this is the first time Rugby India’s development team had visited the region as well, and they were keen to raise the profile of rugby. The HSBC Penguin coaches travelled to the stadium to watch some of the 15 mens' and 10 womens' teams play in the sevens tournament, and also to meet our main contact in India, Nasser Hussain, General Manager of India Rugby. Nasser is somewhat of a local celebrity as the most capped Indian player, playing in 35 of the 37 tests India have played, and he was an excellent host and guide for the trip.
The coaching sessions the next day had to be cancelled due to the fact the Indian Prime Minister was visiting Patna. The coaches took the opportunity to travel a few hours south of Patna to the villages of Nalanga and Rajgir to visit some of the Buddhist temples. A fantastic experience seeing the ancient temples, and the coaches had a grand Indian feast at the Royal Regency Hotel. They also witnessed elephants, cows, pigs, goats and monkeys – and that was just on the road!
The following day, the HSBC Penguin coaches delivered another introduction to rugby session at BD National School, with 100 children aged between 12-17 years old participating. In the very hot sun, the session covered scrum and lineouts, and then passing and evasion games. Ben finished off the session by teaching the Maori Haka to the children, much to the delight of the other academy coaches.
The afternoon was spent as guests of India Rugby at the final of the Regional 7s competition, and sharing the stage with the mayor for the presentations. The evening was spent at leisure, travelling by rickshaws in true Indian style, although the drivers were made to work hard for their tip given the heavier than usual cargo on board, to find dinner at China China to round the night off.
The next morning took the HSBC Academy coaches back to Kolkata for a connecting flight to Bhubaneswar, in the region of Odisha – the destination for the next three nights.
The coaches were not quite ready for what they were about to experience in Bhubaneswar, including what turned out to be the highlight of the trip - the visit to Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS). KISS is an institute that hosts 25,000 young indigenous boys and girls in a boarding school, who are from tribal villages from all over India. KISS has an established rugby programme, and in fact a number of the woman from KISS had represented the winning team Odisha, at the regional competition in Patna, the day earlier.
The afternoon session consisted of coaching 3000 girls between 15-17 years old in the school dining hall. The Penguin coaches were astounded with the numbers fitting in the large space, and the discipline and enthusiasm to take part, and learn. Credit must go to the Rugby India staff in the way in which they managed and controlled this large group, but just when you thought you couldn’t be any more impressed...
The next morning 4500 children filled the dining hall space, entering in an orderly lined up fashion, this time a mixture of boys and girls aged 13-14 years. Seeing them in full flight with balls in hand and having fun was a sight to behold, as was seeing them all clap and cheer in sync at the end. KISS is a fantastic institution in the way they help to educate and develop the indigenous children, and use sports, such as rugby, as a vehicle to teach values, to encourage travel and meeting people and also to supplement the classroom methods.
The afternoon session, the last at Bhubaneswar, was at Vernkateshwar International School, Odisha, with 350 keen boys and girls aged between 15-17. This was an introduction to rugby again, as part of the India Rugby ‘Get into Rugby’ initiative. With one coach down suffering from ‘Dehli Belly’, Rory stood up to the plate, getting fully involved in the games with the children, and Matt taking the lead with the ceremonial duties and speech.
Next, the HSBC Penguin Coaching team headed to the third and final destination of Kolkata. The Calcutta Cricket and Football Club (CCFC) were hosting a senior men’s and woman’s club 7’s tournament and the HSBC Penguin coaches were tasked with running grass roots and introduction to rugby activities around the tournament.
The torrential seasonal rain had an impact on the tournament format and also the last schools coaching session for the HSBC Penguin coaches. The session was held indoors in the gym hall, and involved 150 girls aged between 14 and 17, who were all new to rugby. The session followed the now well-rehearsed format of ball familiarization, evasion and running skills, scoring and passing.
Developing women’s rugby had been a focus for the Indian Rugby Union and the HSBC Penguin Coaches on the trip, and this continued with next stop being the Cricket Club to help their newly formed women’s team.
With Matt leading the session, the girls were ready for their first ever game of contact rugby the next day, at the Club 7s tournament. The ladies were very impressive winning one of their three games, especially considering they had only been training for 3 months. The women’s team from KISS were tournament victors the next day, winning in great style beating their rival from Bengal in the final. Despite the heavy pitch and rain both teams produced some fine running rugby.
Between the games at the 7s tournament, the academy coaches had an opportunity to visit a local orphanage, Future Hope, that had been set up by former HSBC employee Tim Grandage, who is a great supporter of rugby within Kolkata, and clearly working hard to give less fortunate children a home and education.
The Penguin’s final assignment before sitting back and watching the men’s competition at the Club 7s, was to run a clinic for all of the ladies teams to learn about 15-a-side rugby. Around 50 female players were introduced to full lineouts and 8 player scrums, before looking at some basic attacking shapes in phase play.
India is a fascinating and fantastic country and it was a pleasure to visit. During the trip the Penguin Coaches helped to coach 8500 young boys and girls, which is a huge total, and just shows the potential there is in India in terms of numbers. In addition, the HSBC Penguin Academy coaches assisted over 50 local coaches. Rugby India are working hard to grow the game and with fifteen development officers across the country, they have worked to get some form of rugby introduced to over 700 schools. All fifteen regions in India now have teams, and the next stage is to work to create a pathway for players from schools to clubs, and have a thriving competition in each region. All the best to Nasser and his troops, and a big thanks to all of the staff and local people who made us feel so welcome.
We look forward to the next trip!
Ben Fisher, Simon Burns, Matt Maudsley and Rory Couper – HSBC Penguin Coaching Academy Coaches – August 2015