Rugby kids having fun in between games during a tournament with foreign flavour

Agoal Rugby Academy has come under the spotlight this year for producing four school rugby captains
Former Referee Dilroy Fernando’s dream of serving rugby has been realized in so many ways. After calling it quits as the most celebrated rugby referee in Sri Lanka, Dilroy focused on running a rugby academy he established in 2004. And it not only inspired others to start such academies, but also boasts of producing four captains who are leading their respective schools contesting the 2017 Inter-school League Rugby Tournament.

Ovin Askey (Royal), Sumudu Rankothge (Isipathana), Gavin Perera (D.S. Senanayake) and Sasindu Dilshan Ranaweera (Ananda) were little kids when they came to Dilroy’s academy which functions under the name Agoal Rugby Academy. Now these boys have graduated to the First XV level, a time which Dilroy feels members are ready to leave his academy and meet rugby’s challenges on their own.

Though the motive behind having an academy is to give back something to the sport, Dilroy’s vision that nurtures this project goes deeper. “In rugby you get players coming from different cultures, religions and social backgrounds. An academy like this helps create the feeling that everyone belongs to one family. Even if there are minor incidents on the field, the relationships the players have maintained for years help to resolve matters,” said Dilroy.

Former referee Dilroy Fernando has silently contributed as a educator in rugby
Former referee Dilroy Fernando has silently contributed as a educator in rugby

Kids start training at the club as early as age four. But Dilroy is careful enough to have patience and allow kids to slowly grasp the rudiments of the game. At this age rugby is fun and tackling is absent. “I remember the days when I was at Isipathana College and played rugby with a mango seed or rubber ball. There was only one ball for the college team to practice with. I still love what that environment can do for a child. But we also need to move on during rugby’s modern times. In my academy there is ball for every four players. I have observed that when I compare these two eras, the enjoyment level is the same,” he reflected.

At the beginning, the academy had sessions for kids at the Ceylonese Rugby & Football Club grounds. The club members’ children and the kids of staffers who worked at the ground and bar sent their offspring for training at the initial staged when the academy began as part of a company which Dilroy formed as Agoal International. The academy has grown from eight students and three coaches to 120 members who are now trained by 11 qualified and dedicated coaches.

One of the biggest challenges that Dilroy faces is dealing with ambitious parents at times when he is trying to make his boys independent. “What needs to be done is to separate the boys from parents. The best time for this is when we go overseas for tournaments. After the parents bring them to the venue and before we head to the airport the academy takes over. We get the boys to work with a team. The whole idea is to make them independent,” explained Dilroy.

According to him, parents love the change Dilroy has made in terms of what kids now serve on their plates. He has been successful in making kids eat green gram and Kaupee for breakfast. There are plenty of parents who tell him that their sons curtail travelling and avoid late nights the day prior to the training session at Agoal Rugby Academy. “All this training contributes to decision making. Sometimes there can be a situation in life where there is no one around to ask for help. The training that rugby gives you will help you take the right decision at times like these,” he said.

Kids at the academy are taught the laws of rugby during theory and practical sessions. Members of the academy are also taught to cultivate discipline, respect opponents and the referee and help create an environment where integrity reigns.

Dilroy said that the old way of lecturing to the boys has been done with. “These are times when we get better results by demonstrating to the boys and showing them what results can be obtained by doing a move the proper way,” he said.

He believed that rugby players live in an era where they have plenty of opportunities to witness rugby. “You can watch all top international games on tv. This is one reason why the academy organizes tournaments with a foreign flavor so that members get the exposure of playing against bigger players from other countries. We had our second Youth Rugby Tournament with great success this year. A tournament like this can be used as a tool to promote tourism there is potential for a large number of players, parents and supporters to come to Sri Lanka,” said Dilroy underscoring the importance why the tourism authorities must seriously consider getting involved when Sri Lanka hosts an international tournament.

When Dilroy blew the whistle and officiated in games, players and fans knew that things were in safe hands. Now he is playing a somewhat similar role in running a rugby academy. Every Saturday morning when he meets the boys at training, they know they have come to a place they can call their second home. Apart from the professionalism that’s present here they also feel the warmth of a coach who watches with interest kids growing into adults.