A talented young sportswoman led out the Sri Lanka national rugby team as the ‘Elephants’ made their debut in the Top Five of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations against the UAE in Colombo on Saturday.
Shalanika, a gifted footballer, lives at the SOS Children’s Village in Piliyandala, outside Colombo. The 16-year-old was introduced to rugby for the first time on Thursday when former Scotland coach Frank Hadden led a clinic at the community for orphans as part of the HSBC ARFU Rugby Coaching Tour’s activities in Sri Lanka this week.
“I’ve been at the SOS Children’s Village since I was very young and Thursday was the first time I’ve ever played rugby. I used to play for the national U-13 football team but now I’m focused on my exams, so I don’t play as much,” said Shalanika as she braved the heavy rain that affected the match.
“Everyone really enjoyed learning rugby, although it was new for most of us. I like passing the ball. It was a lot of fun and I want to play it more in the future, although right now I’m a better footballer.”
After leading the Sri Lanka team on to the pitch at the historic Ceylonese Rugby and Football Club, Shalanika was among almost 100 kids in the crowd who had participated in this week’s HSBC ARFU Rugby Coaching Tour.
The children were from Thursday’s clinic for youngsters from the country’s five SOS Children’s Villages – also coming from Nuwara Eliya, Galle, Anuradhapura and Monaragala – and Friday’s clinic for local schools.
The invited schools were Lumbini Vidyalaya, C.W.W. Kannangara Vidyalaya, Science College, Royal College Panadura, Hindu College, S.D.S. Jayasinghe Vidyalaya and St John's College.
A number of the children were active at the match as ball pickers and flag bearers, while Shalanika was among two youngsters from the SOS Children’s Villages who acted as mascots, leading each of the teams onto the pitch before the game which was televised live across Asia on STAR Sports.
Despite the wet conditions, a large, passionate crowd turned out as the rugby-mad country embraced its debut in the Top Five of the continent’s premier 15-a-side national team competition, having won Division I in Singapore last year.
HSBC provided rugby kit and equipment to the children at the coaching clinics and will do so at every stop on the HSBC ARFU Rugby Coaching Tour to ensure a sustainable legacy in each community.
HSBC has a long-standing relationship with the SOS Children’s Villages globally and this year’s Coaching Tour will also visit similar communities in Kazakhstan – one of Sri Lanka’s Top Five competitors – along with Korea and Thailand, which will host Divisions I and II respectively.
The Coaching Tour’s activities in the capital began on Wednesday, when Hadden helped train local HSBC staff volunteers – including several from the bank’s rugby team – as rugby coaches.
The HSBC ARFU Rugby Coaching Tour launched in March in Hong Kong, where Japan coach John Kirwan and fellow New Zealand legend Jonah Lomu led coaching clinics for youngsters from the Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children (HKSPC) and the Qingdao Sharks Rugby Football Club from China.