Ahead of Sunday’s first matches in this year’s ARC Division 1, today’s ‘State of the Union’ report is on the top seeds and one of the region’s oldest unions, Sri Lanka.
Always hovering around 40th in the World Rugby rankings and by far the highest of the 4 competing countries, they enter the tournament with the tag of favourites to win. Sri Lanka is one of the few Asian unions to have played Men’s 15’s test matches against non-Asian countries in recent years, having lost to Madagascar and then beaten Poland in the Serendib Cup in Colombo in 2013.
The Game was introduced in what was at the time Ceylon by colonial (tea) “planters” in the late 1870’s. The Ceylon Rugby Union was a founded in 1908. Sri Lanka is one of the few unions in Asia with such longevity and hence has a vibrant Rugby culture featuring Rugby club houses and playing venues steeped in history. The SLRFU was a Founder member of Asia Rugby (then ARFU) in 1968 and has been a World Rugby member since 1988.
Rugby is the 2nd national sport after cricket with a comparatively huge player base in 2016 of almost 90,000 registered and unregistered players at 215 clubs and 360 schools across the country.
Traditional school rivalry matches attract crowds of thousands, as does the annual Clifford Cup club final, which takes place after the annual home and away Dialog Premiership; both competitions featuring the country’s top 8 clubs. In September each year, the Premiership and Clifford Cup Champions play in the Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League against the top clubs from the UAE/Gulf and Kazakhstan.
Asia Rugby spoke to the union’s High Performance Director, Inthi Marikar for his views on this year’s Dialog Sri Lanka team playing for the Asia Rugby Division 1 title and possible promotion to next year’s RWC 2019 Qualifier against Korea and Hong Kong.
Marikar told Asia Rugby: “The Kandy Club won both the 2016-17 Dialog Premiership and the Clifford Cup to end the season with a League and Cup double. So it’s no surprise that Kandy is providing the bulk of our squad, with a few guys from the Havelocks and Ceylon clubs in Colombo and the Navy plus 1 or 2 others.
“The players at Kandy and indeed at many clubs are semi-professionals, many training twice a day 4 days a week to play on the weekend. The clubs help to find jobs to attract the best young players.
“In terms of experience, team captain, Roshan Weeraratna (Kandy), who plays as Half Back is in his 5th year at this level. Fazil Marija (also Kandy), our 1st 5 8th, has himself captained our national 7’s and 15’s teams in the past, but this may be his last year. Omalka Gunaratne (CR&FC), a new and exciting prospect at no 8 is a very good loose forward,” whom Asia Rugby recalls was the stand-out player in the 2015 Asia Rugby Under 19 Championships in Singapore, despite Hong Kong winning that tournament. It will certainly be interesting to see how Gunaratne is maturing into adult international Rugby.
Marikar went on to say: “The squad is quite good, but a number of our players are coming off the back of having prepared for and played in the recent HSBC Sevens World Series Qualifier tournament at the Hong Kong 7’s just a month ago. This has restricted the time for them to adapt back to 15’s. So we’ve only had the whole squad together since late April and they’re been in a 2 week Training Camp in Colombo since then. We’re not having any practice matches.
“We lost to Malaysia last year and their Fijian players are a daunting task. The big expatriates in the UAE squad and some of the overseas players in the Philippines squad are always a physical challenge for us. We have no foreign players. All are home grown.”
Always one of the most dangerous Asian teams in ‘broken field’ running, with their speed and athleticism, it may be a good omen that the Sri Lankans are this year coached by Fereti Verebula, a Fijian who has coached in the past in New Zealand. The Assistant Coach is Rajeev Perera.
The relatively short haul flights from South to South East Asia are generally overnight. So the Sri Lanka squad will arrive in Malaysia a day before their incoming rivals, to catch up on a full night’s sleep and be ahead of the opposition in more ways than one.
Sri Lanka’s matches are:
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Sri Lanka Squad
1 Ganuka Disanayaka – KANDY SC
2 Suhiru Anthony – KANDY SC
3 Roshan Weeraratna – C – KANDY SC
4 Fazil Marija – KANDY SC
5 Danushka Ranajan – KANDY SC
6 Richard Dharmapala – KANDY SC
7 Lavanga Perera – KANDY SC
8 Jesan Dissanayaka – KANDY SC
9 Thilina Wijesinghe – KANDY SC
10 Tariq Salih – CR&FC
11 Omalka Gunaratne – CR&FC
12 Sharo Fernando – HAVELOCK SC
13 Dushmantha Priyadarshana – HAVELOCK SC
14 Prasad Madushanka – HAVELOCK SC
15 Niroshan Fernando – HAVELOCK SC
16 Nishon Perera – HAVELOCK SC
17 Umesh Madusanka – HAVELOCK SC
18 Ashan Darling – HAVELOCK SC
19 Sajith Saranga – NAVY SC
20 Sathya Ranatunga – NAVY SC
21 Chanaka Chandimal – NAVY SC
22 Richie Dharmapala – NAVY SC
23 Lee Keegal – NAVY SC
24 Joel Perera – POLICE SC
25 Ashoka Jayalal – ARMY SC
On Stand By
1 Damith Dissanayaka – KANDY SC
2 Stephan Gregary – NAVY SC
3 Radeesha Ranaja – POLICE SC
4 Gayan Jayamanna – CR&FC
5 Sudam Suriyaaratchchci – HAVELOCKS SC
6 Shashan Mohamed – CR&FC
Tomorrow’s article will feature tournament hosts, Malaysia