The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Tackling adversity with dedication

After years in the wilderness, school rugby is finally finding its feet in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, and even though schools there lack proper facilities they have no shortage of talent, as two caring coaches from Colombo found out

Basil Rodrigo

Having had the absolute delight of watching almost 180 little guys (most of whom were barefoot) run, kick, tackle and scrum-down, from the spectator lines, one would think they had been playing rugby for years. If I hadn’t been privy to the truth, I would never have guessed that a majority of the boys hadn’t known the sport for much longer than six months! The rugby training camp held at St. John’s College (SJC), Jaffna, last week, on June 14, 2012, was nothing short of inspiring�

“Sometimes children turn up for practice in damp shorts which have not completely dried, as they only own one pair of shorts and so have to keep washing and wearing them. These boys have absolutely no fear. None of these factors however, seem to detract from their sheer enthusiasm and eagerness to soak up every little pointer of the game,” said the big hearted live-wire, former Technical Officer of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU), Basil Rodrigo. Having set foot in Kilinochchi for the first time, on work, in January this year, Basil, who didn’t know a word of Tamil, got the sudden brainwave to coach rugby in the North. Initially having approached the Principal of the Akkarayan Maha Vidyalayam with his idea, and having got the green light to proceed at the junior level, Basil (a.k.a. Basil Sir) started with Tag Rugby. Gaining momentum along the way, he approached four more schools, learnt to speak Tamil from his prot�g�s, and before he knew it, wound up coaching about 250 kids from Kilinochchi alone.

Edwin Raj

“Having former Trinity ruggerite, Dr. Chandika Basnayake, is not only an asset for his coaching assistance, but also due to his easy access to an ambulance,” said Basil laughingly. “Having the fullest support of the school principals is the key to our success. Mr. Shanmugaraja, a Master in Charge, has even spent his personal funds to transport his boys by tractor for practice on days where public transport has been scarce,” said Basil.

Celebrating his birthday on June 14, Basil was overjoyed by the 180 individual wishes and one joint wish he received from the boys. He couldn’t think of a better way to have spent his special day, he said.

“I would like to make a special request to the Rugby Union to extend its fullest support to these children and to developing rugby in the North, especially to continue coaching them once I return to Colombo. I see strong potential for the making of at least a ‘B Division’ team from the North soon, with them becoming strong contenders for even the national squad in the foreseeable future,” added Basil with pride.

On the Jaffna side of things, it was the initiative of former Josephian ruggerite, Shehan de Alwis, when on a visit to SJC, Jaffna in 2010, which got the ball rolling. “It was actually a random suggestion by a friend of mine to coach rugby at St. John’s, which I didn’t take seriously at first. However, later on, I thought, why not? After getting the thumbs up from the Principal of SJC, Rev. N. J. Gnanaponrajah, I showed the boys (about 100 boarders) a few video clips of both local and international rugby games, whilst at the same time explaining the basic rules of the game to them.


The alliance with Basil occurred when Shehan saw an article about the Kilinochchi rugby tournament and went to watch it. “It was really heart-warming to see the amazing work that both Basil and Dr. Basnayake had put into training the boys and organizing the tournament. It was then that I suggested that they get in touch with Rev. Gnanaponrajah regarding the possibility of tying up with SJC to organize a joint camp,” he said. Basil followed Shehan’s advice and things had just snowballed from there. “I sincerely hope these boys can go on to represent the North in the national pool in the future,” said Shehan.

S. Sathiskumar (12) from Akkarayan MV said, “I like to meet with and play with other boys, and find Basil Sir’s coaching methods very interesting.” Having played rugby for just a month, G. Arunrogers’ (SJC, Under 16 Capt.) 5 tries (3 in one game) during the training camp, is quite a feat! “I would love to continue playing rugby in the future as I find it quite enjoyable and like to meet and play against other teams,” he said.

“Rugby was first played here when students displaced by the ’83 riots came to St. John’s and started playing amongst themselves for recreation. It was not till 2010 however, when Shehan approached me, that we officially started rugby at College.
“Later on, Basil got in touch with me and started coaching the boys in the lead up to the training camp. The students seem to be very interested in learning rugby which has never been played here before.” said Rev. Gnanaponrajah. Two of the main reasons rugby never kicked off in the North were due to the hard surface of the grounds and the dearth of professionally trained coaches here. “If better facilities could be made available to us, the Northern region too will be represented in the national team. So, we expect the Rugby Union and well wishers to support rugby in the North by developing our grounds, thus helping to improve the game,” added the Principal earnestly.

Looks like Northern Rugby is all geared up and raring to go! SLRFU, it’s over to you now.

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