A group of expatriates from Sri Lanka are planning to conduct a beach rugby tournament in the UAE after the Lanka Lions Sevens and before the Dubai Sevens.
They were encouraged to go ahead with this initiative when former Sri Lanka fly half Sudesh Abeysinghe met with his former school and club mate Akram Abbas during a visit to Dubai.
Abeysinghe felt that Sevens rugby was the way forward for countries like Sri Lanka, one of the top rugby playing nations in Asia.
Indeed, Sri Lanka's future in the sevens format is bright after their youth team emerged champions at the Asian Under 20 Sevens Championships defeating South Korea in the final.
Abeysinghe, who has pleasant memories of representing Sri Lanka at the Dubai Sevens in 1991 and 93, wanted national rugby players be handed central contracts like cricketers to achieve results at international level.
“We have to build a development squad of about 25 players from the age of 17. They have to be treated like professionals and given playing rugby a career option. If we find sponsors, then they won’t worry about finding a job,” said Abeysinghe who was a banker during his playing days.
“If rugby is to attain high standards like cricketers, we have to contract players so they can train morning and evening like professionals,” said Abeysinghe who has been appointed as a representative of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) in the United States.
He spoke enthusiastically about his new role during a whistle stop tour in Dubai as he returned to Washington having visited Sri Lanka after a decade being domiciled in the US since 1995.
"USA is the ideal place to get sports goods and other equipment. My role is to coordinate bringing in national players to America to get involved in training programmes in the United States. However, I believe New Zealand, Australia and England have better training programmes," said Abeysinghe who is the SLRFU’s East Coast representative in the US.
Another former Sri Lanka fly half Shah Doole is Sri Lanka’s representative in USA’s West Coast.
Abeysinghe continues his passion for rugby thanks to tournaments organised for the Sri Lankan community in Los Angeles, New York and Washington.
“We prepare for that three months in advance,” said the 46 year-old former Isipathana and CH and FC three quarter who still looks physically fit.
Having closely followed both schools and club rugby despite being overseas, Abeysinghe made some interesting observations about the changes that have taken place in the game in Sri Lanka.
“There is no doubt standard has improved because fitness levels of present day players are high. During my time as a three quarter, I had some breathing time. Now you have to be on your toes because pace of the game is fast,” said Abeysinghe who represented Sri Lanka from 1992 to 1995, including in two Asian Championships.
However, he lamented the fact that skill levels have declined as well as crowds for club matches in particular.
“Rugby has developed producing physically bigger and fitter players. However, skills such as quick passes, scissor passes, etc. are missing. Nowadays even three quarters play like forwards trying to crash through opposition,” said Abeysinghe who learnt ball handling skills by playing touch rugby during his young days.