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Injuries, packed schedules, provide fresh opportunities for young Tuskers

Dengue, broken jaws, and school exams. These are just some of the hurdles the Sri Lankan Tuskers will be looking to hurdle as they turn up for the final leg of the Asian Rugby Sevens powered by Dialog, this weekend (28-29 September) at the Racecourse Grounds in Colombo. But they’re also the only real breaks a Sri Lankan rugby player gets.

Indeed, it’s a little known fact that many players in the Sri Lankan national pool scarcely have time off - some have even been known to play for 10 straight years. A brief of overview of the next year’s schedule will likely provide a clearer picture, from the Asian Sevens series which finishes towards the end of September, to the Olympic qualifiers in November, and then immediately after that the start of the domestic rugby season which runs up until March. Following which the 15-a-side Asia series begins, which precedes the start of the club and mercantile Sevens season. The only break of any note is in March, at the end of the domestic season.

One of the main reasons behind this packed schedule is that most Sri Lankan national players turn for both the 15-a-side games and the Sevens, as Sri Lanka at present don’t have the necessary foundations in place to put out two separate teams for both formats. While this may be seen as a negative by some, most notably the frequent injuries suffered by players, there is also a silver lining with many young players now being afforded an opportunity in the national setup.

And there’s no better format to blood young talent than in the cut and thrust, high stakes world of Rugby Sevens, where unlike in the longer format the margin for error is far smaller. It’s also more taxing on the body, with the seven minute halves played on a full-size ground requiring considerably more fitness and agility. 

As such this season Sri Lanka has suffered injuries to several key players such as Danushka Rajan and Srinath Sooriyabandara, while players like Tharindu Ratwatte have taken time off for their studies. This though affords an opportunity for other players to step into the limelight.

The teething period for these young players, however, has been testing with Sri Lanka finishing fifth and fourth respectively in the first two legs. But they’re targeting higher and better performances in the third and final leg, especially with the home support backing them.

“We have our home crowd and that’s going to be a big motivator to take us up a step or two,” explains Sri Lanka Captain Danush Dayan.

“We need to learn from our mistakes, analyse our past games. Make the team, rucks, kick off, and figure out how we’re going to defend against them. The Sri Lankan fans have an expectation of our team, and we want to meet that expectation.

“Playing in front of our fans, in the same grounds where we practiced, with our family and friends all supporting us is immense expectation and pressure but also a big strength.” 

The pressure of course stems from the fact that the Tuskers know they must win two of their opening three games if they are to qualify for the semi’s, lest they have to settle for playing for fifth place in front of a raucous home crowd.

Their toughest group match will unquestionably be against Hong Kong, who they have lost to in the past but don’t necessarily fear.

“Our recent matches against them have been close, and we’re not far off their level. We know what we need to do to win,” stated a confident Dayan.

Hong Kong however are coming off the back of an impressive triumph over China in the final of the second leg, so Sri Lanka will know they have their work cut out for them. China meanwhile produced the upset of the Asian Sevens when they stunned Japan in the second leg on home soil.

Japan nevertheless remain favourites for the title, and will be keen to ensure no such unexpected results occur this time around.

Sri Lanka meanwhile will kick off their tournament against South Korea, who will be hoping to put their poor showing in the second leg behind them. Sri Lanka though will view this as a must-win affair.

On the women’s side, unlike the men’s, the overall title has been decided with Japan winning both the first two legs. China however have run them close, and will be keen to avenge their defeats earlier in the season.

Catch all the excitement and nail-biting thrills and spills on the field this weekend, 28th and 29th September at the Racecourse Ground, Colombo. For more information regarding match times please visit www.srilankarugby.lk 

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