School rugby in Sri Lanka seems to be blessed because it has so much to offer the players. Apart from the much looked forward to traditional fixtures, school colours are awarded at the end of the season and the job opportunities that come their way, this time there is a bonus for them. These schoolboys are greatly benefited from an invitation received to contest the Asia Under-20 Sevens Series which has already seen the conclusion of its first leg in Johor Bahru, the Southern city in Malaysia. Rugby sources in Malaysia confirmed that Sri Lanka had finished as runners-up in the tournament and will fly with confidence to Hong Kong for the second leg of the tournament which will be worked out on August 22 – 23.

It is not easy to handle a set of schoolboy rugby players on a tour when compared to coaching a bunch of adults, doing national duty. This is why junior national rugby coach Colin Denish makes sure that the boys are disciplined and execute the plan mapped out for them while on the field. Denish, before taking off to Malaysia, in an interview with The Nation emphasised on maintaining discipline when dealing with youth sportsmen.
This is an era where schoolboy rugby players are training like professionals. Neither the school authorities nor the boys’ parents are naïve when there is a discussion about healthy nutrition, what supplements to take and how much gym work is needed to condition the boys for gruelling challenges like the Asian Sevens. “There is a huge demand on the boys because they have to do well in sport as well as perform in studies. Most of the boys have it in them to perform in studies as well as sports,” opined Denish.

But Denish warned that it is a pity to see studies and rugby clash in a country like Sri Lanka. “It is very difficult for whoever is serious about rugby to concentrate on studies, especially a final year student who is playing first XV rugby. It’s too tiring and demands are so huge in sport. This is why we (as coaches) advice players to sit for the Advanced Level Exam one year before schedule or do it the year after he leaves school. This arrangement allows the players to get the optimum results in both sports and studies,” said Denish.

As much as sports demand so much time from schoolboys, Denish believes these sportsmen should be given enough time to study. He added weight to his opinion by saying that despite the glories associated with sports, studies should be given first preference.

We’ve heard so much about junior rugby players struggling to adapt to conditions abroad, especially when it comes to living away from their parents for a few days. However, he said that the present generation of players are quite accustomed to being on their own and seldom does anyone complain of being homesick.

Denish learnt the rudiments of coaching when he assisted renowned coach Sanath Martis in coaching St. Peter’s College Bambalapitiya, Denish’s Alma Mater. Some of the teams Denish assisted as a coach went on to become champion sides. When asked whether it’s possible for a champion rugby player to use the same will and ability to succeed in studies. “This is a question I too ask most of the time. Why can’t parents who see their children become champion sportsmen make sure that their children become champion students as well? The reason for this I believe boils down to a breakdown in communication between children and parents,” explained Denish.

He sees the players in the junior national squad as the future of Sri Lanka sevens rugby. These players have played so much of 15-a-side rugby this year. He believes that adjusting to this abbreviated form of rugby in a short period of time is not beyond them. “Sri Lankans have the inbuilt ability to play sevens. When Sri Lankans play sevens rugby, anything is possible,” he said.

But the second leg of the Asian Sevens series will feature Asian giants Japan. Would the challenge of competing in the Hong Kong edition of the Asian Sevens series be tougher? “In this form of rugby, size doesn’t matter. What you need is a large heart,” he said while adding, “The players also must keep in mind that one can’t afford to make mistakes such as lose possession in an international sevens tournament because if you do so you’ll get punished severely for such errors.”

Denish sees the importance of contesting tournaments like the Asian Under-20 Sevens. He said that by participating, Sri Lanka can see for themselves where they stand in the international sevens rugby arena. “Grooming the next generation of sevens players to take over from the seniors is a huge challenge for any coach,” said Denish.

He hasn’t forgotten his beginnings as a rugby coach. This is why Denish took this opportunity to sing praise of his mentor Martis. “He (Martis) has seen me grow as a coach. There are so many things which he has put into my mind. One advice that still props up in my mind is to have full control over your body language while on the field. Martis has told me that a coach should never show he is down when walking on to the field because the opposition will pick up this signal and capitalize on it. He always reminded me that a coach has to give the signal that he is leader and is marshalling his troops on the field,” concluded Denish.