Colac man makes history in underwater rugby

Underwater rugby is a fast-paced game which bears no resemblance to land rugby.  CREDIT: Shuaib Yeung

Underwater rugby is a fast-paced game which bears no resemblance to land rugby. CREDIT: Shuaib Yeung

FORMER Colac man Oliver Barrand will captain Australia’s first national underwater rugby team in a clash with the world’s best.

Underwater rugby involves two teams of 12 players dressed in swimming costumes and snorkelling gear, trying to put a ball in a basket-like goal at the bottom of a five-metre deep pool.

The players need to remove the opposition’s goalie who is lying with their back firmly on top of the goal.

Oliver Barrand. CREDIT: Laurachel Ventus

Oliver Barrand. CREDIT: Laurachel Ventus

But Barrand, 31, says the sport is “a very fast-paced game” which has strict rules and “bears no resemblance” to land rugby.

“The name can be very misleading, there are no tries, you don’t have to pass backwards and in terms of the scoring, the score line is similar to soccer,” he said.

Barrand works as a science educator at Sydney’s CSIRO and has been playing the “amazing” sport since 2009, but admits the first time he heard about it he thought it was a joke.

“I went along partly out of curious fascination – it turned out to be an amazing sport,” he said.

“It is a game that is played in three dimensions where you can move up and down as well as forward and side to side; you virtually play without gravity, it’s not a factor as much as in other sports.”

Barrand, the son of Robyn and Michael Barrand, said the game required an “explosive style to make the biggest impact in the shortest time”.

“In terms of the physical aspect it is quite unique, on average you stay down 30 seconds at a time – there are only six players in the water at a time, the other six are on the bench,” Barrand said.

“When you are holding your breath, you don’t have time to muck around, you have to pass very quickly to avoid opposition players rather than get caught up in arm wrestles with the ball,” he said.

“It’s a full-contact sport – anyone who is holding the ball can be tackled under the water by opposition players.

“It’s all done in complete silence, you can’t call for your teammates, you can’t give audible signals and it requires a lot of trust.

“We spend a lot of time in training rehearsing particular tactics, we need to respond in a co-ordinated way, we kind of communicate with a sixth sense,” he said.

Barrand will head off on Thursday to Colombia with his team to acclimatise to conditions before competing in the World Underwater Federation’s tenth Underwater Rugby World Championship.

“The three cities we are playing in are above 800 metres elevation – as if it wasn’t bad enough that we have to hold our breath underwater, but now we are going to be doing it at high altitude,” he said.

“Just another reason to be training as hard as we can.”

The underwater rugby tournament kicks off July 26 to August 1 with live streaming available at www.uwrworldchampionship.com/streaming/

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