Sri Lanka rugby legend Fazil Marija eyes Sevens coaching role | Daily News

Sri Lanka rugby legend Fazil Marija eyes Sevens coaching role

Fazil Marija is Sri Lanka’s most capped player.
Fazil Marija is Sri Lanka’s most capped player.

Sri Lanka’s most accomplished rugby player in the new millennium Fazil Marija relishes the prospect of inspiring the National side as Sevens coach after guiding a young team to a creditable third-place finish at the Asia Rugby Championship Division I in Chinese Taipei.

“It would be a privilege to coach Sri Lanka,” said the former Kingswood, Kandy SC and Sri Lanka star who feels the Tuskers can go places in Sevens rugby.

“Definitely we can go more higher in Sevens if we have a plan and invest in players by sending them abroad for training in New Zealand or Australia,” said Marija who benefitted from a three-month training stint in 2013 at one of the elite Training Academies in New Zealand, Rugby Performance Centre in Auckland, home for the Auckland Blues.

“We have the talent. They need more international exposure,” said Marija who was in-charge of the backs for the tour of Malaysia and Chinese Taipei.

Fielding 18 debutants in a 26-man squad and led by the youngest ever Sri Lanka captain Omalka Gunaratne, 23, the Tuskers stumbled to a 39-22 at the hands of Philippines before rebounding to thump hosts Chinese Taipei 72-17 slipping to 45th in the world rankings.

“The youngsters struggled because of their lack of experience in the first game. We didn’t adapt because they (Philippines) were marking Omalka, our main ball carrier, a lot. We didn’t have another game plan. But there was a lot of heart, resilience and commitment from the new players. I was happy with the back play and the set pieces in the forwards, especially as we were against a very physical and more experienced side in the Philippines pack,” he said.

On their 12-try romp against Chinese Taipei, Marija said: “We had a different game plan for this game. We played to our strength because we had more speed in the backs who got the ball almost every time.”

The result was a flood of tries with centres Dinuk Amarasinghe, Kavindu Perera and Sudaraka Dikkumbura scoring a brace apiece while Thilina Wijesinghe, Buddhima Piyaratne, Mithun Hapugoda, Riza Raffaideen, Yaqoob Ali and skipper Gunaratne scored a try each.

“I am really proud of the boys,” Gunaratne was quoted as saying by asiarugby.com.

“We had a lot of younger players here and although it was a disappointing defeat to the Philippines I am proud at how we responded.

“We definitely have one eye on the future with this side and for me I am humbled to be captain. There were a lot of experienced heads to help me and as I said, I am just really proud.”

With the Asia Rugby Sevens Series and an Olympic Games qualification tournament later this year, Marija feels Sri Lanka’s decision to bank on youth will pay off in future.

Having finished fourth with 12-10 and 36-14 defeats to Japan and Korea in the semi-final and bronze medal match at last year’s Asian Games, it is clear what the hope is for 2022.

“Nine of our debutants started against the Philippines with seven more of the eight finishers also debutants. The average age of the team was 24 so there is definitely an eye on the future,” explained Marija who took Sri Lanka to a Shield win at the 2014 Commonwealth Games Rugby Sevens at Glasgow, Scotland.

“Sevens has been the main focus in the last three years. Again the upcoming Asia Rugby Sevens Series together with the Olympic qualification tournament will focus on youth,” said Marija who first represented Sri Lanka in year 2000 touring with the National U 16 team for the Junior Rugby Asiad. As a schoolboy in 2003, he was called up by Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union to be on the starting lineup at the match against touring Hong Kong.

“We are now building towards the next Asian Games where we are targeting a medal having had a close miss in 2018,” declared Marija who hung up his boots in February last year bringing the curtain down on a stellar 15-year career which saw him become the face of Sri Lanka rugby.

The most capped Sri Lanka player, he was invited to represent Asia Pacific Barbarians in Hong Kong and played alongside George Gregan, Justin Marshal, Christian Cullen, Hale Tipo and coach David Campese in 2010.

“Sometimes I feel like playing again,” quipped the 34-year-old who still maintains the lean and hungry physique which saw him score over 200 tries for school, club and country.

Under Fazil’s leadership Sri Lanka ended as the third best team in the Asia Sevens circuit in 2013 and captained the team to victory in the Asia Rugby Championship in the Philippines in 2015 before a spate of injuries forced his retirement.

Assistant coach to Sean Wijesinghe at Kandy SC last year, he has been elevated as head coach after the post fell vacant this season with his first assignment being the upcoming inter-club Sevens but his dream is to guide the national team to success.

“We need to play more tournaments especially Sevens. Most of the youngsters haven’t played international matches. With more exposure they will be improve,” reiterated Marija who represented Sri Lanka in numerous international tournaments, including more than a century of Sevens matches.

Sri Lanka thumped Chinese Taipei to win third place in the Asia Rugby Championship Division I.     

 


 

Add new comment