Iran makes mark on international stage
By Chris Thau
While the eyes of the world concentrate on the IRB Rugby World Cup 2007 rollercoaster in France, elsewhere in lands far away, the game keeps moving ahead in its own idiosyncratic way, taking small steps forward, or sideways, as new clubs and Unions emerge and new matches and challenges are fought.
After several years of fragmented reports about rugby developments within Iran, the news that the recently formed national team has made its international debut on 18 August, came as a bit of a surprise.
Even more remarkable was the news that Iran, who literally has had no international contact of any kind before this match, managed to defeat Pakistan by 22 points to 11 in Pakistan, scoring in the process four tries to the home side's solitary effort. Flanker Ahmad Zare-Manesh of Teheran RFC will go down in history as his country’s first international try-scorer, with lock forward Yousef Jalali as the kicker of the conversion and the author of another try.
Vartazarian the catalyst
The catalyst of Iran's unexpected arrival on the world's stage is Emil Vartazarian, fly half, former captain of India and senior development officer in Tamil-Nandu in southern India.
Iranian-born Vartazarian, who learned his trade at the famous Armenian college in Calcutta, taught by Ashram Sokiaas, one of India's foremost players, teachers and game developers, was invited back to the country of his birth to help coach the newly-formed national team. He takes up the story:
"This was the first time for many things. It was the first time we were selecting a national team, it was the first international Test match, first match outside Iran and especially my first International as a coach, so I think there was a mixed feeling of anxiety and suspense not knowing what to expect and what we were getting into.
" In my earlier visit as an IRB trainer for conducting and officiating a referees course in 2006 I had the opportunity to screen some of the players at the training sessions and I know that these boys, given a fair chance, could do well, if given a chance to prove themselves.
Eager to learn
“I taught them a few aspects of the game and they were all crazy about learning more and more. One could see the hunger for knowledge in their eyes. When I was asked to take over as coach I was very excited. I knew that the fit and hard Iranians could dominate physically Pakistan, even though the latter had played international games before.
“I also knew that the Iranian players had the pieces of the puzzle and all they needed was for someone to guide them to put them together in the right way. These guys just love the physical aspect of the game and the challenge," Vartazarian said.
"We had two weeks of vigorous camp and I picked 24 from the 50-strong squad, who attended the camp. I gave them a friendly game with one of the clubs in Tehran and they just did exactly what they were told - so much that after the game they were really shocked by what they had achieved. Literally, it clicked.
“Some walked up to me after the match and even said that "Now we know what rugby is all about." It was then that I knew that we shall have a great game in store for Pakistan and I was very positive that we could win the match if only everyone did what was expected of them.
“When we went to Pakistan, of course being a very big occasion the players were a little tight and nervous so the initial 20 minutes was very scary since anything could have happened. But as the game progressed the boys started getting the points on board and we kept on putting the pressure and finally it paid off at the end.
“All credit should go to the boys as they showed that they are mature players and can handle pressure. And I am glad that my first international match was a success. I have to say that this is the beginning of a team that has great potential and it will be a force to reckon with in the near future if handled properly.”
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