Nilfer Ibrahim (Picture by Sassanda Liyanarachchi)

Nilfer Ibrahim of Isipathana College rugby fame believes that too much training can be counterproductive where Sri Lanka rugby is concerned. Ibrahim said in an interview with Nation that coaches must be careful when training schoolboy rugby players because there are limits with regard to the load that a school rugby player can handle.

Ibrahim coached the lads from Havelock Town for the third consecutive year and his most recent achievement came when Isipathana College won the Cup Championship at the recent Dialog-sponsored Super Sevens. He took over the reins as head coach of Isipathana College in 2014 and made valuable input to the sides that this academic institute produced throughout the three years he served it. “Schoolboys will eventually listen to you unlike club players, but you have to have patience when handling them,” said Ibrahim. He said that he observed certain limitations within the school rugby players and the system and added, “I was able to produce results because I worked within these limitations without taxing the boys”. He was not alone in this coaching endeavour and was supported by Terrence Henry (Forwards coach), trainer Dinesh, Isipathana College Rugby Committee and rugby officials at the school.

He hailed the leadership given to the side by Kushan Indunil whom he termed as a solid captain. The players were always up to the task and played a fast furious brand of rugby that often caught the opposition on the wrong foot. “There have been callers and well-wishers from overseas who have likened this performance to the rugby produced by some of the champion Isipathana sides that the school fielded in the 1980s,” he said. As much as Ibrahim is happy with the overall results during the season, he said that he can also be contended with the school’s rugby future because the seniors have greatly influenced the juniors with a positive message. “Some opine that for rugby to flourish at a school, the junior rugby pools must be strong. I believe that if the senior teams are strong and winning, then it has a positive effect on the juniors. As for me, this equation can’t work the other way around,” he explained.

When Ibrahim was interviewed for the job in 2014, he had his concerns. He saw a big challenge in taking over a side, which the previous year, had its name associated with certain incidents where indiscipline was concerned. “I insisted that if a player gets involved in a fight during my tenor as coach, that player doesn’t continue playing rugby for Isipathana. Everybody agreed and the result was that we had zero incidents where Isipathana rugby was concerned during the past three years,” he reflected.

This season marks the 10th year in Ibrahim’s career as a rugby coach. Looking back at the past 25 years, he has invested in rugby, first as a player and then as a coach, he had this to say, “The benefits I have obtained as a coach far outweighs what I have gained as a player. I was not too happy about the returns I got as a player, but I am over the moon with regards to what coaching has brought me”.

According to Ibrahim, key players like skipper Indunil, Padmasanka and Vageesha Weerasinghe made themselves unavailable for the recent junior under 20 Asian Sevens Series due to their commitment with studies. Ibrahim observed that rugby players unlike in the past are dividing their time between paying rugby and studying. “When intelligent players are there in the squad, it makes my job easier,” he laughed.

Ibrahim has in the past accompanied the junior national team as Sri Lanka coach. This opportunity might come his way once again given that the SLRFU picks the most successful school rugby coach for this job, each year. Looking to the future of Sri Lanka rugby, Ibrahim had this to say, “Sri Lanka has the potential to win something big in the Asian rugby scene, but it’s essential that the SLRFU maintains active pools for the under 20 side, Development Team and the National team”.

With his coaching contract set to lapse at this end of this year, Ibrahim said that he was quite excited about taking up his next assignment which is to coach St. Joseph’s College at rugby next season.

The  Champion Isipathana  rugby team  (Pic by Mushtaq Thasleem)
The Champion Isipathana rugby team (Pic by Mushtaq Thasleem)