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Kandy SC coach Sean Wijesinghe (Second from left) is seen taking to the players after the first round inter-club league rugby tournament defeat at the hands of Air Force at Ratmalana. Wijesinghe (Inset) is a happy man at present after seeing his team enter the final of the Clifford Cup knockout tournament (File photos)

Kandy Sports Club’s epic comeback in the league tournament and their devastating forward march in the Clifford Cup knockout tournament have given rugby in the hill capital a shot in the arm.

Kandy SC coach Sean Wijesinghe rates this season as one of the toughest experienced by his players and is glad that as much as seven seniors have made full recovery after undergoing surgery. Speaking to Nation on Thursday, Wijesinghe shared some interesting tit bits about the team and some of the goals his chargers expect to achieve at this Sunday’s  final against Havelocks SC, scheduled at Nittawela.

Kandy has a loyal fan base. But Wijesinghe observed that there were some who started doubting them after the losses they suffered in the first round of the league tournament. “We took all this doubting about us as personal challenges. From there onwards there was no magic, but sheer hard work. We always knew we were a good team. We threw everything we had behind us to go from good to great,” said Wijesinghe.

This season the competition has been tough, Wijesinghe admitted. According to him, Kandy SC managed to score about 50 points against all teams, but he added that it was really hard to score tries this season.

Kandy SC’s approach to rugby this season was more mental than physical. “It was important to motivate everybody, especially the ones on the bench. Good players don’t like to sit on the bench. As a good number of seniors were rested due to injuries, everybody got games this season. It’s not impossible for a reserve to make it into the starting line-up. Players like Tharindu Chathuranga and Yakub Ali proved this,” Wijesinghe said.

However, Wijesinghe underscored the importance of the return of the seniors. Players like Marija, Dimithri Wijetunga, Ratwatte, Asitha Ratnayake, Jayasuriya, Gayan Weeraratne, Lavanga Perera and Anurudhdha Willawara for not available for all the games because they were recuperating from injuries. According to Wijesinghe, most of these players were sent to Australia for surgery. The change in the Kandy team’s performance was prominent after the recovering seniors returned. “Medical science is so advanced today that players are able to return after surgery and play like in the past very fast,” he said.

Kandy’s return to contention was telling. The team representing Kandy SC was unstoppable in the second round of the league. The team never lost a when they hosted matches at Nittawela this season. Many believe that the opposite teams got psyched out when they came to play in front of a huge Nittawela crowd which often vocal. “Yeah, it’s all about your mental approach to the game,” said the Kandy SC coach.

Wijesinghe’s approach to the game is quite different when he became a coach. He said he gives teams targets; chief among them being to keep the opposition score line to low as 12-13 points. He said he has learned a lot from coaches like Yohan Taylor, Tulagaese Tavita (Laga) and George Simpkins. “George was technical, Taylor did so many little things and I learned so much from Laga when he was a player. I am still finding myself as a coach,” he reflected. When asked what the biggest difference was in him as a past player and now a coach, he had this to say, “As a player I was a different person and didn’t point finger at players after a game. Now I do it as a coach,” he laughed.

For the record, Taylor had been to Kandy this season on invitation and done 15 sessions for the players. Wijesinghe has been assisted in coaching this season by Nalaka Weerakkody and Saliya Kumara.

Wijesinghe said that the lift the players had received by representing a team like Kandy SC will have a trickledown effect on the national team. “The inputs these players are going to make in their upcoming assignments with the national side are going to be huge. “The most important thing about the seniors of Kandy SC is that they’ll be injury free next season,” said Wijesinghe.

Coming to the big game this Sunday, Wijesinghe expects his players to give away the least number of penalties, contest the set pieces well and excel in attack and defence. “Our fans have seen about 80% of our potential as a team. We hope to rev that up to about 90-95% and play our best game this season come Sunday,” Wijesinghe concluded.