St. Joseph’s College First XV rugby pool for 2016 | Pix by Chamila Karunaratne

The rugby boys at St. Joseph’s College Maradana know that they’ll be good only as much as they practice this season. The Josephians too have hopes, but remaining competitive in the Division 1 segment of the inter-school under-20 rugby tournament calls for hard work, improved skills and commitment.

The team’s coach Bilal Yusuf knows the journey ahead of him is tough, given that the side has lost 11 players who were in the starting line-up last season. Their target? “Our goal is to remain among the top five this season,” Bilal told Nation in an interview done before the boys went in for a training session at CR&FC grounds in Colombo.

Bilal said that he is keenly observing how the inexperienced players will handle pressure. According to him, the boys have continued from where they stopped last season. “I think I was able to instill at St. Joseph’s a culture of working hard at rugby. You can see the boys now training before the coach arrives,” he said.

Romesh Priyankara (Captain) | Bilal Yusuf (Coach)
Romesh Priyankara (Captain) | Bilal Yusuf

One of the requirements of Bilal was to have the ground and gym in one location. He said he is thankful to the school authorities and Rugby Hornets (The committee that serves Joes rugby) for arranging practices at CR&FC, which puts the infrastructure in one place.

Joes, led by centre Romesh Priyankara, are going to battle Royal, Trinity, S. Thomas’, Wesley and D.S. Senanayake College in segment 1 A. He said he would be extra careful in handling these boys and affirmed, “These are school kids. One shouldn’t put extra pressure on them”.

Bilal highlighted a fact that threatens the health of the country’s school rugby population which is the rampant usage of performance enhancing drugs. “It is very difficult to prove these things, but we all know it’s there. The only alternative I can give to drugs is talk about the side effects from taking them,” said Bilal whose long term goal for St. Joseph’s is to win the league in 2017.