Ipswich Rugby Club sign Pakistan international skipper Arsalan Zahid
- Credit: Archant
History will be made tomorrow should Ipswich Rugby Club’s new lock make his debut in the London 2 North clash at Norwich.
The name Arsalan Zahid will not be familiar to most people in the UK, but in Pakistan, “Alex” as he is affectionately known is an extremely popular figure.
The 29-year-old is team captain of the Pakistani national team, which plays in the HSBC Asian Five Nations’ (Division Four) and is the first player from Pakistan to play the game outside of his home country.
The Lahore-born player will be in Ipswich until April 12 (end of the season), having successfully applied for a sports visa and explained how the move to the Humber Doucy Lane promotion-hopefuls came about.
“Roger Coombs (former Woodbridge Rugby coach) is the Pakistan national coach and he told me about Ipswich and the fact they were looking for a lock,” explained Zahid.
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“I was put in contact with Ipswich director of rugby Karl King and it all happened pretty quickly from there.
“My move is really big news in Pakistan, everyone is really excited, and I hope it will encourage other players to do the same.
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“There was a lot to consider before I decided to make the move but I wanted to play more rugby as we only play two internationals a year with Pakistan and the national league is at a developmental stage.”
He added: “I am looking forward to the challenge. I would say I am a good ball carrier, can be aggressive and am deceptively quick for a lock.”
Pakistan finished second in the latest round of HSBC Asian Five Nations games earlier this year, losing to Lebanon 45-12, having earlier beaten Laos 31-25 in the semi-finals.
Similar to Qatar, for whom former Hadleigh winger Gav Millar is now an international, Pakistan is very much an emerging nation in the game.
“Pakistan has been on the circuit for a while now and our first game was in 2003,” said Zahid, who has been captain for two years.
“We have been playing a lot of teams and development of the game over there is going pretty well.
“We are taking the game in to schools and hopefully we can attract players when they are young who will enjoy playing it. We have started seeing more players taking part in the game as I think they can see what an athletic and aggressive sport it can be.”
Zahid arrived in Ipswich on Wednesday and has already been given a warm welcome by those that have met him.
“Rugby brings everyone together as a community and the people from the club I have met so far have been so nice to me,” Ipswich’s new lock added.
The club is striking up solid relationships with players from abroad. Empangeni Rugby Club in Kwa Zulu Natal welcomed Sam Goodwin, a promising young ex-pupil of Westbourne School into their club and homes.
In return they have sent Corne Els who is known for his tenacity and ball in hand skills, as well as his kicking game that makes him a first choice at 10 or 15.
Els has been an integral part this season and looks set to continue as the team’s promotion campaign heads towards a crucial stage.