By Harsha Amarasinghe
Sri Lanka Under-20 head coach Nilfer Ibrahim is confident of his experienced side, but claimed he is slightly worried about the lack of game time on the artificial turf in King’s Park, Hong Kong ahead of the Asia Under-20 Sevens Series this weekend.
The 12-man squad led by former S. Thomas’ College skipper Naveen Henakankanamge is due to leave the country today after a series of intense training sessions.
“Our preparations have been very good. The boys were even allowed to train along with the national players which was great. As a group, we are very confident. The only issue, I would say is the fact that we have to play on an artificial turf. We have actually got some players who have played there, but overall we don’t have much experience playing on an artificial turf,” Ibrahim told the Daily Mirror.
Henakankanamge who has already represented Sri Lanka is one of Sri Lanka’s main try scoring threats while the likes of Avishka Lee and Harith Bandara played significant roles for their respective teams during the Inter-Club season, and Dinuk Amarasinghe looks set to be the first-choice centre at Havelock Sports Club in the coming season.
“Naveen played for the Sri Lanka 7’s team and Dinuk was also a part of the national set-up. There are a few other players who have done really well at club level and in addition to that we have got the best talents out of the Inter-School season. It must have been a very difficult task for the selectors to finalise a squad given that the entire squad was very good. Anyway we have a very good squad and I hope they can deliver the results,” added the St. Joseph’s coach.
Sri Lanka have been handed a somewhat comfortable draw as they are set to avoid both Hong Kong and South Korea during the group stage, but the former Kingswood fly-half downplayed the advantage talks.
“Everyone talks about Hong Kong and South Korea, but for me, all the teams are very strong and will be tough to beat. I don’t think we have a huge advantage in not playing them early in the group stages, but I am confident I have a good squad which could go all the way and regain the Asian title,” claimed Ibrahim.
Former Sri Lanka and Kandy captain Fazil Marija who retired from competitive rugby at the end of last season, was swiftly added to the coaching staff as Ibrahim’s assistant, and the head coach believes that it has had an instant impact on the squad.
“We all know who Fazil Marija is. He has had a sensational career as a player and if you ask from any of the young back division players in Sri Lanka who they’d like to be in future, Fazil would be the answer more often than not. He has a huge amount of respect and having him in the coaching staff is very good. It will also be a huge advantage that he will certainly share his experience with the squad on and off the field,” Ibrahim concluded.
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