The Police Rugby team in action | (Pic by Mushtaq Thasleem)

When Chanaka Udara Sooriyapperuma walked into Sri Lanka Police in 2009, he was pretty sure where he was going in life. This is probably because he is a rugby player. Even back then he was good in rugby, but not good enough to walk into the Police First XV team. There he began his adult journey and at present he is Sub Inspector in the Special Task Force and captains the Police rugby team.

Chanaka learned the rudiments of rugby at Ananda College Maradana where he represented his school team in the Division 1 tournament. He knew that rugby gives a person status. He saw policemen in uniform early in life because his home was close to a police post. It was natural when he made the decision to wear the khaki uniform. “It’s great to be a rugby player. But it is much greater when a policeman becomes a rugby player,” he said in an interview with Weekend Nation.

It was probably a good time to join the Police in 2009. That was the year the government’s war against separatist terrorist saw an end. The present regulars in the police rugby team are released from duty. They also enjoy the best of facilities to train and make themselves competitive. But all what the department does for the rugby players can’t be considered special. All eight clubs contesting the league tournament enjoy similar facilities. “Rugby players today are bigger and faster. We have training twice a day, which includes a session in the gymnasium,” is how he revealed a bit from the life of policemen who play rugby.

Chanaka knows enough about the rich history of police rugby. The law enforcement officers were a force in domestic rugby in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. “I was told that there were times when some of the national players couldn’t find places in the police team,” he said giving an idea as to how strong the police rugby teams were of yesteryear.
That was the golden era of police rugby. When most teams borrowed muscle from other rugby playing countries, police still delivered with their own players, the ones who wore uniform.

Police captain Chanaka Sooriyapperuma | (Pic by Eshan Dissanayake)
Police captain Chanaka Sooriyapperuma |
(Pic by Eshan Dissanayake)

However, this force in the rugby scene lost steam and became quite an ordinary side during a decade or so. They emerged as a force once again in the year 2013 when they entered the Clifford Cup knockout final. The police authorities showed gratitude to the hardworking members of that team by taking them on a rugby tour to Malaysia.

The present police team has many ‘outsiders’ or contracted players. Chanaka said that some of them had already joined the police after playing a couple of seasons. “These contract players blended into the team nicely. This is what should happen in the end; them joining us. In future we want more policemen to play rugby and limit the contracted players,” he said.

The police rugby team has maintained a trait over the years if you have watched them closely. These players wearing the blue jersey play their best rugby when under pressure. This season too, like in the past, the strength in the police team lies in the pack. According to the captain most members of the team have played together for over four seasons. There is opinion formed in the rugby circles here and abroad that there should be few scrums and more lines out. Does he subscribe to this thought? “When you have a strong pack the scrum will serve as a weapon, so this theory doesn’t impress me much,” he said.

The police rugby team this season is coached by former national player Sudath Sampath. Chanaka said that he hopes to see his team finish among the top four this season. However, the team lost their first three games this season. “We made a lot of mistakes in these games. We also hope to improve on fitness,” the captain said as he spelt out his team’s plans for the future. For the record, Senior DIG R.M Latif serves as Chairman Police rugby while ASP Nizam Jamaldeen functions as Rugby Secretary.

Chanaka has many more years of rugby left in him. The 28-year-old said that he cherishes the decision taken to join the police. “I like the Police and it’s a good place to be employed. I see a bright future for myself here,” he said.