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The absence of expatriate players in the domestic tournament props is much talked of in the rugby circles (Picture by Mushtaq Thasleem)

Rugby in Sri Lanka is definitely on an upward curve. This is despite the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) deciding not to allow clubs to field expatriates during the domestic rugby season. A point must be stressed here before a wrong notion sets in the mind of the reader. This writer not only supports expatriates playing club rugby, but has also seen the locals raising their standard while playing alongside expatriates.
The talk of the town these days is CR&FC holding back their Australian recruit Rowen Perry in last week’s match against Air Force. The club at Longden Place claims they received the union to union transfer letter, but didn’t take a chance of flouting the tournament laws because they were yet to receive clearance from the SLRFU to play him.
This is a time in the sport of rugby union where most Asian nations are considering the possibility of strengthening their sides by fielding expatriates who qualify through the IRB residency rule. If Perry gets clearance and hopefully stays on for three years Sri Lanka can have him.
But there is a lot of red tape with regard to getting an overseas player cleared to play in the Sri Lankan club scene. A lady from a European country told this writer the other day that things were different during the previous regime, when the royal family had so much say in this sport. Many rugby fans say that decision making in rugby was quicker during the previous regime. It’s some time since Perry has been here and it’s a shame that getting clearance for him to play is taking a tad too long.
The Red Shirts are also having the services of an expatriate coach in Ben McDougal. These expatriates have the team’s interest at heart and don’t allow their minds to wonder into a far away future before their contact period is over. Expatriate coaches like George Simpkins, Tulagaese Tavita and Johan Taylor are classic examples of coaches who delivered in a Sri Lankan sports system which is often blamed for hiring people who are incompetent.
Another team which is having the services of an expatriate coach and trainer is Army Sports Club. The ‘Soldiers’ have obtained the services of Fijians Fereti Verebula (Coach) and Manu Veikoso (Trainer). Army played pretty well against Sri Lanka Navy last week and went down 25-24 in a thriller at Race Course. There is a quoted saying in sport that ‘it’s the players who make the coach’. But with regard to coaches like Verebula and Tavita this saying probably has worked the other way. The Sri Lanka Army is a place where things get done when there is ‘command’. This is one positive factor when the coach demands good work ethic and a healthy output from players.
The match between Havelocks and CH&FC gave a hint as to where our rugby is heading. Rugby was played in a virtual paddy field, but the players from Havelock SC showed all the will to play to their best under trying circumstances. They winners ran up a score of 48 points to 5 in a match where the CH&FC goal line was crossed on as many as five occasions. The Park Club has a new coach this season, but traces of the input made to players by Kiwi rugby coach Tavita were visible.
Another team which needs to really raise their game this season is Kandy Sports Club. The players from Nittawela under are under the watchful eyes of coach Sean Wijesinghe who has taken over the reins from Taylor. Sri Lankan players have learnt a lot by playing alongside expatriates. But whether local coaches have been groomed to take over from expatriates is a big question which demands attention.
So what needs to be underscored is that Sri Lanka needs expatriate influence, both in terms of coaching and playing are concerned. This is a rugby nation which has survived by leaning on its rich history. Moving ahead in rugby union requires expatriate input. In fact it should be right on top of the country’s rugby agenda.