By Ranil Prematilake
The national rugby sevens squad will take wing to Hong Kong in the early hours of tomorrow to participate in the first leg of the Asian Sevens Series 2018. When contacted by the Daily Mirror Chairman of the national selection panel Rohan Abeykoon was quick to acknowledge the challenge before a relatively inexperienced outfit. “It is a tough quest. We have lost four players from the last assignment, the Asian Games. The composition this time is a blend of youth and experience. However, preparation wise we cannot consider the loss of players as a negative factor, especially having regard to the training schedules in place during the last twelve months or so,” contended Abeykoon, himself a former national sevens skipper.
It was apparent that Abeykoon was making reference to the professional structure implemented primarily by the former Director of High Performance at Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR). “Schedules are in place and there is a pool of 18-20 players who are primed to fit into identified roles at a given time. Moreover, monitored (technologically) training sessions have been put in place. The results are only beginning to show. A lot of emphasis is placed on fitness and speed,” added Abeykoon who was optimistic on the return of playmaker Dhanushka Ranjan for the second leg in South Korea. “He should be fine, certainly for the Colombo edition. However Muthu (Sudharshana Muthuthanthri) will be in plaster for six weeks and is almost certain to miss out the entire series,” said the Trinity centre three-quarter of 1982 and 1983.
A professional approach to sevens rugby got off the ground during the tenure of Asanga Seneviratne, whose enduring ambition to make the island nation a top sevens outfit in the global circuit saw the recruitment of Inthisham Marikar and legendary national skipper Priyantha Ekanayake into the administrative set up of Sri Lanka rugby. Things moved according to plan and the presence of an internationally recognised coach in the form of Peter Woods, added strength to such a cause. Signs of a change of administration at the helm and confirmation of the same followed the sudden resignation of Marikar, whose first goal was an Asian Games medal. The resignation came with barely three months to go for the Asian Games. The nation fell short by a whisker of winning a medal. Whilst it would be futile to read between the lines of such a sequence of events, it is in the best interest of Sri Lankan sevens rugby, that this attractive proposition is continued. As is evident from the composition of the squad to Hong Kong, two young prospects of Sri Lankan sevens rugby in Naveen Henakankanamage and Dinuk Amarasinghe have already broken into the senior ranks. Further, as revealed by the chief national selector, gifted schoolboy talent of Janidu Dilshan and Gemunu Chethiya too have been drafted into the main pool.