|Wednesday, 20 February 2002|
Jayasena tipped to lead in rugby qualifiers
by Dinesh Weerawansa
Kandy Sports Club's Asoka Jayasena is tipped to lead Sri Lanka at the World Cup Qualifying round matches to be played in March and April. Second row forward Jayasena, who led Sri Lanka at the last Asiad, is set to retain his place to continue his impressive run on home soil.
Despite Sri Lanka team's unimpressive performance at the last Asiad, Jayasena has a perfect record at home as captain. He led Sri Lanka to back to back rugby union Test series wins against the Australian Northern Territories (2-0) and China (2-0) in 2000 before his team had a similar 2-0 series win against Taiwan, all in Sri Lanka. Under the leadership Jayasena, Sri Lanka also had an exciting 16-15 win over China at the last Asiad.
But next month's opening World cup qualifier against China in Colombo will be a crucial one for Sri Lanka. The outcome of this game has a great impact on determining Sri Lanka's group at the next Asiad. Hence, Sri Lanka will have to fire all cylinders to press for a win. Since entering the Asian rugby circuit, China has made a steady progress and will pose a big threat to Sri Lanka when the two teams scrums down on March 10 in Colombo, the first of Sri Lanka's two World Cup qualifying round matches.
Sri Lanka team has been hit by injuries. Fly half Sajith Mallikarachchi (Kandy SC) and R. Ruwantillake are nursing injuries and are likely to miss the game against China. An injury in the tendon, subject to a surgery, is set to keep Mallikarachchi out of action for at least 6-8 weeks. Sailor Ruwantillake is hit by a knee injury and will be out for at least a couple of weeks. Maliikarachchi and Ruwantillake has been playing well in recent times and Sri Lanka team is going to miss their services badly. Fitness doubts after recovering from flu could also keep away prop forward Naren Perera from the Lankan team.
Nevertheless, Sri Lanka is determined to register their fourth successive Rugby Union Test win over China. But the home team's chances would mainly depend on their fitness and endurance. The team will badly miss the services of national coach SSP Nimal Lewke, who resigned recently due to work commitments with Sri Lanka Police STF. But Tony Amit, who has been appointed coach for the game against China, is determined to put the lads in good shape.
Australian expert coach Nathan Holman, who is currently in Sri Lanka on a 12-day stint, arranged by the International Rugby Board, too has been working closely with the Sri Lanka national pool. At present, both the sevens and 15-a-side national pools are training together. There are 35 players in the Sri Lanka national rugby Test pool, which will be pruned down to 23 by later next week. The national selections committee, comprising Group Captain Tikiri Marambe (Chairman), Ravi Wijenathan, Chula Dharmadasa, Saman Jayasinghe, DIG Daya Jayasundara and Dhamasiri Madugalle, are keeping close track on the performance of the national poolists. Players in the Sri Lanka squad play a practice game on each Tuesday and have been shaping up well.
The new Sri Lanka Rugby Union Test coach Tony Amit will have four experts - three locals and a foreigner, backing him up in shaping the national team.
The SLRFU President said former Sri Lanka captain and veteran ex-player, Priyantha Ekanayake will handle the forwards play while Kandy Sports Club coach, C. P. Abeygunawardena will take charge of the backs. Former Sri Lanka coach, Ajit Abeyratne will be in overall in charge of both the sevens and 15s teams. Ekanayake is reportedly having difficulty in finding time to devote to the national team but is ready to assist them in whatever possible ways.
Sri Lanka is gearing for a possible 'mind game' with China's national coach George Simpkin, who is no stranger to Sri Lanka rugby. The Hong Kong national has been often associated with Sri Lanka rugby and played a key role at the Singer Sri Lankan Rugby Sevens in Kandy. With Ekanayake and Abeygunawardena familiar with Simpkin's game plans and strategies, Sri Lanka plans to make use of the expert views and coaching techniques of the Lankan duo to confront China, according to the SLRFU President, Cmdr. Harsha Mayadunne.
Cmdr. Mayadunne also introduced a new concept to Sri Lanka Inter-Club Rugby Sevens recently and the flood-lit tournament was a great success. The new tournament format was able to attract good crowds on both days and the level of competition too has been improved, with less one sided games as in the past.
Produced by Lake House