Ajith Abeyratne

The rugby players of Ceylonese Rugby & Football Club (CR&FC) showed amazing powers of resurgence to survive a spate of injuries and still make it to the Clifford Cup finals.

They don’t have stars this season. Injuries to key players at crucial junctures of the league tournament threatened to dent their confidence. Everybody knew the Red Shirts were the third best team in the club scene. And they leapt that huge distance to second spot during the knockout stage, a feat which Chairman Rugby at CR&FC Ajith Abeyratne puts down to ‘getting the combinations right’.

“We started the season with a lot of youngsters, but we knew that we were on a springboard which would propel us to greater heights,” is how Abeyratne began explaining the success CR has experienced this season.

In Abeyratne’s words, CR&FC has shown it is fit enough to make a comeback. “We changed our style a bit. The boys started making the breaks from inside their own half. Most of the tries we scored were from such breaks. This is the sort of rugby that the spectator enjoys. It’s about not closing up the game, opening it out and putting an end to the endless kicks and rucks,” explained Abeyratne.

CR was blessed with a lot of young talent. Top school leavers like Tariq Ali, Rehan Silva, Tarinda Ratwatte, Banuka Nanayakkara, Shyamal Weerasekare, Prince Chamara and Jason Dissanayake enrolling at the club meant they could be competitive despite not having in their ranks any national players who play 15-a-side rugby. Abeyratne said that the talent that came their way was so good that they virtually ‘walked into the side’.

He praised coach Imthie Marikar for his inputs adding, “He is knowledgeable in modern coaching methods and is structured in his coaching”. Marikar is assisted by Shamly Nawaz and M.J. Mushtaq (Assistant coaches). Dunstan de Silva is the Manager. Team members have been obtaining fitness instructions online from trainer Darren Collins.

There is also skipper Ishan Noor, but most of his contributions have to be spoken of in the past. At present he has been a great influence on the side as an observer due to injury. “He has been a good captain on and off the field,” the big boss of CR&FC rugby said. Former Wesley player Shane Sambandaperuma is leading the Red Shirts in Noor’s absence.

CR survived a mass exodus of players a few seasons ago when two new clubs, now defunct, were born. The club has the ability to hang in there during difficult times and the authorities try to inculcate this habit in the players. According to Abeyratne, the players are paid a monthly allowance and even found gainful employment through some of the most influential members.

CR clawed their way back into contention during the knockout tournament. What the win against Havelock SC in the Clifford Cup semi finals did to them was similar to someone telling an elephant adding colour to a pageant, how big he is. “There is a lot of confidence in the CR camp about beating Kandy SC on Saturday,” said Abeyratne.