The second coming

by Ravi Nagahawatte
ri Lanka’s rugby received world recognition in 2000 when its ruggerites qualified for the Youth World Cup in Chile. The achievement went down in the country’s rugby history as the highest moment in the sport. This achievement brought tears to the eye of the rugby followers. Initially there were tears of joy. Then came tears of sorrow. The two coaches and the manager, who were part of the success story, became victims of circumstance. To keep a long story short they were removed from their posts by the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU). Renowned rugby referee and coach S.W.Chang played a key role in that ‘team’ as the manager. According to Chang, the whole episode is similar to a podium collapsing to the ground after its occupants are ushered on to it. From a rugby point of view the three officials had had big plans for the lads who made the ‘lion’ flag fly high at the World Cup.

Chang in an interview with ‘The Sunday Island’ revealed that the time had come again to be involved with coaching the youth players of the country. According to Chang he has been appointed as coach of the Western Province squad which is in preparation for a Pentangular Rugby Tournament which will feature the national teams of India and Pakistan.

For Chang the appointment is similar to an opportunity that he can use to rebuild a shattered dream. "I am trying to get all those players from that World Cup Squad who are eligible to play for Western Province. Most of those players should be around 21 years. Our target should be to develop rugby, not to win the tournament. There is no age limit specified for players who turn out in this tournament. In my opinion the authorities should make it an under 24 tournament," said Chang.

Reminiscing the events that led to a World Cup qualification brings a radiant smile on Chang’s face. "Initially we were going to settle for fourth place in Asia. But when the word went around that the third best team from Asia will qualify for the big event we immediately changed our goals. Every body wanted to beat Chinese Taipei and finish third in the Asian Junior Rugby Championship," said Chang. Sri Lanka lost to Korea (15-0) and Japan (29-10) but beat Hong Kong (15-12) and Chinese Taipei (26-8). Sri Lanka played four matches at the World Cup in Chile and managed to record a solitary win that came against Belgium.

Chang had been involved with the national youth team as coach or manager since 1995. He has seen most of the today’s senior ruggerites grow up. Chang even takes pride in revealing that he advised some players to change positions as he thought that their choice was wrong. Some of these players have ended up playing for Sri Lanka, the change of position catapulting their careers to reach great heights. He probably was cheesed off when his services as coach was discontinued. What can’t be figured out is how the SLRFU authorities (During that era) had the nerve to break up a system that ran smooth and produced results. As a result, Sri Lanka youth rugby has suffered a major set back. The country failed to retain that World Cup berth and its performance at the Asian Youth Championship todate doesn’t look that impressive.

Now Chang is wanted back and the authority that campaigned for his return was the Western Province Rugby Football Union. Chang looks forward to the appointment with zest. Lets all hope that Chang’s second coming is memorable.