Former national rugby skipper
Jagjit Singh lives by the mantra, 'no pain, no gain’.
Jag Power isn’t a new comic book superhero but the monicker of Jagjit Singh, a rugby star in the 1970s and 80s. He used to hog the headlines in the sports pages when he was a national rugby player and the team skipper.
Nowadays, Jagjit, 65, is a gentleman of leisure. Thrice weekly, he meets his buddies for a game of golf. But his interest in rugby has not waned over the years. Whenever he can, he goes to watch live rugby matches, sometimes travelling out of state where necessary.
Jagjit’s passion for the sport has been passed down to his daughter, Jasmine Kaur Bhatt, 29, who is currently training to play for Malaysia at the 2014 Asian Games which will be held in South Korea from Sept 19 to Oct 4. She hopes to be selected for the national squad.
Jasmine has fond childhood memories of watching her dad playing in tournaments. The sport made an impression on the young child then. However, she only took up the game seriously when she went to New Zealand to further her studies.
“I learnt to play rugby while studying at the University of Otago in New Zealand. I started by learning how to throw the ball,” said Jasmine, who plays the “lock” position.
Although rugby is often said to be a man’s sport, Jasmine is bent on pursuing her passion for the game. She has every encouragement from her father. It helps, too, that mum is former track queen Datuk Marina Chin.
“My dad and my best friend would watch me play and give advice. They are my biggest critics,” said Jasmine, who is attached to an audit firm.
Jagjit is thrilled to have his daughter follow in his footsteps, although his son, Ashvinder Singh Bhatt, 26, prefers pinball.
At an interview at Cobra Rugby Club in Petaling Jaya, Jagjit brought a scrapbook of yellowed newspaper clippings bearing treasured memories of his rugby days. He lamented that he did not have any old photographs to cherish his heyday.
Jagjit began playing rugby at 14.
“I was picked to play rugby by the rugby master because of my height and physique,” said Jagjit, who stands at 1.8m.
Then a Form Two student of Anderson School, Ipoh, Jagjit was 1.7m tall and weighed 65kg. He played second row forward.
“The role of a forward is to fight for the ball and distribute it to the back line (who are the runners),” explained Jagjit. His parents were not too happy that he chose a rough sport. They feared for his safety but did not discourage him.
“As a sportsman, I feared no injury,” said Jagjit, who was thankful that he sustained only minor injuries during his 25-year rugby career.
When he was in Form Three, Jagjit represented his school in the second rugby team. In Form Four, he made it to the school’s first rugby team. In Form Five, he was in the school’s first team and Perak’s under-23 rugby team.
He was awarded the school colours for rugby.
“I felt very proud and honoured to be recognised as a good rugby player during school assembly,” Jagjit recalled, adding that he also played hockey, football, cricket and took part in athletics.
From 1968 to 1969, Jagjit played rugby and hockey for the Perak team. In 1970, he came down to Kuala Lumpur and joined the National Electricity Board (NEB). That same year, Jagjit signed up with the Cobra Rugby Club and was selected to play for Selangor. The following year, he was picked to represent the country. That marked the start of his rugby career in which he played forward position.
Jagjit was captain of the Selangor (state) and national teams from 1977. A tactician, he proved to be a good leader who could motivate his team to do their best.
Jagjit spoke fondly of his sifu, Roy Leslie Holder, who had excellent leadership qualities.
“He was a very good motivator. He was my captain when I played for Perak (for two years) and the coach of the Malaysian team in 1972. He was the one I admired most in my rugby career. He was a very skilful player, too.”
At 19, Jagjit was the youngest player in the Perak state team and Holder’s favourite.
He still remembers his best moments in rugby – as a player for clubs, state and country. He won local leagues, and national and international tournaments.
In 1978, Jagjit was picked Rugby Player of the Year, and was a nominee for the Sportsman of the Year award. That year, he left NEB and joined a trading company. In 1982, he moved to another company where he served as manager and company secretary before retiring in 2012.
Jagjit played in the Hong Kong Seven-A-Side from 1975 to 1983, Asian Rugby Championship every two years (1972 to 1982) and SEA Games in 1975 and 1977.
Jagjit called it quits in 1987 when the injuries he sustained over the years, took a toll on his body.
Almost three decades later, his knees and back still hurt occasionally, requiring physiotherapy for pain relief. During such times, Jagjit is reminded of how, as skipper of the team, he used to push the boys to train hard with his mantra, “no pain, no gain”.
But Jagjit has no regrets. He had given his all for a sport he loved, and now he can sit back and bask in the glow of a job well done.
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