Dulaj Perera | (Pic by Kelum C Nelumdeniya)

Sri Lanka intensely looks to improve from its fourth place finish last season with the first leg of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series 2016 kicking off in Hong Kong a few days ago.
From playing in less than a handful of seven-a-side rugby tournaments in the past, Sri Lanka now gets the opportunity not only to dream big in this abbreviated form of rugby union, but also to play in a level playing field-the Asian circuit.

One positive factor about the present officials at the SLRFU is that they have identified that sevens rugby should be given priority and are willing to allocate finances for this endeavour. Hiring both a foreign coach, Mat Turner, and a trainer in Nicolas Groube, gives the clear message that the men occupying the top seats in the SLRFU executive committee expect results for the investments they are making.

Sri Lanka’s players are no strangers to this kind of culture in rugby at present where investment on one side naturally demands performance on the other side of the equation. The investment made on behalf of players is the costs borne by the SLRFU to give them exposure at international tournaments. However, they have got used to a different kind of reward scheme at home with clubs paying them handsomely for turning out in the domestic tournaments. The phrase ‘player investment’ is not very complicated if players view the rugby set-up with a broad mind, without entertaining selfish motives.

At present, a good number of our sevens stars have made themselves unavailable for the Asia Sevens series which will comprise three legs. A noticeable factor in the absentees is that the majority are from Kandy SC. Could it be that the Nittawela Club has made its players understand that they need to be fit when the domestic season commences soon and hence should decide wisely about what they chose to do at present? If there is one club which plans for the domestic rugby season with a brand of loyalty that the SLRFU would dream its players to show when called up for duty, it’s Kandy Sports Club.
Players in the likes of Fazil Marija, Nigel Ratwatte, Gayan Weeraratne, Anurudhdha Willawara, Shehan Pathirana, Richard Dharmapala, Lavanga Perara and Sohiru Anthony from Kandy SC are surprisingly missing from the Sri Lankan line-up for this tour. Why?
It is all the more important that Sri Lanka gets a head start in this series where its third leg will be hosted in this little island a few weeks from now. The second leg of the tournament will be hosted by South Korea.

There seems to be a resurgence in sevens rugby in Sri Lanka with the islanders winning the Asian under-20 and 18 tournaments recently. Riding on a winning wave is good and indicates that the country’s authorities are doing a lot of groundwork to move on in the international scene. The best thing that can happen to the future of rugby is when budding players who perform well in overseas tournaments quickly make their graduation into the senior side. This can be said about players like Omalka Guneratne, Kevin Dixon, Tarinda Ratwatte and Hirantha Perera.

The team to Hong Kong is led by Danushka Ranjan who carries a wealth of experience having been a regular in the senior national side. He is a powerfully built player and can inspire anyone on the field with his jaw dropping runs and commitment to take the ball over the line. Apart from some names of players penned in this piece already, others with a knack for sevens rugby like Sashan Mohammed, Dulaj Perera, Danush Dayan, Dinusha Chathuranga, Jason Dissanayake, Kavindu Perera and season campaigner Saliya Handapangoda have been named in the squad.

The Asia Rugby Sevens Series has attracted entries from countries like Japan, South Korea, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Chinese Taipei and Sri Lanka.