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Sri Lankan Rugby: Asia’s Untapped Talent

“Sri Lanka is Asian rugby’s jewel in the crown.”

“Asia can do for rugby what Africa did for football.”

“The most complete rugby player I have ever seen at any level was a 12-year-old Thai boy.”

The contribution African soccer players have made to world football cannot be understated. Their natural movement skills and explosive running has made them a much sought after talent. They now embrace all the global football leagues.

Top European football clubs engage scouts throughout Africa, and African soccer nations perform well in domestic and World cup tournaments.

I have coached and watched rugby throughout Southeast Asia over the last decade. For many, rugby here is perceived as a largely ex-pat sport. Occasionally I would see a talented Asian player, which is not to say they don’t exist, other than in some of the big international schools.

Recently at the Phuket 11s rugby tournament I saw several talented young Asian players, one was a 19-year-old winger from the KL Tigers club, in Kuala Lumpur, he was easily English Rugby Premier league academy standard.

Elevens rugby is the perfect development tool for young Asian players. They are agile, fast, and in some cases super-fast. They do not lack courage when tackling or taking the ball into contact.

Young players need the space to express themselves, both physically and skilfully.

Currently I am on my second visit to Trinity College, Kandy, in Sri Lanka. Here the standard of rugby and coaching at youth level is very high. Trinity also has a junior school rugby academy which runs from 7-10am every Saturday morning for 6-year-olds upwards. Over 200 boys signed up. I coached and ran one, the passion, electric.

Sri Lankan rugby is my Asian rugby jewel in the crown. There is so much talent there, it needs to be recognised and exposed.

Sri Lanka to many rugby enthusiasts will be a mystery. Few would have thought an 8-team professional league existed on the island.

Few would have realised that the passion for rugby is greater than for cricket.

Schoolboy rugby generates the most interest and draws significant crowds. The game is played through to U19 level and talent is spread across all the schools; games are closely contested and televised.

In a recent U19 game between Vidyartha and Trinity college team the standard was high and reminded me that……

Using the ball is a blend of understanding with attitude; of team awareness with individual virtuosity; of practised patterns with spontaneous reaction.”

This level of coaching and understanding can be seen across all the competing schools. Crowds are numbered in thousands and passionate.

Match commentaries are precise and enthusiastic. Cultural and sporting traditions seriously upheld, true sportsmanship on and off the field.

Future development will be enhanced by the introduction of 11’s rugby, especially for the younger age groups. International youth tournaments will challenge Sri Lankan teams at 11’s and 15’s and serve to measure the level of team performance and individual talent.

Organising an international youth rugby tournament, be it at school or club level, in Colombo would bring increased exposure to the rugby talent in Sri Lanka, as well as some much-needed tourism.

To learn a little more about Sri Lankan sport and culture, visit or contact me, Mike Penistone, at

I love this Sri Lankan comment…”Friends are the sunshine of your life.

About Mike Penistone

Mike has coached at all levels of the game, from under-7's through to elite international players at the highest level, in both the northern and southern hemispheres. A few notable positions include serving as Head Coach for Great Britain Students (Rugby League), Head Coach at Nottingham RUFC and Head of Elite Player Development at Leicester Tigers Academy. Mike also served as the U21's Coach at the NSW Warratahs and Director of Coaching at Eastern Suburbs Sydney. He continues to coach across the globe running his consultancy. Check out his website: here. View all posts by Mike Penistone

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