Rugby’s demands have forced clubs to bring all the players under one fitness program and made everyone work towards the team’s main goal (Pic by Sassanda Liyanarachchi)

Havelocks Sports Club hung on to the top spot in the points table despite their loss to Kandy SC after an eventful first round in the Dialog sponsored domestic league rugby tournament.

Now the hard grind has begun for the ‘title’ as the final phase of the tournament unfolds. The second round of the tournament will test many things among which fitness will be king.

Rugby players today are bigger, faster and stronger. Much of this credit should go to their fitness trainers who have put them through a solid conditioning programme. Gone are the days when club rugby players did their fitness individually. When this writer played school rugby, the talk among seniors was that club rugby offered the opportunity to players to choose the fitness programme that suits them individually. However, that system is no more. Rugby’s demands have forced clubs to bring all the players under one fitness programme and made everyone work towards the team’s main goal.

Even the recovery phase after injury has been cut short because players get expert medical service. Players return to the game with more confidence than before following a common injury like a cartilage tear on the side of the knee. Most clubs have a solid nutrition plan for players. Gone are the days when players enjoyed the taste of beef or mutton soup after a hard day’s training. Rugby players don’t touch oily food. Protein bars and ‘Whey’ protein drinks have replaced all that. There was a time when socials, dancing and beer shandy were the highlight after a rugby match at the club.

Most players now have to do warm-down sessions to specially treat old injuries. They even have to take ice baths after a game to heal small tears in muscle fibres. Sleep and rest are so important because rugby’s demands are taking a toll on the players. This is the new face of professional rugby.

But a close observance of the present system shows that we now have players who are loyal to the game, not to clubs. Is this healthy in the long run? If one looks at a club like Colombo Hockey & Football Club (CH&FC) we see so many new faces in their present rugby team. Most of them probably are there because the package offered to them to play rugby is attractive. Would there be individuals among them who are there because they were attracted to the ‘culture’ that the club boasts of?

The present demands of rugby forces clubs to recruit players from all walks of life. Most forces teams along with Police SC have been forced to employ civilians just to boost their chances at domestic tournaments. From this context it is only right that we remember the Police and Air Force rugby teams in the late 1980s which only fielded ‘officers’ and still beat the best teams out there.

When compared to most of the less popular sports, club rugby is enjoying huge benefits thanks to a committed sponsor in Dialog and the vision given to rugby by Sri Lanka Rugby boss Asanga Senewiratne.