Most of the popular rugby playing schools in Sri Lanka are similar to large trees in a forest. Their huge presence guarantees that these trees receive the best of it when there is rain and sunshine. The situation in the school rugby scene is also similar to how territory is dominated by these big trees. The less popular schools often nurture players who are then snapped up by the giant rugby playing schools which promise better prospects. This situation will remain till the divide between the rich and not so affluent academic institutes exist.
This season we saw Science College Mount Lavinia pull out of the knockout tournament citing financial difficulties. How many rugby schools would have played this season on a shoe-string budget? How many players would have been lost to less popular rugby playing schools because the players they nurtured observed that if they are to reach the next stage of school rugby they need to go in search of greener pastures?
Coming back to Science College making itself unavailable for a grand tournament like the knockout, what does it tell us? There is a huge rugby carnival like thing going on, but there are also academic institutes which are starving. The question is if rugby is one big family how come the authorities turn a blind eye on those whose struggles might not be enough to continue playing next season?
It is a known fact that most of these rugby playing schools are backed by Old Boys’ Unions. These groups often comprise parents whose children are representing the school at rugby. History has shown that these rugby officials serve these committees till their offspring are in school and make their exit hurriedly when these players finish their education with these institutes. This is mostly the case with groups of old boys seeing to the rugby interests of less popular schools.
Another factor that doesn’t allow the less popular rugby playing schools to blossom is that the top coaches revolve around these elite rugby playing schools. Some of these leading rugby playing schools go on to hire foreign coaches and snap up some of the best local coaches to handle junior rugby at their institutes. As a result, some schools might have an excess of coaches while some of the lesser known rugby playing schools might have to see rugby at all levels survive with a solitary coach.
Many rugby critics have opined that the Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association must step in and ensure that the less popular rugby playing schools have the minimum basic facilities once they (these schools) decide to take part in tournaments. There have been pathetic situations in past years where schools have struggled to find an adequate number of reserves to accompany the players making the starting line-up.
It is also the opinion of many in the rugby fraternity that a schoolboy rugby player should not be entertained in another school if he is over 15 years old. Players enrolling in new schools must do it early so that they have time to absorb the culture of the new school and make the transformation smoothly without harming the rugby structure of the school he leaves.
The SLSRFA should not only merely conduct tournament, but also be observant in whether the less affluent rugby schools are performing, struggling or chocking.