Can Gollings reverse Sri Lanka’s rugby fortunes?
by a special sports correspondent
Sri Lanka’s rugby players and fans received inspiring news days ago with the sport’s governing body Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR) appointing England rugby union star Ben Gollings as Rugby Director to oversee preparations of the national men’s and women’s squads for the upcoming Asian Sevens Series.
Gollings perhaps knows too well that this cricket crazy nation also has a similar passion for rugby union; especially the abbreviated form of the sport.
Gollings is no stranger to the Sri Lanka rugby scene having had a coaching stint back in the island in 2012. The island’s rugby squads are often loaded with ‘steppers’ (fast runners) when the best players from all the clubs are drafted into the national pool. But this time around the players from Kandy SC and CR&FC will not be considered for selection because these two clubs decided to refrain from contesting the upcoming domestic sevens tournament; participation at the event serving as the criterion for players to be drafted into the national pool.
Strangely Sri Lanka doesn’t know where its priorities are and has been focusing on the 15-a-side version of the sport despite the little success in that form in the international rugby scene.
The rugby clubs that own the players are more focused on the marathon league tournament which absorbs much of the resources and the valuable time the players give to the sport. Speculation is rife that both Kandy SC and CR & FC didn’t see it wise to expose its players to international rugby unprepared and invite injuries to players. Sri Lanka needs an accomplished coach out there in the middle who can lift the islanders’ game to the next level and slowly take the players out of the Covid mentality they are trapped in. Even Gollings had mentioned at a press conference held on Monday that “as sports personalities you won’t forget how to play the game. My responsibility is to boost their confidence and give them the platform to express themselves and accelerate.”
SLR has released its calendar and plans to have two domestic sevens tournaments; the first in January (15-16) and the second in June (17-18).
SLR must stick to plans and drive forward because a sport like rugby union will always attract sponsors. Rugby in Sri Lanka was a little late to start compared to other disciplines. And a star in the calibre of Gollings landing in Sri Lanka goes on to suggest that there is potential for the sport to grow over here. That growth- in the long-run-is possible with a programme under the rugby controlling body; which has the supreme authority to select a side that can represent Sri Lanka in the international scene.
There were rugby officials in the past who tried to shift the focus from club rugby to national rugby, but often they ran into heavy opposition. Clubs in Sri Lanka only cooperate with SLR if events in the calendar are spaced out and players have enough time to recover.
Many years ago, this writer read an article in a foreign magazine which gave a strong message on sport and its people. It was stated there that if one studies a national team in attendance and finds the players disorganised and neglected then most likely the same situation exists with the country’s government and how the latter treats its people.
Right now, the focus is on rugby sevens and on the upcoming ‘Warriors Sevens’ tournament which will serve as the trial to select the men’s national team for the Asian Sevens Series. And given the way rugby was struggling to get its activities off the ground, one noticed the sport’s controlling body being detached from the sports minster or the Minister of Sports distancing himself from rugby officials despite the sports minister himself being a former national rugby player.
In this fiercely personalised era where everyone takes care of himself or herself whether in sport or other form of employment SLR must seriously think of player remuneration during training for national assignments. In the past the state didn’t have that professional thinking nor the clout to turn the players into national assets. Even now the players remain properties of private clubs; just like some of the best players in the world out there. But the difference is that players in other countries have that deeper understanding about representing the country and the notion of taking responsibility is embedded into their psyche from a young age. This is not the case in Sri Lanka. Just rewind the clock and see how many Sri Lankan sportsmen and officials decamped on their return from overseas after a tournament concluded. Luckily, we haven’t seen that in the annals of Sri Lanka rugby as yet.
Coming back to the players, Minister Namal Rajapaksa has the clout and the connections to get the players to think of a national assignment if that be the need of the hour. SLR President Rizly Illyas is a person who has grown old in the sport and is perhaps the ideal person to be in charge of rugby over here because a personality of that vintage is absolutely necessary when ambitious youngsters demand too much too soon and need to be put in their places. It’s a commonly asked question whether the sports minister and the SLR ‘big boss’ are at loggerheads and find it hard to map out a way ‘to agree to disagree’ and move on with the sport.
Rugby produces some of the fiercest battles out there on the pitch and the sport teaches you how to cherish the moments in the game and nurture friendships when you socialize after a match. This lesson must never be forgotten!
Jadeja’s nerveless hitting gifts Chennai Super Kings fifth IPL title
Chennai Super Kings became IPL champions for the fifth time in a game befitting a title clash. With 10 needed off the last two deliveries, Ravindra Jadeja smacked a six down the ground and a four to fine leg off Mohit Sharma to seal one of the most dramatic finales in the history the tournament.
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Chameera returns after surgery but no place for KJP
Fast bowler Dushmanta Chameera returns to the side after a seven month layoff having undergone ankle surgery as the selectors picked a balanced squad for the three-match series against Afghanistan starting later this week at Suriyawewa.
Although Chameera has been named in the squad, there was no place for top order batsman Kusal Janith Perera, who had returned to 20 side in New Zealand two months ago. KJP on that occasion had only been picked for T-20s and there are question marks about his fitness for the 50 over format.
Fans will be hoping that by the time the World Cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe begin next month, KJP will be cleared to feature in the 50 over format as well. One of the most destructive batters in the side, KJP has been in and out of the team due to injuries.
Opening batsman Dimuth Karunaratne also makes a comeback to the ODI outfit having been axed from the 50 over format two years ago. Sri Lanka’s problems of not being able to bat out 50 overs in recent times is seen as the reason for Dimuth’s return to the side.
Uncapped leg-spinner Dushan Hemantha has also been named in the squad but now that Wanindu Hasaranga has recovered from an injury, he’s expected to play ahead of the 29-year-old.
There’s no place for left-arm quick Dilshan Madushanka either although there was lot of excitement when he first made an impact during last year’s Asia Cup. Young all-rounder Dunith Wellalage has also been overlooked for the three-match series.
The selectors are not expected to do too many changes from the 16-member squad chosen for the Afghanistan series for the World Cup qualifiers.
The first ODI gets underway Friday (2nd June) followed by games on June 4th and 7th. The series was drafted in to give the Sri Lankan team some competitive games ahead of the World Cup qualifiers.
Sri Lanka Squad:
Dasun Shanaka (Captain), Kusal Mendis (Vice-Captain), Pathum Nissanka, Dimuth Karunaratne, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya De Silva, Charith Asalanka, Wanindu Hasaranga, Maheesh Theekshana, Dushan Hemantha, Chamika Karunaratne, Dushmantha Chameera, Matheesha Pathirana, Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha
Hashmatullah Shahidi (Captain), Rahmat Shah (Vice-Captain), Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), Ibrahim Zadran, Riaz Hassan, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Ikram Alikhail (wk), Azmatullah Omarzai, Rashid Khan, Mujib ur Rahman, Noor Ahmad, Abdul Rahman, Fazal Haq Farooqi, Farid Ahmad Malik.
Yupun out of competitions for few weeks due to injury
by Reemus Fernando
Sprinter Yupun Abeykoon who suffered an injury during last week’s 100 metres final of the Savona International Meet will ‘stay away from competitions for few weeks.’
“After the MRI test which I took after my race in Savona, it is unfortunate that I have to inform you all that due to a minor hamstring injury I have to stay away from competitions for a few weeks due to medical advice given by experts,” said the Italy based sprinter in a statement yesterday.
Abeykoon was placed second behind Reece Prescod of Britain in the final of the Savona International Meet last week. The national record holder returned a wind-assisted 10.01 seconds (+2.7) performance to open his season in the 100metres. However, despite placing second in the final, he was seen struggling during the last few metres of the race. The injury means he must skip one of the major 100 metres events this week.
The first South Asian Sprinter to break the ten seconds barrier in the men’s 100 metres, Abeykoon was expected to compete against a star-studded lineup at the Golden Gala Pietro Mennea in Florence later this week.
The world-class lineup includes world champion Fred Kerley and Kenyan world leader in the 100 metres this season, Ferdinand Omanyala.
“I have already started my rehab process with my physio, doctors and the rest of the staff and I am looking forward to coming back stronger than I was in the upcoming competitions,” he further stated.
The highest-ranked Sri Lankan male athlete, Abeykoon is the prime medal hopeful at this year’s Asian Games. Sri Lanka Athletics is relying heavily on Abeykoon to end the country’s medal drought in track and field at the quadrennial event.
He is also the only male athlete to be in the required range in the world rankings to be eligible for selection for this year’s World Championships.
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