Sri Lanka schoolboys to challenge Asian rugby giant Japan | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka schoolboys to challenge Asian rugby giant Japan

In this picture taken by ThePapare website schoolboys from Trinity College and St. Anthony’s College feature in their rugby match in the 2020 season that came to an end after just two weeks
In this picture taken by ThePapare website schoolboys from Trinity College and St. Anthony’s College feature in their rugby match in the 2020 season that came to an end after just two weeks

What Sri Lanka’s hardcore senior rugby players have been struggling to do for more than 40 years, its schoolboy juniors are to be put on course to achieve by challenging the top force in Asia and World Cup contender Japan, over the next three years.

Sri Lanka Rugby’s president-in-waiting Rizly Illyas has already taken credit for financially revolutionizing schools rugby that was able to launch into a higher platform early this year with the entry of mobile phone and television services provider Dialog as the new godfather.

He contends that Sri Lanka youth rugby can now target to become the second best among the top ten nations of Asia behind heavyweights Japan.

“I am working closely with the schools to make Sri Lanka junior rugby second only to Japan within the next three years in both forms of fifteen-a-side and Sevens.

“In the past we were champions in certain age groups in Asia and we got to bring back this image,” said Illyas.

Illyas at one time touted schools rugby had an annual market value of between Rs.150 to 200 million, second only to the Sri Lanka cricket team in branding value and his push for recognition fetched youth rugby Rs 70 million, double the value from its previous benefactor.

“Schools form the cradle of Sr Lanka rugby and it was something I pushed for when I was Sri Lanka Rugby secretary in 2014,” said Illyas who is tipped to be elected uncontested at next month’s election.

Sri Lanka Rugby and the keepers of schools rugby were to set to sign an Agreement in 2017 that would have brought them a hundred percent funding increase through Dialog, but the Education Ministry blew the move off-side in favour of the existing sponsor. “This year during my tenure as deputy president of Sri Lanka Rugby the schools were able to finally accept an offer of Rs. 70 million,” said Illyas.

Schools rugby, which is confined mostly to Colombo and Kandy is currently on hold after the coronavirus brought the high stakes league to a standstill in March after just two weeks.

But Illyas has now come to realise that in the Provinces, not the big cities, lies the sleeping giants who can rise to the occasion. “Many players who have gone on to represent club and country have been identified from Provincial tournaments and the coaches employed by us to support Provincial development,” said Illyas.

Over the past two years in the absence of funding for junior rugby, the country has not been able to contest youth tournaments and Illyas now wants to push for Asia Rugby to introduce Under-21 and 24 tournaments in the region.

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