When we think of our country, rugby is not generally something that springs readily to our minds. The Island was certainly better known for cricket, tea and sadly its recently ended civil war.
But Sri Lanka’s British colonial forefathers left behind more than cricket as a sporting staple. The game of rugby was introduced in the late 1800s, and today it boasts of a large playing population and a television audience.
According to World Rugby figures, there are more than 103,000 rugby players in Sri Lanka making it the second largest rugby playing nation in Asia behind Japan.
Eight clubs contest the League and Clifford Cup and nearly a hundred schools play the game.
Rugby is a mainstay of the sporting curriculum in the country’s State and private schools and matches regularly draw crowds by the thousands.
Today rugby is the most viewed and the most played sport in Kandy and numbers playing it have increased at every level. Every match day school or club, players big and small lace up their boots and run onto rugby fields to play. Schools have to pay a big bill as ground charges.
At present school players are mostly coached by top coaches while parents also try to encourage their children.
Households provide a valuable insight into everyday life of children scrambling out of bed in the morning, rummaging for their kits, lining up for a hearty breakfast and heading off to the rugby ground with proud and patriotic parents who take the competition very seriously.
But most of the schools lack playing fields to practice. Sports play a prominent role in life. Rugby is mostly appealing to boys as the game may be rough, but at the same time it teaches adolescents invaluable lessons in teamwork while bringing many physical and social benefits, including increased confidence, self esteem and discipline.
But what some schools need today is self-restraint. At school level once you’ve learned the basics of rugby, anything seems possible on the field. What schools need today is the backing, good grounds, high quality officiating, medical support and player behaviour in line with rugby’s core values which all contribute to reducing the risk of injury.