When Roshan Weeraratne’s team Kandy Sports Club smashed CH&FC 96-0 in their opening match this season, the rugby fans from the hill country weren’t over the moon. They wanted a score over 100 points. That’s how demanding the Kandy rugby fans are. Kandy SC skipper Weeraratne took time off his busy schedule while in Colombo for a match last week and spoke his heart out in an interview with Weekend Nation during which he revealed why the team from the Nittawela Club is a force in the club rugby scene.
From the boy carrying water on to the field to the 24 players enlisted for a match, the role for each individual is specified. Everything at Kandy SC works like a well oiled machine. “Discipline is number one and the structure is in place. The club knows the profile of each player and individual attention is given. These are some of the key contributing factors that make our rugby team the best,” said Weeraratne who is playing his seventh season for the rugby team from the Central Province which won both the league and knock-out tournaments last season.
He learnt some form of rugby when dabbling with an oval shaped ball at a ground close to his home in Mapunawathura. This was a meeting place for rugby enthusiasts who dabbled in touch rugby. Most of these boys showed their brilliance, but not Weeraratne. His progress in rugby was slow. That’s when his parents enlisted him at a mini rugby programme conducted in Kandy. With contributions being made to his welfare by his elder brother Gayan, the lad made quick improvements and ended up captaining the first XV side of Kingswood College.
Like all promising schoolboy rugby players in Kandy experiencing a scout approaching them, he too was spoken to just before bidding adieu to his Alma Mater. It was none other than rugby promoter Malik Samarawickreme. Weeraratne then settled in a club which shaped his life in the form of a professional. He didn’t need any motivation to get up early each day and be at the Nittawela ground at 6.30 am where training goes on till 8.30 am. He returns for training again in the evening where an official practice session is conducted from 5pm to 7 pm, under lights. Does this lifestyle mean that a 26-year-old professional like him doesn’t enjoy any freedom? “Look, the club treats us like professionals. This encourages us to take a professional approach to rugby, which, in a way, leaves us no time to think or do any other thing,” he said.
According to Weeraratne, as many as 40 players have been contracted by the Kandy SC authorities. However, just 24 players are selected for a game. “We tell the players not to worry about not being in the starting line-up. They are told that they were given contracts because they are good enough to represent Kandy SC. But any player who doesn’t make it to the starting line-up must get the message that he is not starting because there is something lacking in him. We encourage our players to improve all the time,” said the Kandy SC captain.
This season the authorities at Kandy SC have set the players lofty goals. According to Weeraratne, the players are hoping to finish the season as unbeaten champions while keeping their goal line uncrossed. The other goal set for the players is not to give away any penalties this season.
He said that players too have their individual goals. “I want to reach my peak as a player. I am trying to be a much improved player,” said Weeraratne.
Asked whether the decision taken to join Kandy can be justified, he had this to say, “A rugby player lives with the risk of getting injured any time. But even if a player does get injured, the club knows how to look after its players. The club never gives up on injured players.”
The rugby crowds that flock to Nittawela are diehard rugby fans. Weeraratne knows the importance of their presence and how they can add to the rugby culture present in the Central hills. They are vociferous at times and want only Kandy SC to win. What does Weeraratne feel about a team like CH&FC which got pummelled in the opener? “During the game no thought was spared to show some mercy to a team like them. But afterwards I felt sorry. I tell all teams not to give up,” he opined.