Tulagaese Tavita | (Pic by Eshan Dassanayake)

Rugby is a brutal sport and people like Tulagaese Tawita carry that message very strongly when they walk in public. Tavita has found employment on this island for years, thanks largely for the invitations he gets from schools and clubs to coach their rugby teams. He enjoys coaching school teams, but warns that some schoolboys are soft; an expression he uses they are spoon-fed.

This season he has signed up to coach S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia and expects them to excel this year. Weekend Nation caught up with Tavita for a chat a few days ago during which he said that making a child mentally tough for rugby is a gradual process. “You can’t make demands from kids. The culture of change must slowly set in,” said the New Zealand national.

He frowns at parents who pamper their children by giving them  iPhones and allowing them to waste time playing video games. “Discipline in rugby must be maintained on and off the field. A schoolboy has to study the game a lot and watch matches. If a player isn’t educated enough about rugby, he is going to run into problems when the coach explains certain moves,” said the big man.

Tavita took up good part of the couch he occupied during the interview where the topic was school rugby. He wears a tattoo on his left arm which stood out more than the outstanding physique he carries. While he spoke to this scribe, Tavita took time off to gesture to friends and close acquaintances at the Ceylonese Rugby & Football Club, where this interview took place. For him, rugby is about being in a community and cultivating relationships.

During the interview, he stressed the importance of players carrying the thought of being in a group and sharing a common goal. “One must enjoy being in the team. That’s the best way to enjoy rugby,” he said.

He praised the approach to the game taken by most schoolboys and the mentality their sport when representing Kandy’s academic institutes at rugby. “When players maintain such discipline, it’s easy to fit into a professional rugby team that plays club rugby.  This is what we see at Kandy Sports Club,” he said.

The Thomian rugby coach observed that there are some schools which take their rugby a little more passionately than others. According to him, rugby is everything for them. And in these rugby setups, he sees that the children are tough and are sometimes made to experience hardships by choice. “There is a child I know whose father drops him a little distance away from the school just to make sure the lads walks about a kilometre to school,” he said.

Tavita said that S. Thomas’ too is blessed to have had some tough players who made his coaching job somewhat easy. He recalled how last season’s captain Pandula de Silva braved a slip disk operation and made himself available for the team. “I spoke to him and asked him whether he was very sure about playing. He said he has even received the blessings of his parents to continue rugby after the operation. If this player was my son, I would have made him think twice before committing himself to play rugby again. The whole episode of dealing with him taught me so much,” reflected Tavita. The former Thomian rugby captain saw his team finishing as the runner-up in the league tournament. Tavita felt how happy he felt when de Silva said that he was elated that he survived the season after making a return to the game following the injury. After relating this story, the rugby coach underscored the fact that playing rugby for your school is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Rugby is now semi professional in Sri Lanka. Clubs have taken to rugby in a serious manner and most of the top schools teams take a similar approach to the game. Tavita highlighted the fact that it is crucial for kids involved in sport to get their diet right. Tavita has observed the cultivation skills of the farmers and the rich vegetation spread across most parts of the island. “You guys have great vegis (Vegetables) but most kids don’t eat them,” opined Tavita.

He believes in the cultivation of good ethics in the team where the players see the responsibility of working towards gaining national honours. Tavita is a person who has fitted in nicely to the Sri Lankan rugby set-up. He has coached both schools and clubs and even had coaching stints with the national teams that contested the 2002 and 2006 editions of the Asian Games. “It’s very important to have a rugby culture where representing Sri Lanka is the ultimate. No club should be bigger than the game,” he said.