Sri Lanka under 20 national rugby coach Sanath Martis

Under 20 Asian Rugby Championship in Singapore

By Ravi Nagahawatte

When the members of the Sri Lanka Under 20 rugby squad came under the watchful eyes of Sanath Martis, the head coach wanted his chargers to understand that the number one goal associated with the upcoming Asian Rugby Championship was not about representing the country. The no-nonsense coach made everyone take it into their heads that they could join this elite rugby squad if they make winning the Tier 1 competition of the Asian Championship their only goal.

“Look at Sri Lanka’s performance at the last Asian junior rugby championships. We were knocking at the door. We have the potential to win it this time,” said Martis who added that emerging the winner in the upcoming tournament in Singapore would also mean receiving qualification to contest the Tier 2 of the Junior Rugby World Cup.

A 35-member squad has just arrived from Diyatalawa after training. According to Martis the players were taken away from Colombo because of pressure applied on his chargers by rugby clubs was becoming a distraction. Informed sources revealed to that certain clubs which have signed contracts with certain players in the squad want their services for the inter-club league rugby tournament which will kick off on November 20 (Friday). From the 35 players in the squad, 11 have signed up with Navy, 6 with Havelocks SC, 4 with CR&FC and 3 with Police SC.

Clubs have promised financial remuneration to these schoolboy rugby players and want them for the curtain raiser of the Dialog Inter-club League Rugby Championship, scheduled this week. The Asian Rugby Championship is scheduled for December and there is already tension between the schools rugby authorities and the clubs, contesting the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union conducted league rugby tournament. A rugby storm is brewing, but coach Martis is confident his charges wouldn’t have a change of heart. “The clubs can’t dictate terms to the players. They (players) are loyal to the country, not the clubs,” said Martis who will be assisted during the tour by Colin Denish.

Martis said that he had reminded the boys that their loved ones, parents and they themselves are physically present in Sri Lanka and thus they should have no difficulty in judging for themselves where their priority should lie.

The only real worry with the side at present is the fitness of some players because of the long break they’ve enjoyed from rugby after the school season concluded. According to Martis, the squad won’t have the services of a fitness trainer, but he himself will look into fitness needs of the players.

Sri Lanka will contest the tournament alongside teams from countries like Hong Kong, Singapore and Chinese Taipei.

The players have gone through several trials and there will be another trial scheduled for November 23. Only 25 players will book their tickets to Singapore. Martis said that there was a delay in naming the captain because he wanted more time to analyze the players and name as captain the most suitable one among his chargers.

Martis said that some selectors weren’t aware of the results of some of the tournaments these players had contested. As a result the selectors were depending entirely on the outcome of all these trials. Up to now three trials have been held.

Asked whether those who make the final squad will be granted some time off rugby when they are in Singapore because this is, in a away, a trip for them abroad, Martis had this to say, “I am quite aware that we as Sri Lankans are expected to bring gifts to our loved ones when returning from abroad. I will allow some time for shopping, but all that will be supervised by me. These players are still kids and they have to be reminded what their priorities are”.

Martis said that Sri Lankans have a culture of competing in rugby inside this country. “I doubt it whether we have a correct plan in place to take rugby forward. A structured plan is needed by the rugby administrators to uplift the standard of rugby,” said Martis.

(Picture courtesy Facebook)