‘Alex’: Making Pakistan rugby count in UK

Saturday, April 12th, 2014 8:08:36 by

Well-known names like Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi playing for counties may not be surprising, but a Pakistan rugby player featuring in a UK-based club is something that has never happened until the ongoing season.

National rugby team captain Arsalan Zahid became the first Pakistani player to feature in an England-based rugby event this year.

Ipswich signed the 29-year-old after watching his videos of HSBC Asian Five Nations’ (Division Four) matches where he led the Pakistan team. The club competes at London 2 North East rugby league where teams from London, Suffolk and Essex play home and away matches.

“A considerable number of people played me down when I came here,” Zahid told The Express Tribune in an interview from Ipswich.

“Many felt that Ipswich had taken a huge gamble when they signed me, because I am from a country where rugby is not a major sport.”

The ongoing season will conclude at the end of this month and Zahid has already proven his mettle.

“The Ipswich officials are happy with my performance and we may sign a contract for the next year’s season. Now I have many friends here who call me Alex.”

A dentist by profession, Zahid started playing rugby ten years ago.

“I was a cricketer and an enthusiastic basketball player before rugby. I always had the dream of becoming part of a sport other than cricket or hockey. I am happy with what I have achieved so far.”

‘Pakistan can become a big rugby nation’

The Lahore-based player said that there was no dearth of talent in Pakistan when it came to rugby.

“We are an emerging nation in this sport. It isn’t impossible for Pakistan to match the world-class rugby teams.

“I did not receive coaching from qualified coaches initially, but still ended up playing at this level. There are many players back home who can be better than me.

“They just need guidance and backing from the government. The Pakistan Rugby Union [PRU] officials are doing their best in the resources they have.

“If the top authorities back rugby, I can safely bet that we will make a name in this sport. The government should invest in it as we are not doing well in games like squash and hockey.”

Zahid praised the PRU consultant and Pakistan head coach Roger Coombs for his dedication to the promotion of rugby in Pakistan.

“Rugby needs promotion at the grassroots level. It should be held in schools. Coombs is playing a vital part by focusing on school children who are taking interest in this sport.

“Our rugby will grow in leaps and bounds if this process continues.”

Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2014.

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