Most Kiwis would associate a visiting Sri Lankan sports team with cricket – but the boys from Trinity College, Kandy, are not in New Zealand to bowl googlies.
Here on a six week development programme hosted by the Wellington Rugby Football Union, the 22 players, aged between 15 and 18, have based themselves in Upper Hutt to tap into Kiwi rugby know-how.
And they’re not just learning, they’re winning. The squad has already taken on teams from Onslow College and Wainuiomata High School, and beaten them convincingly
The programme was initiated by Trinity College director of rugby Inthi Marikar, who wanted to give his players the same New Zealand rugby experience he had when he arrived in Dunedin in 1991 to play club footy.
“I thought it was time to bring the boys out – to immerse them in the best rugby culture in the world.”
A former Sri Lankan national coach, and 15s and sevens representative, Marikar spent time in Wellington to hone his coaching skills in the early 2000s.
New Zealand offered a very different rugby environment and better training opportunities for his players, he said.
Former All Blacks Rodney So’oialo, John Schwalger, Stephen Bachop and Samoan international Steven So’oialo had spent time coaching the boys.
Having arrived in New Zealand at the tail-end of winter, Marikar was pleased the boys were able to experience the full range of Wellington weather. Used to the tropical heat of Kandy, the players had been training in rain and cold winds while based at the CIT campus in Heretaunga.
WRFU academy manager Rick Whatarau said the Sri Lankans were no mugs on the rugby field.
They defeated a combined Onslow College team 31-7 and a 77-24 blowout against the Waiuniomata High School under 15s.
The Sri Lankans will play a combined Heretaunga and Upper Hutt colleges team this weekend.
In between attending strength and conditioning, nutrition, injury management and mental skills workshops the players had also been playing tourist with plenty of sight-seeing and a day trip to Picton. The boys were particularly looking forward to attending the All Blacks test on Saturday.
Whatarau said hosting overseas rugby groups on similar programmes was not unusual though he had never had a group from Sri Lanka.