Tackling Coronavirus with the Jungle Crows

Amidst the lockdown and food shortages it’s been a challenge taking on the coronavirus but we’re doing our bit.

by Paul Walsh

It’s hard to say where we are at in the current coronavirus battle in India. The statistics are around us everyday, and opinions on what they mean proliferate. The lockdown was a shock to the system. The Jungle Crows are all about being together, sharing experiences, playing lots of rugby and enjoying lengthy Khelo Rugby huddles in Kolkata, Jharkhand, Saraswatipur and Bengaluru. It all stopped overnight.

For a few days we were in a daze for sure. We are a community group, together sharing experiences is what has always been our motivator. How to change that into something that could be relevant and of value during this crisis?

Step up Hari who kicked us into life and organised our first morning hangout bringing together Bengaluru, Kolkata and Saraswatipur. With just a couple of lines on a spreadsheet to look at, plenty of talking over one another, dropped connections and not a few arguments we were developing a match strategy. We were playing heads up rugby!

Chain of Support

  1. Our first priority was to connect with as many of our young coaches as we were able. Get them to share how they were and what the needs of each community was. Video reports started to arrive on their own or borrowed smartphones. We could see that having coaches and players from across the city meant that especially in Kolkata we could get a quick handle on how we could make the most impact.
  2. A small informal survey was developed for all of the children who we have on scholarships – more than 100. To be in touch with them, ensure their families were managing and to use this down time to gather more information to help us plan for the future better.
  3. We quickly realised our forte was not going to be in organising and delivering food or getting protection equipment mobilised. We were connected at grassroots, we could identify specific needs and work with those better placed to meet the challenges of say families running short of food or children with medical needs. So we have tried to become an active facilitator.

Global Connections

  1. The Jungle Crows are incredibly lucky to have friends all round the world. Quickly we formulated a plan to see how far and wide we could connect. We could see this being a terrific motivator for all the children. Yes there were these big problems, but it was important to also keep everyone engaged and have something to be excited about.
  2. Our first connect was with the amazing Rocky Khan, what a story he has. The first player of Indian origin to play for the All Blacks rugby 7s team, inspiring and something to dream about and work towards for all our young players.

Mind and Body Fit

  1. This was something we were much more ready for and comfortable with. Akash one of our young India players took the lead. Organising workout plans, setting challenges. We had the role model of CureFit where so many of our young players now worked, they were quickly reformulating their business from group classes to online workouts attracting hundreds of thousands of participants.

And we’ve still plenty of other stuff going on. We have a core team who mostly enjoy their 10am hangout each day. We’re talking to all our supporters and partners, seeing how we can help them out. We can surely connect with more of our young ruggers. It’s all a work in progress, and very much a marathon not a sprint.

Perseverance blog

If you’d like to support the Jungle Crows work, please click here!

 

 

From New Zealand to India

Auckland Grammar School 6th former Michael talks about the India Immersion Programme 2019-2020 and the Jungle Crows

by Michael Hiddleston

The Auckland Grammar School India Immersion Programme is a structured and interactive experience, which provides students with an opportunity to develop personal leadership skills in a foreign culture through interacting with those at the margins of society. This year marks the 10th anniversary since the Programme was introduced at Grammar, and it is almost identical to the previous programmes, lasting a month and taking 21 students across India. Over the years we’ve been fortunate to grow our relationship with the Jungle Crows in Kolkata – a group who has been there from the start. Below is a refection on our time with the Crows in December 2019.

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AGS Team make it to Taj Mahal

When we arrived off the plane into Kolkata we were a group of twenty one excited and naive students. India was almost entirely different to anything any of us had ever experienced and it was sure to bring many new challenges. Thankfully from the moment we left the airport the Jungle Crows were there and ready to guide us – making a very foreign environment that much easier to navigate.

What we quickly found between the two groups was a shared love of rugby. Our first real interaction with the Crows occurred at the touch rugby tournament in the Maidan where we got stuck in with some warm up drills, playing, and even reffing at times. It was pretty incredible to see the positive impact rugby has in the community. Not only bringing large groups of kids together but also providing them with the opportunities and support to find success in their passions. One of the highlights of the day was the fifty-strong exhibition game held towards the end of the day. Despite our loss, few memories can compete with the sight of a twenty-five man backline charging down a dusty field in the late afternoon Kolkata sun. 

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Day One – Rugby on Crow Field, Kolkata Maidan

After getting to know some of the Crows on the first day we split into smaller groups on day two for a personalised tour of the city. Again, this was an incredibly special opportunity and we experienced a variety of different things ranging from flower markets to zoos, however perhaps the most special of these was those boys who visited the homes of some of the Jungle Crows. What made these tours so special for us was how it gave us a chance to see the city through the eyes of locals. We saw and experienced things we otherwise never would have, and it made our time in Kolkata that much more special. Our time with the Crows culminated in a Kolkata quiz at the local Rangers Club. It was a fantastic way to round off and say thank you to guys we’d gotten to know so well over such a brief period of time.

We were delighted to have a first for any tour and be invited to a wedding and that to off Nanda to Antara. Nanda was one of the first Crows to visit Auckland Grammar as part of the exchange we have, and we were very happy to be able to join in with his celebrations.

It was tough to leave Kolkata – a city that has imprinted its own unique joy on our hearts just like the groups that have visited before us.

Vicky and Sukumar then accompanied us for the next three days through Darjeeling and Sariswatipur helping us navigate trains, mountain drives and swims in freezing cold water. They really were the most incredible tour guides and made our travel that much easier. This sums up our experience with Kolkata and in particular the Jungle Crows – absolutely incredible hosts who despite their own busy schedules took time to show us around and look after us like brothers. They helped make our trip something unique and special, and for that and all the incredible work they do we cannot thank them enough.

 

Learn more about Khelo Rugby

www.junglecrows.org 

Happy Diwali – Khelo Sporting League

On Diwali Day we played rugby and shared messages around the Khelo Rugby theme of the month “Girl Power”.

by Shivanshu Singh

The last Sunday of every month we bring all our young Khelo Rugby coaches together as a part of our Khelo Sporting League (KSL). Each month can be organised in a different way, to suit the theme we are working on, to share ideas or just to meet up and play.

Our Khelo Rugby theme for October was ‘Girl Power’, we’d enjoyed a great day of rugby earlier in the month on the International Day of the Girl and this KSL was a chance to review the month of activity. We had about 50 of our coaches out on the morning, they’d all worked during the month to get more girls out playing, to hold charchas on the theme and to share ideas about why this initiative was important. The coaches come from all over Kolkata, and since they don’t always meet routinely, KSL also presents a good opportunity for a catch up.

Between games the coaches talked about slogan posters they’d worked on in their communities. This sharing of ideas in the group is an important activity – both in terms of discussing an important social issue but also in building up the confidence of the coaches by making an informal presentation. Developing such skills is an integral part of the Khelo Rugby journey and nothing beats skill development as practice.

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The posters highlighted some of the issues the girls themselves face, they were able to talk about how they have overcome some of these or share the challenges they still face with a supportive group. Although all living in the same city, the communities the children are from are often very diverse. The problems children face are many and can be quite different from one place to another. Having the chance to discuss these with their peers is an empowering experience. The essence of charcha.

This was also Diwali and the chance of meeting up with so many rugby crazy friends was not to be missed. Sharing Diwali greetings over rugby and breakfast was fun also!

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Living with the Jungle Crows

Thomas was with the Jungle Crows as a volunteer, teacher and mentor, here is more on his adventure in India, learning about how critical values are and that there is always hope.

by Thomas Pothet

The very first time I went to the Jungle Crows rugby field with my friend Pritam who I had met at University in Paris, something struck me. It wasn’t the fact that these children were playing rugby under intense heat and humidity like as if it was nothing… it was their discipline.

I was truly impressed by how disciplined the children were. As my 16-year-old brother plays rugby, I have often seen rugby training and how trainers can struggle to keep the discipline but it was different in Kolkata. Even though they had not seen Pritam, their role model, for a couple of months, none of them interrupted their practice to run toward us. They all stayed focus on their training and one by one, without disturbing the training, players came to greet us.

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Thomas and Pritam leading a class on leadership in Kolkata

It was my first touchpoint with Jungle Crows children and I already had learned something by watching their training.

Through Rugby, Paul Walsh and the Khelo Rugby trainers teach values to these youngsters. The values include discipline and respect, but it is also about being passionate, being committed to something, being a hardworking person and being able to take the lead, to become a leader. Knowing that some of these youngsters used to be thugs or street kids, growing up by their own on Kolkata’s streets, I couldn’t feel anything else than admiration toward Jungle Crows work.

What I saw with the Jungle Crows work was not only about rugby. They teach rugby rules, how to play, how to become a coach, but they mostly teach values and how to use these values outside the rugby field.

As I mentioned, Jungle Crows values are not only about discipline, respect, passion and commitment but I also saw them working hard on fighting gender inequalities in Kolkata and this is not the final step of Jungle Crows children’s journey.

Indeed they also expect the children to spread those values in their communities among the younger generation, to show leadership skills by initiating social projects (collecting trashes, planting trees…), and to become role models for their younger brothers and sisters.

To help them in their journey, Jungle Crows is providing leadership training, English classes and is also financing scholarships. It is through education and through these values that the boys and girls are empowering themselves and are becoming leaders in their community.

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Thomas with a group of young Khelo Rugby Coaches at the Crows Nest, Jungle Crows HQ in Kolkata

Coming from poor backgrounds, if it wasn’t for Jungle Crows, many of these young people would have dropped out of their studies and started working. As their family are not educated and struggle financially, mostly they see education as a cost, not as an investment.

Jungle Crows campaigns to show how valuable education is, how education can bring the change they need in their life and how education can make them become a better person.

Before travelling to Kolkata, I read the City of Joy written by Dominique Lapierre, the writer ends his book by saying that Kolkata is a true lesson of hope and humanity. While I volunteered for Jungle Crows, I learned many things about Kolkata and the Jungle Crows children, and I must say that I truly agree with Dominique Lapierre.

I have never felt like that before but, watching the children playing rugby barefoot, enjoying rugby to its fullest, giving their best both at school and on the rugby field, it made me realise that despite their often extreme poverty, these kids are more joyful and hungry for life than ever. I had never seen such poverty, but I had also never seen people with such big hearts and so eager to learn and live.

From my experience with Jungle Crows, whether it was in Kolkata or in Saraswatipur, I believe that everything these children and young leaders are doing is driven by their hope of having a better life tomorrow, their hope of being able to take care of their family and their hope of doing something that they can be proud of.

Somehow, when I was watching Jungle Crows boys and girls, regardless of their religion or differences, giving their best, an unstoppable flow of emotion overcame me. Every time they were playing, I could only be impressed by them and by their achievement.

These kids taught me many things, I believe that they made me more human, more compassionate and a more hard-working person but for and foremost, they taught me a lesson of hope. Thank you.

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If you’d be interested in volunteering with the Jungle Crows, please be in touch over email: info@junglecrows.org
www.junglecrows.net

Girl Force: Unscripted and Unstoppable

For 2019 the theme of the International Day of the Girl was “Girl Force: Unscripted and Unstoppable”. Khelo Rugby is working to play it’s part creating opportunities for our unstoppable female athletes.

by Paul Walsh

It was absolutely brilliant once again being part of our girls rugby tournament on October 11th. Rightly this has become a big part of the Khelo Rugby calendar with our girls looking forward to playing in and organising the day.

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Kolkata

With more than 500 girls playing across four locations and I’d think another 100 organising, the tournament is a great way to mobilise and encourage our girls to take action. Khelo Rugby has always operated with the attitude of “let’s make it happen” and this is a good example of this. When we first came up with the initiative to have a girls only rugby event, the only question was why we hadn’t done it earlier. Each year I can see more and more benefits from the tournament and making the focus of October on our girls.

The tournament itself has become a focal point for everyone in Khelo Rugby, setting a clear target and getting everyone working together towards a common goal. Coaches need to get their teams organised, bring out the next generation of girls to play, brothers encourage sisters, sisters encourage sisters, each community wants to play well.

2019 was the first time we co-ordinated four tournaments on the same day, and seeing the photos ping in was special. It seems almost everyone now gets to see social media so we tried to quickly share images from each location so the girls could feel a sense of unity even if they were 100s of miles apart.

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Bengaluru

More than 45% of children in Khelo Rugby are girls and this tournament has been a catalyst to achieve this. As a team we always need to be focussed on ensuring we keep levels of participation from our girls up. In this we absolutely need to keep taking what is the tougher path.

India’s female rugby players are an incredibly strong and resilient community and should be celebrated at every opportunity. It was really special to see three of India’s rugby stars being showcased at the recent “We the Women” event in Kolkata, specially since it included Jungle Crows star Sangita. Our Khelo Rugby girls can feel proud to be a part of this.

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Saraswatipur

I promised myself I would keep this article short so I won’t go over all the reasons why girls are perhaps the single most important part of our planets future. You’d have to be sleeping under a rock not to have seen the impact Greta Thunberg is having across the world. It’s hard to believe it was four years ago I wrote my blog “Who Wants to Change the World?” – the messages of how 600 million girls will bring change are still valid. Our girls play rugby, but this is more than just a game, like 11 October was more than just a tournament. The impact belief and empowerment can have are very real. It’s “More Than Just a Try.”

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Haripur

We’ve still much work to do and we’ll keep a special focus for the rest of October, but our efforts shouldn’t rest. This is a full time commitment. We’ll have charchas in communities for the rest of the month, taking time to discuss and think about what we’re doing, how we can do more, achieve more. The girls want to share more messages through posters and slogans, so we’ll showcase those to more children at our end of month KSL (Khelo Sporting League) get together.

We enjoyed 11 October as the #DayoftheGirl but for real change to come we need to support girls everyday.

It’s about rugby, but it’s more about opportunity

The Jungle Crows are building a Youth Centre in the village of Saraswatipur where they have been playing rugby for five years now. While the rugby is really important to the Crows and all the 100s of children who play in the villages, education is more important.

by Thomas Pothet

The Jungle Crows Foundation promotes education through rugby in Kolkata but also in diverse places in West Bengal like Saraswastipur where there is a rugby ground surrounded by tea gardens and forest. On this field, rugby training and tournaments are organised under the management of Coach Roshan and the older players, Khelo Rugby’s Young Leaders.

In contrast to Kolkata where children do have access to some facilities, the children living in Baikunthapur Forest do not have much of an opportunity at all. No safe place to meet up or study other than clearings in the forest. Development is coming but it is slow.

In Kolkata the Jungle Crows have partnered with the American Centre for English and development training as a part of the ACCESS project, they can go and use the library. In the Crows HQ there is a small hostel where scholarship students can stay, the gym is well equipped and meeting rooms make this a focal centre for so many activities. The Crows also host a ‘Speak Fit’ centre which trains up young men and women keen to get into the fitness industry. During my time in Kolkata I enjoyed meeting and interacting with so many different groups of youngsters, all of them just like me, looking to continue their education, planning how to start a career, passionate about their sport, wanting to learn.

Such opportunities just don’t exist in Baikunthapur, where the forest and the Saraswatipur tea garden dominates life. The tea gardens look beautiful with views to Kangchenjunga, manicured tea bushes stretching as far as the eye can see and neatly surrounded by the amazing Sal trees of the Baikunthapur Forest. But there is poverty and danger as well, I was drawn recently to this description of life in the tea gardens by National Geographic explorer Paul Salopek, where he describes the gardens, “like strolling into a deer park” but one kept going on “poverty wages.”

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Kangchenjunga viewed from the Baikunthapur Forest

While rugby is at the heart and a fundamental part of what the Jungle Crows do while I was with them I could observe that their true DNA is about opportunity and a big part of that is education. And this is a struggle for young people growing up in Saraswatipur, where the draw of working in the tea garden is strong, where going to school can be harder work.

This is where the community centre is intended to make a difference. Construction is in full swing and is being well supported by the village and specially by the children who are excited to see it going up and looking forward to the change it can bring to their lives.

The construction of the centre is necessary for the Jungle Crows to pursue their mission within Baikunthapur Forest and to deliver the dreams and ambitions of the children. With such a centre, players will have access to a gym, proper toilets, rest rooms, and of course class rooms.

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Centre construction in full swing

All the children in the Jungle Crows learn about the values of the game – integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline and respect. It is key to be able to translate these values into the children’s everyday lives. The centre in Saraswatipur will be a focus for this. Taking what is learnt on the field to support learning in the class room. I was lucky to see first hand the incredible passion the children have for their rugby. They have learned about how important it is to be passionate about something, about how discipline can win the game, commitment and hard work are keys for success. It is now time for them to use those principles outside the rugby field, for educational purposes and to develop the seeds that Jungle Crows planted in them through rugby.

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Passionate about their rugby

Besides their rugby one of the main issues in the villages is that the children don’t have any other activities available to them. They end up giving up on school and going to work in the tea gardens at a very young age. There is no support for education and even the transport provided by the tea gardens is stopped from class 8 when a child needs support most. In these circumstances youngsters often see taking up a job on less than two euros a day as a better option.

The Crows finance scholarships and provide cycles to make it easier for the kids to reach their schools and reach educational targets. It is important children don’t give up. The centre will be another part of this, an attempt to break the cycle that keeps swathes of the village in poor circumstances. The children themselves know that they want to have a different purpose in life, different from the one their parents had and to avoid the same social disadvantages. The aim is to enlighten their daily life and future.

The centre is still in construction but soon these passionate kids will be able to be diligent in their class rooms to improve themselves and work hard for their future.

Give them the right tools and the amazing children of Saraswatipur will move mountains.

You can support the building of the Saraswatipur Youth Centre by making a donation here!

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www.junglecrows.net

Tiger v Leopards – the Spirit of Rugby

Under dark monsoon skies in Kolkata the India Women’s rugby team demonstrate incredible sporting spirit.

By Paul Walsh

India’s rugby community has a pounding heart in Kolkata where senior Men’s and Women’s teams play for the Calcutta Cup, hundreds of children fly around the Maidan and the monsoon especially means rugby season. Sticky muddy fields may not be ideal for the game but it does mean cricket is off the agenda for a short time at least. 

As a sport rugby is said to have a unique spirit. Most players know there are a set of values by which rugby is played and governed. It is not always easy to separate one sport from another in terms of what can be a hard to define spirit. Most sports participants try their best, follow the rules, at the highest levels finding a winning angle can cross the boundaries of fair play but most players don’t look for this. 

And then an event comes along that makes you realise that whether it is rugby or any sport there is a terrific sporting spirit in the heart of every athlete. 

The context of my own interest in the Spirit of Rugby is through the social development programme of the Jungle Crows, the rugby club I helped found 15 years ago in Kolkata. For 3 years now our Khelo Rugby has been a part of World Rugby’s Spirit of Rugby programme. The Spirit of Rugby recognises a select number of projects around the world and supports them from World Rugby HQ in Dublin. Khelo Rugby is so far the only project representing Asia and we’re proud to have been shown such faith.

One of Kolkata’s showcase rugby tournaments is the “Georgiadi Rugby 7s” hosted each year by the prestigious Calcutta Cricket and Football Club (CCFC). Rugby has been played in Kolkata since 1872 and the Football in CCFC actually refers to the oval shaped ball rather than the round ball.

The Georgiadi Cup is named after a Greek of the same name who was the custodian of the CCFC grounds for many years, a stalwart of the club from another generation honoured with the Cup being named after him. This year saw 20 Men’s teams and 8 Women’s teams entered into the competition, which kicked off at 9am on a bright Saturday morning in July.

Rugby 7s is an abbreviated form of the full 15 player game, played over two halves of 7 minutes with only 7 players on a full size pitch. Lots of space, this is a game for speedsters, while retaining the full contact nature of the game it suits strong fast players with plenty of stamina. A team may play 3 or 4 games in a day so a quick recovery is needed to maintain the pace and keep up a winning streak.

This year the tournament was excited to welcome the senior India Men’s and Women’s teams. They had been in a camp in Bhubaneswar preparing for the upcoming Asia 7s to be played in Jakarta. The Georgiadi would provide the ideal match conditions to test the two squads. The South Africa Coaches in charge of the India teams were excited for the games ahead.

Both the Men’s and Women’s India teams got away to winning starts, pretty much as you’d expect, cantering through the opposition on day one. Day two saw all the teams re-ranked based on their performances on day one. This meant the two Men’s teams entered, India A and B, would face each other in a semi final. As a courtesy to the teams and to prevent their two teams going at each other the coaches decided to withdraw the India Men’s teams leaving the field clear for a local club to take the title. The final would be contested between two local Kolkata clubs, our own Jungle Crows and hosts CCFC. In the lead up to the final the monsoon skies turned dark and what had been a light Kolkata monsoon for one afternoon at least turned into a flood. The rugby carried on, the ground cut up, players turned muddy and the advantage of small flighty players became less as the wrestling contest in the mud increased in importance. In the Men’s final the Jungle Crows ran out 17-0 winners, a close fought contest with both teams muddy, bruised and congratulating each other at the end.

The Women’s final was scheduled as the last match of the day, this would see the India team take on a team made up of young players from a group of villages near Siliguri in the North of West Bengal, part of our Khelo Rugby programme. It was great to see them in the final. The team was named after their village and the most common big cat, the Saraswatipur Leopards.  What was about to happen stunned the crowd and eventually saw a show of sporting spirit most found hard to describe. 

The final kicked off under lights, the field was muddy but the rain had stopped. The India team was made up from the best players in the country, from Maharastra, Delhi and Odisha, even a Leopard was in the squad. Saraswatipur were immediately on the attack and the opening minutes saw a break in the India defence, the Leopards Swapna sprinted 70 meters to score the first try under the posts which she also converted, 7-0 to the Leopards. The crowd went a little crazy, those not paying too much attention to the game were suddenly fully focussed. Was the most incredible upset on the cards?

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Half time team talk for the Leopards

Half time and the Leopards led 7-0. The pair of South African Coaches looked calm but they must have been thinking what the consequences would be of the national team losing to what on the face of it were a bunch of kids from a village. Albeit the rugby crazy village of Saraswatipur, these were girls who had played a lot of rugby, won tournaments, led by the their canny coach Roshan.

The second half saw the India team intensify the pressure, they kept the ball well and started to attack using their superior size on the smaller Saraswatipur team. The India Tigers were showing their class. With just minutes left the Tigers scored in the corner, with no conversion the score was 7-5, the Leopards still ahead of the Tigers.

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India star Neha attacks

With time almost up, India had the ball in the Saraswatipur corner, could the girls from the tea estate hold on? A long blast from the referees whistle, some of the supporters thought it was over but this was a penalty for India. Time was up, but the penalty would be taken. India piled in, the corner was dark under the lights, the players muddy but no doubting the next signal and whistle from the referee – try to India. A crushing 10-7 loss for the Leopards who trooped back to their Coach crestfallen, they’d held out for almost the entire game, but a famous win wasn’t to be. Applause rang out for both teams, and nobody doubted the commitment either team of Women had shown.

The biggest sporting gesture was yet to come. The India team were called up to take their winning medals and receive the trophy. India Captain Vahbiz had different ideas, took over the microphone and proceedings. Grabbing a handful of medals she started to distribute them to the India players while at the same time calling up the Leopards. This was a medal ceremony the like of which none of the crowd gathered under the dark monsoon sky had ever seen. Each of the India players took their medal, and hung it around the neck of a Leopard. With a big hug and a smile each player in turn recognised their opponent. 

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All smiles – Tigers & Leopards

Time for the trophy and Vahbiz wasn’t interested in lifting it for the plaudits, this was for the Leopards. The girls lined up together all smiles, the three coaches joined them – two from South Africa and one from India. This was something very special. A terrifically competitive game had ended in a final play win, that had been exciting, but the actions of the India team lifted the drama to a different level. This was a great sporting moment, not between highly paid superstars but amongst hardworking committed rugby players, who’s passion for their game see them sacrifice and sweat just to get the chance to play. Two remarkable teams of Women had shown that rugby really is a beautiful game and demonstrated what the spirit of the game is all about.

Find out more from our website!

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Khelo Rugby Family: Crows & Leopards