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Sri Lanka’s players can draw inspiration from their rugby sevens history

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Asian Sevens Series  

By A Special Sports Correspondent  

Sri Lanka’s men’s players would have to find inspiration from their past glories as they step into contest the first leg of the Asian Sevens Rugby circuit in Dubai (On November 19 and 20) sans much training.

As much as the islanders are proud of their achievements in cricket the same can be said about the country’s rugby players.

History has great power to motivate and its memories can fuel the human spirit when the chips are down. Rugby training in Sri Lanka was hampered to a great extent because of health regulations delaying the players from getting on to the field and having real sessions. What could be described as a burst of rain during the rugby drought in the island came in the form of the arrival of rugby sevens star Ben Gollings as Sri Lanka’s Rugby Sevens Director.

Sri Lanka’s rugby hierarchy has acknowledged the fact that the islanders will be represented by a new-look side where as many as four players are set to make their national sevens debut. These players are Nuwan Perera, Samuel Ogbebor, Kushan Indunil and Ishara Madushan. The Sri Lanka men’s team is led by Adeesha Weratunga who is a reputed third row forward in 15-a-side rugby in the country. Sri Lanka is pooled alongside Japan, China, and UAE in Group B. Sri Lanka is coached by Nilfer Ibrahim.

In a way, it is good that Sri Lanka has to field a young side because the cream of the country’s players from Kandy SC are unavailable because they didn’t participate in a selection trial; participation at the recent ‘Warriors Cup’ invitation club rugby sevens was mandatory for selections.

In the past there were under 21 and under 24 tournaments conducted by the SLR to keep the players in the game; hence there being a well-groomed youth line-up that could chip in if the need arose.

Our very own beast of a man Radeeka Hettiarachchi was spotted by the national selectors at an under 21 rugby game between Sri Lanka and China in Colombo and played in the late 1990s. A little-known fact is that Chinese officials were much impressed by Hettiarachchi’s performance that day and invited him to take wing to China and be part of their rugby team. Hettiarachchi hadn’t represented the senior Sri Lanka team by then and IRB rules allow a player to crossover from one nation to another if he or she has only played age-group rugby for the country of birth. This story was related to this writer by Hettiarachchi himself at a time when happenings in the sport of rugby were rocking his boat. This was largely because he was having issues with the club that he loved most to represent. For the record, he turned down the offer from China because his heart was with Sri Lanka rugby. Hettiarachchi was perhaps the best utility sevens player we have seen and we do have fond memories of those two ‘cracker’ tries he scored against Australia at the Hong Kong Sevens in 2009 where the islanders went down fighting to the Wallabies 56-12.

Some of Sri Lanka’s best performances in the sevens rugby came between 2001 and 2014 and that was thanks to the island concentrating on the abbreviated form of rugby in tournaments played overseas. And a point to ponder is that these performances were produced under homegrown coaches like Asanga Senewiratne, Hisham Abdeen, and Sudath Sampath. Sri Lanka produced one of its best performances in rugby sevens under coach Senewiratne when he guided the team to a memorable 24-14 win over Kenya at the Dubai Sevens. Sri Lanka also produced its only try against the All Blacks in any form of the game in that tournament when Sanjeewa Jayasinghe scored in a game where New Zealand walked away as winners with a 77-5 score.

One notable performance by Sri Lanka came at the 2006 Hong Kong Sevens where the islanders ran out as the winners with a score of 21-7 against the USA. The Commonwealth Games in 2014 was remarkable for Fazil Marija’s team when it beat Trinidad and Tobago 43-7 to win the Shield Competition. That’s a little bit from Sri Lanka’s rugby sevens history in the case readers are a bit jaded reading and rereading about two very old performances at rugby sevens which came in the form of winning the Bowl Competition at both the 1984 Hong Kong Sevens and the 1994 Fiji Invitation Sevens.

Sri Lanka has always performed well when the sevens set-up is structured, but not necessarily under a foreign coach though. Sri Lanka needs time and space (International events must not clash with domestic tournaments because the clubs own the players and not the SLR). We also remember small inputs made to the side when managers like Chaminda Rupasinghe organised sessions for the team overseas before the Sevens Tournament with coaches like Gordon Tietjens and his players.

So Sri Lanka’s present national players have a rich rugby history to draw inspiration from. The players must take note that rugby as a sport has evolved but the foundation for the sport was laid by past players who had half the support and technology the present athletes are enjoying.

Some years ago there was no Asian Sevens series and Sri Lanka when invited had to lock horns with the giants of world rugby. At present Sri Lanka can play with pride, respect and hope because the Asian Sevens Series offers them a level playing field and a chance to qualify for the IRB 11-leg World Sevens Series.

The sport of rugby sevens is also a discipline at the Olympic Games and that too offers great inspiration for the players to train hard, perform well, and be counted. Sri Lanka is also planning to send a women’s team for the Asian Sevens Series in Dubai.

The men’s squad:

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.



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Leave aside revenge, work towards common goal says Mathews

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Angelo Mathews was Man of the Match in the second T20 International at Dambulla on Monday.

Rex Clementine in Dambulla

There has been a remarkable turnaround for the national cricket team in 2024 with Sri Lanka recording five series wins inside two months and have won all six games so far in the bilateral series against Afghanistan. The team has played some attacting cricket, a far cry from their World Cup campaign where players were sloppy on the field, awful with the bat and indiscipline with the ball.

Former captain Angelo Mathews, who was the star in the second T-20 International on Monday with an unbeaten 42 and two wickets, credited the new selection panel for the change of fortunes.

“The team has turned things around not with the dawn of the new year but with the dawn of new selectors. They have given lot of confidence for boys. Seem they have proper plans rather than doing things haphazardly. You see a massive difference out there with boys playing with freedom. Communication is a key aspect in international cricket. Forget about agendas, forget about differences, forget about revenge. Get together and think of Sri Lankan cricket.”

“It is all about planning. In a cycle you get two years or four years to plan things out. With the new selectors they have planned well. The new captains are doing a great job. They are giving confidence to youngsters and senior players. The guys are playing with freedom and enjoying their cricket rather than worrying about things. We are in good shape.”

Mathews was a doubtful starter heading into the game and had to prove his fitness on Monday.

Sri Lanka were struggling at 121 for five during the 15th over of the innings and Mathews reserved the best for his last taking Sri Lanka’s total to 187 for six hitting Azmatullah Omarzai for three consecutive sixes in the penultimate over.

“The plan was Sadeera to bat deep so that I could bat with freedom. Last game we didn’t bat 20 overs and it was a disappointment. Glad we got our act together. Sadeera was superb today.”

Mathews praised young Matheesha Pathirana, who was making a comeback to the side during the series and bowled some unplayable deliveries. The former captain expected a bright future for the 21-year-old.

“Facing Matheesha Pathirana at the nets is the biggest challenge. He bowls consistently at 150. It’s difficult to bowl that speed when someone is bowling straight but to bowl with that action makes things tougher. He has gained experience in franchise cricket and at 21 if you tell him to defend 12 in the last over he will do the job in nine out of ten games. He is a disciplined cricketer. We have to look after him well.”

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CR sit on the rugby throne after 26 years!

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Ceylonese Rugby & Football Club (CR&FC) team celebrates winning the men’s division in the inter-club league rugby tournament. (Pictures courtesy Sri Lanka Rugby)

By A Special Sports Correspondent

Ceylonese Rugby & Football Club (CR&FC) produced rib bruising rugby last Sunday (February 18) to end Kandy’s winning streak and be crowned as the new men’s champions in domestic rugby. The women’s tournament was won by Sri Lanka Navy.

Turn the pages of time to the launch of this tournament and there were predictions that the game would find a new winner in the men’s segment. And that’s just what the sport did. In a way these are the results that serve the game well; results that end a regime and usher in a new king. Kandy was winning it for too long and the educated spectator probably had to motivate himself to travel to the venue and catch the action when he can already predict the result while sitting on his sofa at home.

But the crowds came in their numbers to Longden Place; which is a good sign because the sport has lost a chunk of its spectators already. This is probably due to the fact that games are less exciting and ticket prices are so high. CR&FC must be lauded for many things. One is that they celebrated 100 years in rugby last year and were generous enough to open the gates free of charge for spectators at the final this year. If there are attempts to bring back the crowds to the venues and stop them from watching matches on TV or their mobile phones then CR must be given pat on their backs. Believe this writer! Nothing can beat the thrill you get out of watching a gripping rugby match through the naked eye.

Players in the likes of Adeesha Weerathunga, Lasindu Karunathilake, Manilka Ruberu, Gemunu Chethiya, Zubair Dooray, Raveen de Silva, Randy Silva and KushanTharinduhave raised their game to the next level. All these players have delivered in the try scoring department as well; apart from performing in their allocated roles without blemish. Weerathunga, a former Isipatana College schoolboy, has come of age. From his school at Havelock Town to Navy SC and at present with CR&FC he has reached a level in his playing which guarantees a berth in the national side as well as in any other domestic club side which extends him an invitation. This guy needs not be surprised if Kandy SC makes an offer for him to do a switch next season; given that the Nittawela side is struggling to put its forwards in order and is looking for a pack leader. Another player who caught the attention of spectators was Dooray for his breathtaking runs and quick thinking on the field. All on all the forwards combined well with the backs and produced a smashing 33-25 win in the Cup Championship decider against Kandy SC. In the first round game CR beat Kandy 38-26; which was by a bigger margin.

We have to talk about Dushanth Lewke, the CR&FC coach, for turning this side around. Lewke is now set to add more feathers on his cap as a rugby coach and what’s important is that he seems to have made the whole rugby set-up at CR listen to him. This probably has to be the case because when a coach gets all the support from the club and given that the players are both willing and able the result is a resounding victory. He is the son of a top cop and accomplished rugby coach Nimal Lewke, a former Senior DIG in the Police who also excelled in rugby, rugby refereeing, boxing, pistol shooting and spent the best years of his life in the war front. His son only has to concentrate on rugby. This writer doesn’t wish to compare the two individuals nor the different eras they were present in, but what has to be told must be told.

Kandy SC just couldn’t come to terms with how CR played the game in a fast, open and threatening manner. Many seasons ago they were playing this same form of rugby and had the opposition in shambles, but that was possible only with better and more accomplished players. It was Kandy’s speed that shattered the opposition, but not anymore. Take the Ratwatte brothers Nigel and Tharinda out of Kandy SC and you’ll see an outfit which can be beaten by any other side in the tournament. The Nittawela side played especially around Tharinda Ratwatte, easily the best player in the tournament and the country at present. He is an individual who has raised his game while being in a set-up which doesn’t know how to progress in 15-a-side rugby. If you analyze sides in the past like Police, CH, CR, Havies and even Air Force (during the times when a try gave a team four points and there was no lifting allowed in line outs) every side improved as the season progressed.

There were far less learning tools back then and the internet was unheard of. But people knew the intricacies of how common sense worked and also details of subtle communication methods; like the lines on the palm are read in the subject of palmistry. People or coaches were open to the ideas of others and thanks to human kind there was no smart phone to make you think you know it all. The Kandy side was not a bad side and even had one of the most experienced and seasoned campaigners in the game like Srinath Sooriyabandara. There were players like Jason Dissanayake, Dinal Ekanayake, Danushka Ranjan, Dange, Kavindu Perera, Shanushka Abeywickreme and Thilina Bandara to carry Kandy’s hope this season. But they collectively failed to lift this Kandy side one notch up. Coaches Marija and Viraj Prashantha (two rugby stars during their playing days) may be thinking hard, but hard work and application only produces a human result, not a miracle.

As for Kandy it’s now back to the drawing board for analysis and reviewing the season. Unlike in school rugby, Kandy Sports Club, which has buying power, knows how to strengthen the side when homegrown talent cannot keep the Kandy SC flag flying. It’s interesting to see how Kandy SC recovers from this big loss and looks to the future; the Clifford Cup Knockout tournament is next.

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Thomians rout Trinity to clinch Ranil Abeynayake Memorial Trophy

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Nathan Caldera bagged eight wickets.

Under 19 Cricket

by Reemus Fernando

S. Thomas’ registered crushing innings and 114 runs victory over Trinity as Nathan Caldera and Yatindra Siriwardene collected match bags of eight and seven wickets respectively to dismiss their visitors for meager totals in the traditional Under 19 cricket encounter at Mount Lavinia on Thursday.

The Thomians first win over Trinity since 2018 was achieved in dramatic fashion as they dismissed the Trinity batting line up within 19 overs in the second innings.

The win was sealed in the seventh over in the post lunch session as Thomians grabbed the last five wickets within that period. Trinity had only nine batsmen in the second innings as open batsman Dimantha Mahavithana did not bat due to an injury.

Paceman Caldera who bowled with fire in the first innings completed a match bag of eight wickets. It included an impressive five wicket haul in the first innings where he gave away just six runs.

Thisen Eheliyagoda was the star in the batting department as he top scored with 94 runs on a wicket where Trinity’s top score was Tharana Wimaladharma’s 23 runs.

Scores

Trinity

64 all out in 33.3 overs (Tharana Wimaladharma 23; Nathan Caldera 5/06, Yatindra Siriwardene 5/19) and 58 all out in 18.5 overs (Nathan Caldera 3/15, Yatindra Siriwardene 2/14, Ashen Perera 2/10, Kavindu Dias 2/18) and 58 all out in 18.5 overs (Nathan Caldera 3/15, Yatindra Siriwardene 2/14, Ashen Perera 2/10, Kavindu Dias 2/18))

S. Thomas’

173 for 7 overnight 236 all out in 76.2 overs (Mithila Charles 27, Sadev Soysa 22, Senadhi Bulankulame 23, Thisen Eheliyagoda 94, Ashen Perera 26; Tharana Wimaladharma 4/47, Malith Rathnayake 4/52, Thisal Yapa 2/53)

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