Sri Lanka women’s rugby player Sujani Malkanthi Rathnayake knows that playing this robust game is no mean task. Sujani is well aware that she has to get her shorts and jersey dirty and receive blows during a collision situation on the field. Sujani, during an interview with Nation said that a woman can gain a lot by playing rugby. This is because compared to the Sri Lankan men’s rugby team the women’s team stands a better chance of performing in the international scene.
Sujani is a typical village lass who took to rugby after enlisting in the Sri Lanka Army. She did remarkably well in athletics at her school, Lunuwatte Central in Uva Paranagama. When she joined the Sri Lanka Army in 2003 she wanted to pursue sports. But her running skills were spotted soon and she was guided to the rugby field. Till then she had only seen rugby on television.
Sujani picked up the rudiments of the game fast. Living the life of a villager, where she had to run to school and back, gave her an advantage physically when she began her rugby career. She can remember her first coach at the army Prabath Naranthota telling her, “If you want to make progress in sport then continue rugby.” When she took part in the inter-unit tournament her place was secured in this sport.
She was a dainty lady once, but not anymore. “The rugby workouts I do and the knocks received on the field have toughened me. I have gained weight and look very different now. Sometimes I have to identify myself when I meet friends after a long time,” is how Sujani explained the transformation in her personality after taking to rugby.
However, Sujani is quick to point out that despite there being a change in appearance she is still the same individual within. “The culture I live in and my lifestyle haven’t changed one bit,” she said.
She took this opportunity to thank the Army Commander Lieutenant General Crishantha de Silva, Rugby Chairman General Aruna Perera, Colonel Manjula Wijesinghe, Colonel Bathiya Jayaweera, Army rugby coach Meepage, the Women’s Centre Commandant and Colonel Commandant for the help extended to her to pursue her rugby career. She also mentioned that she received the blessings and encouragement from her boyfriend Neville Perera to play competitive rugby.
Sujani has been a regular in the national team since 2003. She has received her fair share of knocks on the field. “If you play the game hard and make sure your moves are technically correct you stand less chance of getting injured,” she said explaining why her 13-year-long career was virtually injury free except for a slight sprain of her knee on one occasion. The highlight in her career was being a member of the Bowl Trophy winning team at the 2005 Asian Championship in Singapore. This feat stands tall over her other rugby achievements because this is the first time a women’s rugby team from Sri Lanka won a trophy at an international tournament.
A typical day’s schedule will include rugby practices and very often a training session in the gym. She said she avoids excessive oil and chili in her food and takes only vitamins, but no supplements. “Rugby is a part of my life, but it is not everything for me,” said Sujani who is the eldest in a family of two sisters and a brother.
She has realized that she can’t play rugby forever. This is why she has completed the IRB Level 1 and 2 Coaching Certificate courses with the view of taking to coaching.
Sujani has come a long way in rugby and is proud of the fact that she is a national player. Her achievement must be lauded and her approach to the sport should be observed by all keen students of the game. But there is one advice to women who wish to take to rugby. “You can’t play rugby if you are afraid,” she said.