Asian Sevens Series
By a special sports correspondent
Sri Lankan male players should build on their past glories to play the first leg of the Asian Rugby Sevens Tour in Dubai (November 19-20) without much practice.
As much as the islanders are proud of their cricket exploits, the same can be said of the country’s rugby players.
History has great motivating power and its memories can fuel the human mind when the chips are down. Rugby training in Sri Lanka has been hampered to a large extent due to health regulations that delayed players’ access to the pitch and actual sessions. What could be described as a gust of rain during rugby’s drought on the island has come in the form of the arrival of sevens star Ben Gollings as director of sevens in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka’s rugby hierarchy has recognized that the islanders will be represented by a new-look squad where up to four players are expected to make their national debuts at seven. These players are Nuwan Perera, Samuel Ogbebor, Kushan Indunil and Ishara Madushan . The Sri Lankan men’s team is led by Adeesha Weratunga, who is a well-known third-row forward in 15-a-side rugby in the country. Sri Lanka is grouped alongside Japan, China and the United Arab Emirates in Group B. Sri Lanka is coached by Nilfer Ibrahim.
In a way, it is good that Sri Lanka have to field a young team because the cream of the players of the country of Kandy SC is not available because they did not take part in a tryout; participation in the recent ‘Warriors Cup’ rugby sevens club invitation was compulsory for the selections.
In the past, there were Under-21 and Under-24 tournaments organized by the SLR to keep players in the game; hence the existence of a well-prepared team of young people who could intervene if the need arises.
Our own beast of a man Radeeka Hettiarachchi was spotted by national coaches during an Under-21 rugby match between Sri Lanka and China in Colombo and played in the late 1990s. A little known fact is that the Chinese officials were very impressed with Hettiarachchi’s performance that day and invited him to fly to China and be part of their rugby team. Hettiarachchi had not represented the senior Sri Lanka team at that time and IRB rules allow a player to move from nation to nation if they have only played rugby by age group for the country of birth. This story was told to this writer by Hettiarachchi himself at a time when events in the sport of rugby were rocking his boat. This was largely because he was having issues with the club he liked to represent the most. For the record, he turned down China’s offer because his heart was with Sri Lanka rugby. Hettiarachchi was perhaps the best seven-a-side utility player we’ve seen and we have fond memories of those two “cracker” tries he scored against Australia at the Hong Kong Sevens in 2009 where the Islanders fought against the Wallabies 56-12.
Some of Sri Lanka’s best performances in rugby sevens came between 2001 and 2014, thanks to the island’s focus on the short form of rugby in tournaments played overseas. And a point to consider is that these performances were produced by local coaches like Asanga Senewiratne, Hisham Abdeen and Sudath Sampath. Sri Lanka produced one of their best rugby sevens performances under coach Senewiratne when he guided the team to a memorable 24-14 victory over Kenya at the Dubai Sevens. Sri Lanka also produced their only try against the All Blacks in any form in this tournament when Sanjeewa Jayasinghe scored in a match where New Zealand emerged victorious with a score of 77-5.
A notable performance from Sri Lanka came at the 2006 Hong Kong Sevens, where the Islanders won with a score of 21-7 against the United States. The 2014 Commonwealth Games were remarkable for Fazil Marija’s side when they beat Trinidad and Tobago 43-7 to win the Shield competition. It’s a bit of Sri Lankan rugby sevens history in case readers are a bit jaded reading and re-reading two very old rugby sevens performances that took the form of winning the bowl competition. both in the Hong Kong Sevens of 1984 and in Fiji in 1994. Invitation to sept.
Sri Lanka has always performed well when the seven-a-side setup is structured, but not necessarily under the guidance of a foreign coach. Sri Lanka needs time and space (international events should not clash with domestic tournaments as the clubs own the players and not the SLR). We also remember the small contributions made to the side when managers like Chaminda Rupasinghe held sessions for the away team ahead of the seven-a-side tournament with coaches like Gordon Tietjens and his players.
Thus, the current national players of Sri Lanka have a rich history of rugby from which to draw inspiration. Players should take note that rugby as a sport has evolved, but the foundations of the sport were laid by former players who had half the support and technology that today’s athletes have.
A few years ago there was no Asian Sevens series and Sri Lanka, when invited, had to face the giants of world rugby. Right now Sri Lanka can play with pride, respect and hope as the Asian Sevens Series gives them a level playing field and a chance to qualify for the IRB 11-stage World Sevens Series.
Rugby sevens is also a discipline of the Olympic Games and that too provides great inspiration for players to train hard, perform well and be scored. Sri Lanka also plans to send a women’s team for the Asian Sevens Series to Dubai.
The men’s team:
Adeesha Weeratunga (Captain), Kanchana Ramanayake, Nishon Perera, Sachith Silva, Iroshan Silva, Sudaraka Dikkubura, Janidu Dilshan, Samuel Ogbebor, Kushan Indunil, Anjula Hettiarahchi, Ishara Madshan, Nuwan Perera.