Rugby is a man’s game where those with brawn are looked upon with interest akin to the large elephants going in a pageant. Being big in rugby union offers some assurance that such players get to carry the ball forward, more than others. Kandy SC had its share of big players this season, but the medium built Fazil Marija received enough attention on the field among the giants. He stood out for possessing one of the most perfect or sculptured bodies that can be found on a rugby field. It was amazing to see how he created patterns on the rugby field with his powerful runs and intriguing footwork. All this was seen by those who can merely keep ‘looking’ at a game of rugby. However, those who can ‘see’ will vouch that the most outstanding feature about Marija  is that he enjoys every minute of rugby while on the field.

He was king among the fly halves who wore the number 10 jersey in the 2016 domestic club rugby season. ‘Marija the player’ can be attributed to rugby’s amazing ways of turning an individual in to an icon. When he took to rugby as a kid he was nothing more than his parent’s son. Several years in to the game, his kith and kin receive prominence because they are identified with him and his rugby. That’s how rugby serves the individual and society. But rugby also has its ways of dealing blows.

Somewhere midway into the Inter-club league tournament, Marija had to be pulled out of the game due to a reoccurring back injury. The speedster was even admitted to hospital, leaving a rugby community breathless for a few days till everybody received the good news about his fast recovery. In a telephone interview Marija told this writer that rugby had taught him to face great challenges and he was confident he’ll pull through these dark times.

Rugby fans didn’t see him for some time. The length of his absence was similar to a drought in the forest. But those present at Race Course on March 26 (Saturday) saw him choose the Clifford Cup final to make his comeback. The players were on the field by 4.30 pm and in the scorching sun Marija chose to be a shadow of his former self. More than anything else he had programmed his mind to play ‘safety first rugby’.

One of his earliest moves in the game with the ball was dazzling enough, but when anticipating a collision with the opposition he threw the ball away. What might have gone on in the mind of Marija from the moment he stepped out on the field? He probably thought of his injury, but it was clear from his next few moves that he slowly switched focus on to the game. The mind had to deviate from the disks and the spinal cord to the rugby ball, not forgetting all the little avenues open where a team member could use to take the oval shaped object over the try line.

If he previously relied on his speed and muscular arms to call the shots at rugby, now he had to use wit, timing and quick reflexes to do his part of feeding the back division with possession. As the game progressed he allowed some physical contact with players, but all that was done with the precision of an expert in physics. He was tackled, but when they got him all his limbs and arms were tucked in a position of safety.

It was so important for Marija to play in that final. It was essential to show that a leader has to lead from the front and not from the bench. The new generation of players were watching him with interest. They were watching all the decisions he took on the field more than the moves he made. He overcame the final frontier, a rugby battle in rough sea. So did his team!