By Rani Prematilake in Hong Kong
Naturally a school of thought would arise as to how one could term a fifth place finish as an achievement, especially when being amongst the top four in Asia was becoming rest assured. Such a notion and/or a comparison would be a travesty for the game of rugby football in Sri Lanka.
Primarily, the Hong Kong bound outfit was a raw set of youngsters assembled with the intent of expanding the sevens player base at a national level. Secondly, the level of competition witnessed at the Kings Park Sports Ground over the weekend was arguably at a higher level from the previous editions. The composition of Japanese, South Korean, Hong Kong, Chinese and Philippines squads by no means were mediocre. In fact Philippines, the side which Sri Lanka defeated to claim the fifth spot, pushed South Korea into extra-time in the cup quarters.
The circumstances are such that it is prudent for the administrators to take the positives out of this test to move forward aiming at the development of this version of the sport, wherein Sri Lanka realistically stands a chance of claiming regional success.
National coach Peter Woods expressing his views from an overall perspective highlighted a few pertinent factors. “They are still young boys. Quite surprisingly, it was the first time they were taken through video reviews (match reviews). Sevens rugby is all about conditioning and preparation. We still need to improve on our fitness” said Woods.
Commenting on the way forward (two editions ahead in the 2017 series), Woods emphasized on the need to assess the injuries and move from thereon. “Some guys are having a few niggling injuries, yet we need to assess them. The attitude within is quite good.Chandimal (Chanaka) will be back for the South Korean edition. He was a big miss for us. The youngsters will be given time to settle down” explained Woods. Needless to harp, it is up to the administrators to support Peter Woods – a man with a vision and more importantly an individual recognized and respected internationally.
It was heartening to note the impressive display throughout the tournament of Buddhima Piyaratne, Dhanush Dayan and young Naveen Henakankanamage. Wiry Piyaratne showed remarkable speed on the wing and managed to regularly draw a couple of defenders when surging ahead. This created space in the opponents’ defence. As the tournament progressed Dhanush Dayan perfected and executed to precision the art of securing the ball in kick-offs – a threshold concern in sevens rugby. Henakankanamge, in his second visit to Hong Kong in as many months (first as captain of the national U: 20 side), was fearless and shone both in defence and in attack.
The Asian Sevens Series 2017 moves to South Korea on 23rd and 24th of September for the second round, before the Colombo edition scheduled for the 13th and 14th of October 2017.