Never touched a rugby ball before joining the Air Force - Sri Lanka Women’s Rugby Sevens captain Anusha Attanayake | Sunday Observer

Never touched a rugby ball before joining the Air Force - Sri Lanka Women’s Rugby Sevens captain Anusha Attanayake

30 July, 2022

The Sri Lanka women’s rugby sevens team is due to participate in the Commonwealth Games which began in Birmingham on Thursday.

The Youth Observer caught up with the captain of the team, Anusha Attanayake to discuss their preparation and hopes in the Games before the team’s departure to the UK.

Q: Anusha, could you tell me about the team’s preparation to take part in the Games?

A: Yes. We are ready to put out our best display at the competition. All the players trained very hard for three-and-a-half months. As such we are physically and mentally fit to face the competition.

Q: How do you analyze your opponents? Have you studied their strengths and weaknesses?

A: We have to face very strong opponents such as New Zealand, Canada and England. They are very strong teams. It will be tough to beat them. But we will focus on one match at a time taking into consideration our strength. We will never give up hope and are ready to fight.

Q: Does this mean that you will not even win one match?

A: I do not mean like that. Do you think people take part in competitions to lose? Every team hopes to win their matches. We are also like that. We cannot definitely say that we will win a medal. We hope to gain experience and protect our status in world rankings is the main target.

We also hope to take part in the Asian Games to be held next year and come up in the Asian rankings. However, we will try to win as many matches as possible.

Q: What is our standard in South Asia?

A: I think we are among the top in our region. Today, we do not have any challenge in South Asia Rugby.

Q: You said that you are focusing on next year’s Asian Rugby Sevens. What is our place in Asia?

A: We are in fifth place in Asia. Japan, China, Hong Kong and Kazakhstan are the countries that are above us in the rankings.

Q: Do you have any idea why we could not be among the first three places in the Asian region?

A: The main problem is our training. Take the next Asian Games. It is unrealistic to form a pool about three months before the Games and expect top results. Countries such as Japan, China or Hong Kong conduct their training schedules continuously throughout the year as they are professional players.

Those countries also have academies which produce and train the players. All of the prominent rugby countries in Asia conduct club tournaments, national tournaments and friendly tournaments with neighbouring countries. But those types of opportunities are mere dreams for our players.

How can we compete with teams like that? We have to manage with the talent and facilities that we have. That is the truth. I do not blame any person or organisation. We are aware of our sponsor’s limits and the situation in the country.

Q: Isn’t it true that women’s rugby tournaments at club level have not been conducted recently?

A: Yes, that’s true. Club sevens tournaments have not been conducted for two years, the main reason being Covid-19. That has also affected us badly.

Q: Do you mean to say indirectly that we have not nurtured a second team in the country?

A: Without conducting tournaments how we nurture young talent. We do not have any chance to seek out youngsters with talent. The young players who enter the game do not know the real path. Without conducting tournaments we cannot improve the skills of our players. Match experience is different from training sessions.

If a player attends a tournament he or she can learn more tactics and one’s weaknesses. We can build up a second team by holding tournaments. Without competition we cannot do it. That is the reality.

Q: Do you blame the Rugby Association?

A: No. They are trying to build up this game. The present administration is trying hard to develop the game in our country. But, Covid has affected our sports activities badly. We had to put off sports activities for several months due to the pandemic. It is not over yet.

Q: Women’s Rugby is not very popular in Sri Lanka. Most people think that rugby is only for men and that women are not suitable for this. That reputation also badly affected our Women’s Rugby future. Has this attitude affected the minds of the new generation? Traditional behaviour in our society is also a barrier to developing the game. Don’t you agree?

A: Maybe. But it is wrong to say that this game is only for men. I am determined to correct this misconception. Do you know all of our team members have either fiancés or husbands. Two of them have married and have little kids too. I want to say that rugby is only for men is a myth and a lot of women know how to play the game properly.

Q: As the captain of the National Rugby team, do you have any idea how to develop women’s rugby in our country?

A: I think if we can break the narrow minded ideas about this game in society we can develop the game. I suggest we start rugby academies islandwide. I can assure you that girls will gather around this game.

Q: Now let me come to your personal life. How do you join this game?

A: I was an athlete in my school days. My school was Akuramboda National College in Matale. After leaving school in 2012 I joined the Sri Lanka Air Force Sports Club as an athlete. After a few months one of our officers Wing Commander Chandana Deepthi invited me to join the Air Force rugby pool. At that time I did not know anything about this game or the shape of the rugby ball. Since then I have represented Sri Lanka by participating in several international tournaments. It has helped to develop my personality and life background too.

Q: Are you involved in any professional work at present?

A: Yes. I am working as a personal trainer and doing higher studies as well.

Q: Do you have anything to say before ending this short discussion?

A: I thank everyone who helped me to reach this standard in rugby. I do not wish to mention names for fear of leaving out some. I also thank my father, mother, two brothers and their families.