Could spell the end of the road for club rugby that has been stripped of common followers of the past and played to virtual empty stands:
In a bid to salvage what is left by way of spectator interest in premier club rugby that is played to empty stands, a new format of the sport is set to take place in September and the conversion is currently gathering steam.
Experts from Australia and Wales have joined Sri Lanka Rugby’s former Consultant and Chief Executive Dilroy Fernando to kick start what will be branded as the Colombo 11s and teams from America, South Africa, Australia and Asia will be in the fray competing against local club sides and will also include women’s teams and the best schoolboy outfits.
The main driving force for what is being touted as a Rugby Revolution in Sri Lanka is a former Trinity College product Dilip Kumar that many are unaware was able to land the top job in Australian rugby as its chairman in 2005.
Kumar is joined by another master visionary and reformist John O’Brien, a recipient of the Australian Sports Medal bestowed on him by Prime Minister John Howard in 2000 for his services to the Rugby Union.
“The joy of rugby is in the ball being passed without stoppages like in the 15s game. The 11s is about keeping the games moving with running, passing, catching and tackling and no need for kicking. This is a revolution in the development of rugby,” said O’Brien at the concept’s launch at what was once the home of rugby in the country, the Ceylonese Rugby Football Club (CR and FC) at Longden Place in Colombo.
The 11s is said to have been a roaring success when it premiered in Thailand and Malaysia last year and if successful in Sri Lanka the concept will sound the Last Post for club rugby in the country which is becoming a dying entity with only one club, Kandy SC, able to draw a crowd over the past decade.
Patrick Cotter, a Welshman and crusader contends the 11s format is designed to rope in more fans and take rugby to more places in an age of innovation and change in sporting demands.
“The game has lost a lot of fun and excitement. Rugby players are adaptable and the 11s can reorganize the rugby fraternity and this will put us on the right track,” said Cotter.
With the traditional 15-a-side game not giving Sri Lanka a place on the world stage, it is believed that the 11s could be the formula for the country in moulding its Sevens team which has potential to move forward in the international arena.
The build-up to the Colombo 11s is being spearheaded locally by Dilroy Fernando who is out on a crusade to win back the crowds and is optimistic the event to be held over three days will snowball into a franchise where teams will be bought and owned by commercial partners on the lines of the Indian Premier League (IPL) T20 cricket.
“The Colombo 11s will be a fast game that cuts off all the breakdowns and is just what rugby fans will want to see”, said Fernando as he teamed up at Thursday’s countdown in the presence of the affable Sri Lanka Rugby president and former Number Eight and retired Air Force Group Captain Nalin de Silva a veteran who has taken the sport as far up-north as Jaffna.
The 11s will not accommodate rolling mauls and scrum resets and a line-out ball put-in will be curtailed to just 30 seconds while there will not be a needing for kicking as six Forwards and five Backs make up a team of 11 members.
The matches will be showcased free of charge to the majority of rugby fans at the Race Course ground in Colombo.