Common perception about rugby holds that it is a game of beasts. For Oscar Wilde, an Irish novelist and playwright of early 20th century, “Rugby is a good occasion for keeping thirty bullies far from the center of the city”. But according to another clichéd saying, attributed to athlete Henry Blaha, “Rugby is a beastly game played by - [well] - gentlemen”.
One such “beastly” gentleman is Zeeshan Rizvi, captain of the Islamabad Jinns since January 2011. He is amongst the youngest of the lot, but his tremendous talent and international exposure make him an ideal candidate to lead one of the only two recognized rugby clubs of Pakistan (the other being the Lahore Rugby Club).
Having taken his O level exams privately in January in 2004, Zeeshan had plenty of time to spend by himself, since all the rest of his friends were taking the exams in the summer. He availed the time by cycling everyday to the Mehran Club located in front of F-9 Park, and playing football. One day he ventured a little further, cycling his way to F-10, where the only ground in Pakistan dedicated solely to rugby is located. Curiosity of the game led him to introduce himself to his soon-to-become fellow team players - little did he know at that time that the game was destined to consume his very existence.
“The rugby players of Islamabad seemed oddly sophisticated; educated and well mannered, which initially seemed ironic, since the sport is anything but ‘gentlemanly’,” says Zeeshan.
Winning the Plate at the Skema Business School, France
Bursting with natural athletic potential, Zeeshan was asked to represent Pakistan in the Under-19 platform, against other Asian counterparts in a tournament held in Lahore. His first international appearance in green was against India where Pakistan lost, but Zeeshan was declared the man of the match. Already he had started creating vibes amongst the rugby circles of Pakistan and beyond.
It is the number 7 shirt which Zeeshan adorns, which is given to one of the two flankers, who, in his words, “are the bull dogs of the team; the fastest players of the scrum (the two props and hooker), and thickest of the players at the back, strategically positioned at the wings between the two layers”.
Injury is to rugby what spirit is to a living body - inseparable. The courageous fall only to rise again, and it is truer and more conspicuous to notice on a rugby field than in ordinary life. Whilst playing in an international under-19 tournament, in 2005, when he was a student of A’ levels, Zeeshan dislocated his shoulder in a game against Brunei. It could have been the end of a career for anyone, but not for Zeeshan.
After his freshmen year at LUMS, he had his shoulder operated on. Since it was a recurrent dislocation, Zeeshan decided to keep himself away from the sport lest he injured himself permanently. However, just after 8 months of the surgery, he was sucked back in to the sport by a foreign rugby enthusiast instructor at LUMS, Mcgill, who wanted to instill a new spirit into the rugby team as its coach, after it received a beating in Islamabad by the rugby team of Bahria University. The first task for Zeeshan was bring back to LUMS the honour, that had been lost in Islamabad; that task he accomplished so successfully that he was made the captain of the LUMS rugby team in his junior year, a thing previously unheard of since the captain was always chosen from the senior year.
Playing all around Pakistan in myriads of tournaments against the established rugby teams of Army, Police, Wapda and others, Zeeshan again caught the eyes of the selectors, and soon he was given an opportunity to represent his nation in a tournament held in Malaysia, in which teams from all over Asia participated. He gave his country a reason to celebrate when he won the award of the “Best Emerging Player of the Tournament”. Since then he has been a regular part of the Pakistan national rugby team.
Zeeshan with the South African rugby team players in Dubai
The LUMS rugby team, under Zeeshan’s captainship, was invited over to the Skema Business School located in Cannes, France, in 2010, where it competed against college rugby teams from all around the globe. “We were the plate winners (3rd place), but the actual achievement was the confidence that we gained from the experience. It gave us all a new high,” says Zeeshan.
As captain of Islamabad Jinns, Zeeshan has led his team every year in Dubai, for the prestigious World 7 series, a quicker version of the game in which 7 players compete instead of 15. Rugby clubs from all over the world are represented along with the international teams from Division 1, which allows the Pakistan team players, a team which hovers around Division 3, ample exposure and experience.
All sports are about perseverance and dedication, but rugby adds a new rugged dimension to it all. It seems to be greater than winning trophies; it is more about conquering one’s weaknesses and creating a steely resolve inside. This famous anonymous quote from a coach to his team after a match captures adequately the mood of the sport: “The only trophy we won this day, was the blood and sweat we left on the pitch…. and it was enough”.
And Zeeshan Rizvi has loyally given his share of blood and sweat to the rugby pitch, whenever the sport has demanded it.
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