Nihal ‘Viper’ Guneratne

IRB-Licensed Coach Educator Nihal ‘Viper’ Guneratne is all set to revolutionize seven-a-side rugby in Sri Lanka. This is an island where its players like to side step, outrun and hit the gaps when it comes to the abbreviated form of rugby union. But according to Viper, as he is fondly known in the rugby circles, all players who play rugby sevens have to just go forward.

“Sevens would be played like 15-a-side rugby. The ball carrier will be in front and the others will be right behind and supporting. There won’t be situations where the payers are spreading out and aiming to hit the gaps. That’s all in the past,” said Guneratne who brings this knowledge after attending a professional development workshop in Japan conducted by the IRB. The workshop was held in Japan from February 26 to March 1 where sessions were held for referees, coaches and fitness trainers.

The new method of playing rugby sevens will put a bigger workload on the players. “The players will have to be fitter and faster,” affirmed Guneratne.

However, he stressed the fact that sevens rugby, despite the changes, will retain the main feature of 15-a-side rugby which are retaining possession, supporting and continuity.

The educators at the workshop had underscored the importance of strength and conditioning. “This aspect of rugby is so important when it comes to school rugby. We were taught how to condition players using modern methods. No longer shall we use rigid methods to strengthen our boys. Everything what is needed to make players strong is taught in the subject ‘periodization and anatomical adaptation’. When players are fit, it’s profitable for the team.  In this set up, when players are injury-free, it saves a team about 2-3 million a year,” emphasized Guneratne. He went on to state that due to improper strength and conditioning training methods adopted by trainers, at least 10 good players miss out the whole season due to injuries. He added that sometimes, about five of them have to give up the sport all together.

He also said that coaches were educated about having a more systematic method for selecting players. “There needs to be a player profile and coaches need to give them points. Selecting players should be a clearcut thing. This way there will no arguments when a team is selected,” he said.

When asked whether Sri Lankan players will be eager to learn all the ‘new methods’ of rugby union, he had this to say, “We can learn and update ourselves or be isolated from the rest of the rugby world”.

Guneratne said that he wishes to see a proper rating system for coaches in Sri Lanka. He said that at present there are coaches sans qualifications operating in the rugby scene.
He also aired a warning to the sport’s administrators that they should leave politics aside and work for the betterment of developing rugby in Sri Lanka. “When one sees how Asian countries are preparing for rugby in the future, what I have to say is that we need to wake up,” said Guneratne.

He said that he was amazed to see the amount of hard work done by Asian countries like Japan and China to move ahead in this robust sport. He said that Japan and China are working towards being world beaters.

Guneratne took this opportunity to thank GAN, a news network, maintained by old Antonians, for sponsoring his air ticket to Japan. “I think I was the only rugby coach in the world who wasn’t sponsored by one’s own rugby union,” he said.

The professional development workshop in Japan attracted lecturers from England, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.