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Can Gollings reverse Sri Lanka’s rugby fortunes?

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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!



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Chathurya, Kiran, Anjalika reach quarter-finals  

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ITF Junior Circuit Week II Tourney  

Chathurya Nilaweera, Kiran Viravanathan and Anjalika Kurera ousted their foreign counterparts to reach the quarter-finals of the boys’ and girls’ singles of the ITF Junior Circuit week II event continued at the Sri Lanka Tennis Association courts on Wednesday.

Nilaweera outplayed number two seed Caymus Hei Tung Choi from Hong Kong 6-4, 6-0 in his second round match, while Viravanathan beat Sergiy Rafiee from Great Britain 6-4, 6-2 to secure his quarter-final place.

In the girls’ singles, National Champion Kurera was the only local player to make the quarter-finals as she beat Kazakhstan’s Marina Omarova 6-2, 6-0 in the second round match.

In the boys’ doubles, Vichinthya Nilaweera and Zaidh Zihar edged out top seeds Hayden Khoo Menon from Malaysia and Caymus Hei Tung Choi from Hong Kong. They scored 6-7, 6-1, 10-5 victory to reach the semi-finals. Chathurya and Kiran reached the semi-finals of the boys’ doubles with a 3-6, 6-4, 10-6 win over Devaharshith Neelam (USA) and Arjun Premkumar (India).

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Kusal and Asalanka star in big Colombo win

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Kusal Mendis (67) and Charith Asalanka (52) posted half-centuries as Colombo beat Dambulla by seven wickets in a National Super League one-day match at P. Sara Oval yesterday.

Dambulla were shot out for 143 inside 40 overs with Prabath Jayasuriya claiming three wickets and in reply, Colombo hardly broke a sweat winning in the 21st over.

Mendis was in superb form smashing 67 off just  44 deliveries with six fours and four sixes. After his dismissal in the 16th over, Asalanka ensured that Colombo reached the target with plenty to spare. His 52 came off 48 deliveries and contained eight fours.

Meanwhile, at SSC, Kandy chased down a 247 run target with more than ten overs to spare after an excellent batting display by Niroshan Dickwella (69), Pathum Nissanka (32) and Kamindu Mendis (57*).

Dickwella and Nissanka added 105 in just 86 deliveries for the first wicket and that set the tone for the run chase. Kamil Mishara (34) and Oshada Fernando (18) made useful contributions before Kamindu (57*) and Sahan Arachige (28*) finished things off adding an unbroken 68 runs for the fifth wicket.

Brief Scores:

Colombo beat Dambulla by seven wickets

Dambulla

143 all out in 40 overs

(Lasith Abeyratne 41, Prabath Jayasuriya 3/35, Kalana Perera 2/18, Charith Asalanka 2/19)

Colombo

144 for three in 20.4 overs

(Kusal Mendis 66, Charith Asalanka 52*)

Kandy beat Jaffna

Jaffna

247 for eight in 50 overs

(Lahiru Thirimanne 56, Janith Liyanage 41, Santhush Gunathilaka 45, Nipun Ranskia 3/41)

Kandy

248 for four in 39.4 overs

(Niroshan Dickwella 69, Kamindu Mendis 57*)

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Wellalage leads World Cup wicket tally as team meet Afghanistan

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ICC Under 19 World Cup quarter-finals 

by Reemus Fernando   

When Sri Lanka Under 19s met Afghanistan in an Under 19 Asia Cup semi-final in 2018, Dunith Wellalage played second fiddle in the spin department taking a solitary wicket in a crucial victory. Now more than three and half years later, the St. Joseph’s College spinner will be leading Sri Lanka Under 19s against the same opposition as the leading wicket-taker of the ICC Under 19 Cricket World Cup.

Sri Lanka Under 19s can rely on the leading wicket-taker of the ongoing Under 19 World Cup and the rest of the bowling attack when they take on an ‘unpredictable Afghanistan’ in the quarter-finals of the biennial event in Antigua today. But Wellalage said that the ‘self-confidence’ will be the key to their success.’

“Self-confidence is our key. All 15 of us are confident of our abilities. We always keep faith in our abilities and are going to do our best to accomplish something that will be good to Sri Lanka,” said Wellalage in an online interview with Sri Lankan media on Tuesday.

Wellalage currently has 13 wickets from this World Cup. That is three wickets more than that of the next highest wicket-taker Joshua Boyden of England. Boyden has ten wickets against his name.

Wellalage played key roles with his spin bowling in all three Group matches and strengthened the middle-order batting with a crucial half-century in the match against Australia when some of the top-order batsmen failed to deliver.

Team coach Avishka Gunawardena said that he was expecting one of the top-order batsmen to bat throughout the innings. Except for Sadeesha Rajapaksa, who scored a half-century in the last group match, the top-order batsmen are yet to come up with big knocks, though the likes of Shevon Daniel, Raveen de Silva and Chamindu Wickramsinghe have made 20s and 30s.

Gunawardena said that Afghanistan were an “unpredictable team’ and his charges were not taking any team lightly in this knockout stage. The team were expecting to consider combinations after inspecting ground conditions in the evening yesterday, hence it was not clear whether Pawan Pathiraja who was dropped for the last two matches would make a comeback.

Sri Lanka emerged champions in group ‘D’ beating Scotland, Australia and West Indies to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2016 and are expected to clear that hurdle to reach the semi-finals. In 2016, Sri Lanka Under 19s reached the semi-finals where they were beaten by India.

Afghanistan, who are likely to bank on spin, were the runners up to Pakistan in group ‘C’. They beat Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea to earn their quarter-final place.

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