Another rugby disaster
By Bernie Wijesekera
Sri Lanka's rugby team's performance at the recent South East Asiad in Busan was a great disaster. The game needs a proper evaluation. A mere sticking plaster is not the remedy. A major surgery has to be done to remove the malady, said Ajit Abeyratne, former Trinity rugby 'Lion' who led the team in 1967 to emerge unbeaten champions.

Abeyratne was interviewed by The Sunday Times. He played as a tough No. 8 for CR and FC and Sri Lanka. He went on to coach the CR&FC and later coached the national rugby team. Rugby is his first love, though he played cricket for Trinity and for CCC. In 1968 he made a 100 against Royal in 62 balls at Asgiriya. That knock is still talked about in cricketing circles.

Further to that rugby is literally in his blood. His uncle the famous Trinity rugby coach Hilary Abeyratne had a hand in turning out many champion teams and many rugby players to that matter. Hilary is presently in Australia. Naturally the interest his uncle had in the game has rubbed on to him.

Ajit, is a keen student of the game. He minced no words about his observations and what steps should be taken to uplift the image of rugby which has hit rock bottom.

Q. In what way could we overcome this?
. It needs a pro-active management team who are willing to sacrifice their time to put the game on course. It has to be an eight-hour job handled by professionals. People who don't have this type of commitment should refrain from holding office (especially executive posts), in any controlling body. This is a common trend in most sports bodies here. In its wake bring about a power struggle at the expense of the respective disciplines. People should not indulge in social rugby administration.

Weak administration brings about a lack of player commitment, too. Aussie Cricket Manager, Steve Bernard, who was here at the recent ICC Champions Trophy said, if Australia is on top of the cricketing ladder it is due to 100 percent commitment.

Abeyratne said, "One can't blame the coaches. The infrastructure has to be on a firm footing. Past national captains and coaches must be drafted into the management structure. Priyantha Ekanayake should be one of them. He has played international rugby at home and abroad and he is aware of the modern methods of the game. The likes of Rohan Abeykoon, Lasitha Gunaratne etc. could come into this category.

Hisham Abdeen is doing a good job with the Development Squad. He should be given all the support and encouragement for its continuity. The present National Coach, C.P.P. Abeygunawardena's services should be secured for a couple of years and given the freedom to map out strategy. No one can perform miracles overnight, specially before an impending tour.

Sports psychologist
Even the players must be motivated for a higher commitment and if necessary a sports psychologist should assist them.

Q. What have you got to say about the schools rugby section.
It comes under the Education Sports section. There are quite a number of chinks in its armour. This is the cradle of rugby. They should have competent people, who have played the game at the highest level, not mere figureheads. The future of the sport at the national level lies here.

They possess two sets of mind. I have noticed this trend. If this is allowed to manifest there is bound to be a negative effect on the game, Ajit said.

Q. Are you aware that officials holding office in the respective sports, (teachers) have not indulged in any ball games.
Plans were afoot to get former Sri Lanka stalwart Lionel Almeida to be in charge of the coaching section. It fell on the wayside. This is why I have mentioned that there should be professionals to handle the sport. The Education Department must take serious note of it with an eye for the future development of the game at national level. Tuition masters can't hold office. There should be a setof men who are fully committed. Yes, today many schools have taken to the scrum. They are good at club level too.

But they should be able to challenge in order to impart a higher degree of commitment at national level. Team spirit can't be inculcated just before a tour (which is a common trend here). Regular team meetings and outings even during off seasons should be encouraged. Besides the national squad, there should be a Barbarians squad and the Dev. Squad in training.

Play exhibitions
To infuse enthusiasm among the schoolboys there should be under-17, 19 and 21 levels. Similarly there should be two to three squads in each level with so many schools playing rugby unlike in the past.

Q. What have you got to say about China's rugby upsurge.
A Good example of professional approach during a short period. George Simpkin has done a tremendous job. George eats and sleeps rugby. Before long China will be front-runners in the Asian region to match Japan, S. Korea, Chinese Taipei. It attributes to total commitment. It is not an impossibility for Sri Lanka. We have a better rugby history than some of the Asian nations. To achieve it there should be professional men to handle it.

A good job
The rugby development committee has done a good job at grassroot level with a professional approach. At present Arjun Dharmadasa and Kumar Abywardene are continuing the good work of their predecessor, Y.C. Chang.

To harness this abundant player base (5,000) it needs Pro. Junior National coaches. They should be supported by an excellent management team by the controlling body.

Q. What about money.
There are local sponsors to help, provided it's run properly. Further, the IRB is regularly helping. I am confident they will further increase their support, provided there are positive results, to show that the game is improving, concluded Abeyratne.

Playing politics with a trophy
All's not well with Sri Lanka rugby at present. In its wake the name of a challenge trophy on offer for the Schools and Club K.O. tournament has been changed at the whims and fancies of the powers that be. It looks as if rugby is playing politics even with trophy at the behest of individuals.

The former President of Sri Lanka late Ranasinghe Premadasa, did much for the re-development of the Sugathadasa Stadium to be tagged as one of the best international venues in Asia. Besides the late President did much for the uplift of sports at grassroots level.

The recognition for his unflagging enthusiam the then rugby union, officials in 1984 organised a K.O. tournament (for both schools and clubs) in his name - the Premadasa Trophy K.O. tournament. Amid pomp and pagentry staged at the Sugathadasa Stadium CR & FC beat CH & FC in the final 16-14. Asanga Seneviratne scored 12 points for the winners.

It roused great spectator interest. After his demise - things took a change. The humble Price Park Premadasa, who played football and started his life at Saunders Place to emerge the first citizen of the country was forgotten by the very people who started the tournament in his name, (SLRFU). The trophy was re-named President's trophy!

It has taken another turn now. It's going to be called the Premier Trophy. It's worse than playing musical chairs. Whom are they now trying to appease. The move musthave caused a lot of embarrassment to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Take the prestigious Bradby Shield rugby match played between Royal and Trinity. The name has not being changed since it was inaugurated, and will be there for generations to come. Its name was not changed when the late J.R. Jayewardene became the first Royalist to be the President of Sri Lanka. The Royal O.B.A., stood by the Bradby Shield. 'J.R' played cricket and rugby for Royal along with late D.W.L. Lieversz (Snr).

For that matter Trinity could have suggested the name of late Lt. Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwe an outstanding rugby player, who excelled from the base for his school the Army and for the country.

An officer and a gentleman, who sacrificed his life for an unitary State. Saner counsel from the respective OBAs prevailed, but still maintains the traditions todate.Changing the name of a trophy is not the panacea for the ongoing rugby ills. (B.W.)

Give hockey a hearing, pleads Rosayro
By M.Shamil Amit
Is hockey a dying sport in the island?. In the 60s this sport was classed behind India and Pakistan in the Asian Region. Now the game is struggling to survive. Added to that the Astro Turf which is at Reid Avenue is in a neglected state. The Sports Ministry is completely ignoring the game and in its wake the Mercantile Hockey Association headed by stalwart Dennis de Rosayro is making arrangements to conduct their annual Seven-a-Side hockey tournament on October 27 at Havelock Park from 8. a.m. onwards. This popular tournament is being sponsored by Unilever Ceylon Limited for the 21st consecutive year.

"Give us a hearing", pleaded Dennis de Rosayro when the Sunday Times contacted Dennis de Rosayro to verify why the Mercantile 'A' division tournaments has not been held so far. He stressed that they were unable to conduct the competition without a proper venue.

"Normally a tournament of this nature is played on Astro Turf. The only Astro Turf in Colombo is available at Reid Avenue. The other one is in Matale, which is also not functioning according to the standards of national players", said Rosayro. He went on to say that he had paid the grounds fees last year for the two tournaments but the competitions have not been conducted so far due to the sad state of the Astro Turf.

When questioned as to how the two key inter-school games (Royal -Thomian) and (Ananda - Nalanda) were played on the Astro Turf, he said that the schoolboys played at their own risk and there was the immeninet danger that they could get injured very badly due to the sad state of the Astro Turf.

Dennis pointed out that most of the players in mercantile teams are national players and they don't want to take a risk. This is a valid reason to consider.

In the early 60's hockey was behind India and Pakistan in the Asian region but the game has dropped down so badly that even Bangladesh is better than Sri Lanka now. Dennis lamented that hockey is a neglected game now and is being given stepmotherly treatment. The Mercantile Hockey Association is one association which keeps the game alive with regular tournaments.

"So much of money is spent on sports but hockey has been forgotten", lamented Dennis. Why?

The Minister of Sports Johnston Fernando, said at a press conference held at his ministry recently that all sports would be looked after accordingly. As the first step the minister could do justice for hockey players if the Astro Turf at Reid Avenue is repaired.

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