2010 was a great endurance test for Sri Lanka players - Rugby Review 2010

By Ravi Nagahawatte

Sri Lanka’s rugby had its highs and lows this year, but enough good things happened to keep the spirits high of those involved in the game. There was a huge wave of success created by the national rugby players when they bagged the Division 1 tournament in the Asian 5 Nations, in April. Club politics was almost nonexistent at that time of the year and Sri Lanka, after some years, fielded a team at full strength for the tournament which was also contested by Singapore (runner-up), Malaysia and Chinese Taipei.

It seemed great that Sri Lanka had finished one of its toughest assignments for the year without the international calendar having to clash with the domestic calendar. The win in Singapore propelled Sri Lanka’s rugby once again to dizzy heights. Successes of the national team have a trickledown effect on the domestic season. These national stars are also household names among fans at home and the success at the Asian 5 Nations was sure going to boost the attendance at the domestic tournament.

This is an era where players have stepped into the world of professionals. Informed sources say that players frequent the gymnasium more than in the past. Their physiques are rippling with muscles due to the heavy intake of supplements and the punishing workouts in the gymnasium.

In such a backdrop, the players, the serious ones, got what they were dreaming of; a hectic international and domestic calendar.

Seven international seven-a-side tournaments were arranged for the players this year. And this hectic schedule really tested the players’ fitness, skills and temperament for rugby union. No one could complain that the Lankans were starved of international exposure. The build up for assignments in rugby sevens came through the domestic league tournament, credited as the oldest of its kind in Asia.

The 15-a-side domestic season was not going to be a one horse race. Last season proved this when Navy SC toppled some big sides in round two of the competition.

Navy SC were a force this season too and so were Sri Lanka Air Force and Army SC who showed all-round improvement.

This season started with a lot of concerns when the Caltex (Rugby’s Main Sponsor), management hinted that this could be the final year of sponsoring rugby, due to the huge costs involved. There were also concerns about the constant views expressed by not only the sponsor, but rugby fans as well that domestic rugby was becoming predictable. Now this is the worst thing that can happen to any thing that provides entertainment. It’s that element of surprise, that thing called the unexpected happening which breathes life into something that is screaming to get attention. Absence of this is akin to a person being dumped in a leper colony like in the good old days. That ‘no-one-wants-you’ feeling can be terrible, you know that and we don’t need to go into detail!

Kandy SC’s success run was never really checked, like this season. The vastly improved Ceylonese Rugby & Football Club (CR&FC) almost ended Kandy’s wheel of fortune beating them in the second round of the league tournament. But Kandy SC were handed the league trophy by virtue of scoring more tries than CR&FC during the league tournament.

Fazil Marija’s team might have expected CR&FC to come at them with all guns blazing in the knockout tournament, played for the Caltex Clifford Cup. But Navy SC showed they had the gas to go that extra mile, showing the door to CR&FC in a lacklustre semi final match in Colombo. The final played at the Bogambara Stadium, was a cracker and Kandy SC thrilled 30,000 rugby fans with a smashing win against Navy SC. This win is sure to have nudged the game’s main sponsor to remain with rugby for a few more years.

The conclusion of the 15-a-side domestic tournament signalled the start to the international Asian Sevens Series. Now this is a ‘league’ where only the fit, strong and those with a never yielding will, survive. The best thing that happened during this international sevens season is the authorities giving the opportunity to one committed set of players, after the Shanghai Sevens, to stick as one unit and perform. The team coached by Imthie Marikar and captained by Radeeka Hettiarachchi were the losing finalists in the Plate Championships at the Borneo Sevens, but won the Bowl Championships at the Singapore Sevens. Once again the Sri Lankans showcased a lot of skill, but the lack of training time and the absence of some of sevens specialists in the country didn’t help Sri Lanka to play to their true potential. In the Asian Games, Sri Lanka finished as the sixth best team behind Malaysia.

Sri Lanka had its share of worries regarding the dope tests that were carried out. Rugby’s usually clean image was shattered again, this time when Kandy SC hooker Anuranga Walpola failed a dope test. He was banned from the sport for one full year following an inquiry.

Rugby’s administrative arm received a ‘B 12’ injection with elections being held, which saw the interim committee, which handled decision making till then, being dissolved. Air Chief Marshal Roshan Gunatilake was elected as President while Shane Dullewa and Lasitha Guneratne were elected as secretary and Vice President respectively. Everything seems tickity boo, but the SLRFU has to date failed to obtain the IRB grants which are set aside for developing countries like Sri Lanka.

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