Sri Lanka Rugby aims to build specialist Sevens team | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka Rugby aims to build specialist Sevens team

Sri Lanka player Gayan Weeraratne is action at last week’s Sevens (pic by Saman Mendis)
Sri Lanka player Gayan Weeraratne is action at last week’s Sevens (pic by Saman Mendis)

Sri Lanka Rugby is looking to launch out on a new phase in the Sevens format to fall in line with other Asian countries like Japan, Kong Kong and the Philippines where a combination of high performance factors, funding and prospects of overseas players with native roots going in to make up the ultimate Sevens team.

Sri Lanka finished fifth last year at the Asian Sevens and despite the shortcomings climbed up one step to end up in the fourth slot in the 2018 Asian Sevens.

The team was minus its two play-makers Sooriyabandara and Sooriyaarachchi who joined Muthuthantri who was also out reportedly due to a shoulder injury that needs surgery.

But the presence of several youngsters was taken as a refreshing sight to look positively at the future.

“You got to look at it very comparatively. Last year we ended up fifth and this year we finished in the fourth position and I think this was due to the presence of a new crop of players who made good cover for the injured hands. So it is not disheartening at all”, said Sri Lanka Rugby’s vice president Nazim Mohamed who heads the development of Sevens rugby.

He said the biggest challenge facing the team now is funding after Sevens rugby became an Olympic sport in 2016 that made it the responsibility of the respective National Olympic Committees of countries to fund the development process.

“Because Sevens Rugby became an Olympic sport it also needs the attention of our National Olympic Committee to chip in with funding. The annual budget to move into this new phase can be in the region of Rs.30 million for a year and for our part we now have to adopt a marketing strategy as well”, said Mohamed.

He said the time was right for Sri Lanka to have a specialist Sevens team whose players will not have to worry too much about the traditional 15-a-side game taking Japan as an example.

Mohamed said that the reason why the Philippines ended up in the third slot at the Colombo leg of the Asian Sevens last week was because most of their players qualified for Philippine representation on biological grounds while living in countries like Australia and the Pacific region.

“We too must look to see if there are players with Sri Lankan roots living and playing in countries like the United Kingdom, New Zealand or Australia who can qualify to play for us”, said Mohamed.

He said Sri Lanka Rugby was happy to note that more youngsters are coming through a system with the only challenge being how to sustain them as a team on the long run.

“With the right funding we can sustain a high performance programme and ensure that we are able to build up on a specialist Sevens squad and that is our challenge at hand which we are working on”, said Mohamed.

According to independent analysts who witnessed the Asian Sevens in Colombo last week, Sri Lanka lacked nothing by way of ball-handling skills and speed as the players showed they could compete well with the top shelf teams in Asia.

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