One can safely say that Sri Lanka’s rugby has come of age after its telling performances at the ongoing Asian Sevens Series. If one takes a close look at the Sri Lankan rugby set-up, these jaw gaping performances were possible largely because the SLRFU put the coaching and support structure in order by investing heavily on these departments. Mathew Turner (coach), Nicolas Groube (trainer), Amith Jayasekera (physio) and a manager like Rohan Chinthaka, who boasts of a bagful of experience in rugby union, combining as support staff ensures the players are well coached, physically conditioned and injury-free for the second leg of the Asian Sevens Series which will be hosted by South Korea this weekend.
The next big news in the rugby scene is former SLRFU president Priyantha Ekanayake accepting to function as the next CEO of the island’s rugby governing body. As much as a solid structure at the SLRFU will give confidence to the players, it will also help Sri Lanka’s rugby governing body to attract sponsors and the attention of the corporate sector. This was quite evident at the recent Super Sevens Series which had foreign flavour.
Unlike in the past the players are conditioned so much, thanks to a set-up which ensures that they have some kind of serious rugby activity throughout the year. Now what needs attention is the camping of players before a tournament which is essential to create understanding among players.
Sri Lankans in the past have had the tendency to deviate from the game plan and expose their weaknesses when contesting International Sevens tournaments. This is why coach Turner has emphasized that players must stick to the game plan drawn for the players after taking into consideration the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. Sticking religiously to the game plan has its rewards and a good example for this is Japan getting the best of All Blacks at the Sevens Tournament in Rio.
Sri Lanka is in a safe group (B) at the second leg of the Asian Sevens Series. Singapore and China might not trouble the Sri Lankans given that the islanders have always performed well against such opposition. But there is anxiety when focusing on Malaysia because this Asian rugby playing nation has resident Fijian nationals cleared to represent them. This feature has made Malaysia an unpredictable side in the Asian Sevens Series.
The Sri Lankans are led in the series by Dhanushka Ranjan who has shown tremendous improvement as a player who has a big appetite for sevens rugby. This player learned the rugby basics at Piliyandala Central and thanks to the sport climbed several rungs in the ladder of life to get where he is today. He finished his junior rugby at a prestigious academic institute in Colombo like St. Peter’s College and continued his passion for rugby by enrolling at Havelock Sports Club.
Players in the likes of skipper Ranjan, Dulaj Perera, Kavindu Perera, Omalka Guneratne, Sashan Mohammed, Hirantha Perera, Danusha Dayan, Tarinda Ratwatte, Saliya Handapangoda along with new additions like Kanchana Ramanayake, Srinath Sooriyabandara and Richard Dharmapala strengthen the islanders’ chances at the two-day tournament. Sri Lanka will be unfortunate to miss the services of Jason Dissanayake and Kevin Dixon who are nursing injuries. Regular sevens player Sudarshan Muthuthantri has not been named in the squad for South Korea. If the recuperation sessions go to plan, these two players could be in the starting line-up for the third and final leg of the Asian Sevens Series which will be hosted by Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka emerged as a surprise package when it made the final of the first leg of the series and met hosts Hong Kong in the Cup Championship final. Sri Lanka went down fighting 22-17.
Japan was quite disappointing at that edition of the tournament and had to be contended with winning the Plate Championship final. The Asian rugby giants beat Singapore 7-0 in the final.
Sri Lanka’s potential for sevens rugby at one time knew its limits. But a strengthened structure fuelled by professional decision making has made the island’s national sevens team dream of moving ahead in the international rugby scene.