April 25, 2012, 10:46 pm
By Ravi Nagahawatte
Vidyartha College Kandy is experiencing a boom in rugby and what’s great is that there is a lot of help for the boys wearing the double blue and yellow jerseys to cement their place in Group A of the Division 1 Tournament.
The Kandy school has a couple of big boys who look ferocious and coach Anil Jayasinghe says that given how they played against Isipatana in the maiden fixture in 15-a-side rugby this season, last week, the team should provide some shocks this season.
That match ended in a thrilling 19-all draw and Jayasinghe is happy about the performance, because everybody rated the Green Shirts as the favourite team to walk away with the match. But if you perform an analysis on Vidyartha’s start to the 2012 rugby season, that performance against Isipatana is no flash in the pan.
“Vidyartha met Isipatana twice this season in sevens rugby and we beat them on both occasions. Those past experiences against Isipatana this season would have tremendously helped the boys to build their confidence. The other reason behind that great performance is that the school has 11 seniors, who helped them win the Division 1 Group B last season and earn promotion to the top group in the league,” explained Jayasinghe.
Vidyartha doesn’t enjoy the best of facilities when compared to other popular rugby playing schools. However, what’s inspiring is that a group comprising old boys, parents and well-wishers has made a commitment to help the school’s rugby set-up and work towards this cause through an organization called the Vidyartha Rugby Development Group. The best thing that has happened through this service provided by the group is that the school is able to spend on a nutrition programme for the players and fund the gym sessions which are done at Kandy Sports Club, in Nittawela, under the watchful eyes of Vijitha Bandara. “Rugby is an expensive sport,” affirms Jayasinghe, who quit refereeing and took to coaching because it is a more lucrative occupation.
But there are other reasons for Jayasinghe, an old boy of Vidyartha, to have said ‘yes’ to Vidyartha College authorities when they were looking for a coach, three years ago. “After I left Vidyartha in 1984, I hadn’t done anything for college. So I grabbed the opportunity to serve the school as rugby coach when they approached me. I asked for three years to produce some results and I believe this (his third year with the boys), will be Vidyartha’s year to remember in school rugby,” affirmed Jayasinghe.
Jayasinghe has a dedicated bunch of players – known as ‘Tigers’ in the school rugby scene – who commenced training in October last year, for the 2012 season. There are about 35 members in the pool and as a result, the school is now in a position to field a Second XV side apart from the traditional Under-18 and 16 teams which are set to contest all-island tournaments. “One big challenge is to get them to accept that the agonizing wait in Group B is over and that they are now in Group A with the best teams and they have to get on with it. Those memories that we were once in Group B have to be sent into oblivion, as fast as possible,” said Jayasinghe has also coached top teams like Trinity and Dharmaraja.
Vidyartha started playing rugby in 1968 and since then have produced top players and rugby personalities like Sunil Munasinghe, Charles Wijewardene, T. B. Wijesinghe, Athula Manchanayake, General H. M. N. Krishnaratne (SLRFU Council Member), Rohana Bandara, Viper Guneratne (senior) and present national player, Sumedha Malawana.
The biggest problem faced over the years by Vidyartha was that more affluent schools were poaching their players. Some of the players they produced such as Saliya Kumara, Suranga Pushpakumara and Anurudhdha Willawara were snapped up by other schools. “Vidyartha College is no more a nursery after I took over as coach. There is a huge culture for rugby in the school which also offers the opportunity for students to try their hand at 17 other disciplines. Vidyartha’s recent success in rugby has had a positive effect on the school’s rugby and now parents are very eager to send their children to play rugby. After all, everybody knows that if you play rugby for school, you are assured of a career with a top club and also a good job,” said Jayasinghe. The boys playing rugby at Vidyartha get all the encouragement from the Principal P. T. N. Alwis and Ananda Upatissa, who serves as the Master-in-Charge.
The veteran coach is impressed with Sri Lanka rugby when compared to other Asian teams which contest the annual Under-20 Asian Championships. “We are just behind Japan and Hong Kong in junior rugby,” he said.
He was also quick to point out that the standard of refereeing in Sri Lanka should be lifted a few notches because schools spend a lot on rugby and a team should not lose a match, due mistakes made by a referee.
Jason Dissanayake, who was a member of the Sri Lanka youth rugby team is the captain of the side and has Dhanushka Talwatte as his deputy.
So the period Jayasinghe requested to be involved with Vidyartha rugby will come to an end this season. He has pulled them out of the woods, which was Group B, and this season all signs point out that Vidyartha will rewrite the school rugby record books. have the potential to finish among the top four teams,” opined Jayasinghe, who is also an IRB educator for referees and also a Coach Match Official of the Asian Rugby Football Union Panel.