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First Sri Lankan Super Rugby player could be a Rebel

Roar Pro
27th September, 2013
24
3113 Reads

Melbourne Rebels CEO Rob Clarke and inaugural captain, now-board member, Stirling Mortlock were both invited to Sri Lanka recently, with the pair eager to explore the dawning of a new horizon in world rugby.

Sri Lanka’s love for rugby union and its honeymoon with international players in recent times at the local International Carlton Sevens has reaped rewards, with the Melbourne Rebels pledging their support towards lifting the country’s rugby profile on a global scale.

Clarke and Mortlock met with senior ranking rugby officials including those from Sri Lankan Rugby Football Union (SLRFU), along with local government and business leaders, to explore how the Melbourne Rebels could forge a strategic partnership to help develop the game of rugby in Sri Lanka.

Rob Clarke, speaking to the Sunday Times in Sri Lanka and the Lanka Times Melbourne, said the Rebels have built up a special rapport with Sri Lanka rugby over a number of years and its link with Sri Lankan rugby could be important towards the development of an Asian nation to step up to the world stage.

“What we saw in Sri Lanka at the Carlton Sevens recently convinced us that Sri Lanka has plenty of potential, tremendous talent and passion for the game. The atmosphere at matches was fantastic”, Clarke said.

Clarke’s sentiments were echoed by former Wallabies captain and Rebel Stirling Mortlock, who was arguably one of the greatest players to pull on an Australian jumper.

He was unable to conceal his delight at the quality of rugby dished out at the local level and was quick to underline the distinct possibility of a Sri Lankan rugby star stepping up to Super Rugby level in a Rebel jersey in the near future.

“It is a truly great time to be a rugby player in Sri Lanka,” said Mortlock.

“Sri Lankan rugby now sits on the cusp of having a true presence in world rugby, a lot like the Rebels did.

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“With the suggested changes to Super Rugby and its expansion throughout Asia in 2016, a relationship with the Rebels could certainly assist in taking Sri Lankan rugby to the next level, and integrate some Sri Lanka talent into the Rebels’ rugby program.”

This would be fantastic for the local game, which has a history of over 100 years, after the English introduced it to the country during their reign to fill in their off-work time.

There have been many great players over the decades but the lack of exposure internationally has kept their talent hidden within the waters of the Indian Ocean.

The only exposure they have had on a global level has been at the Hong Kong Sevens and Dubai Sevens, where they have at times tasted success at the Plate and Bowl levels.

The Melbourne Rebels team of administrators were adamant their foray into Sri Lankan rugby welfare was very serious and their ultimate aim was to “position the country on a global stage through rugby, and ultimately, as one of the best tourist destinations in Asia,” a Rebels spokesman said.

“The SLRFU have got some very energetic and knowledgeable people handling its administration at the moment and the backing of the government and the Sri Lankan national airline, Sri Lankan Airlines, may be pivotal to making the dream of a top rugby nation and tourist destination seems very realistic.”

There is also an awareness of Sri Lanka’s elevation to the top rung of Asian rugby and their recent success at the Malaysian and Thailand Sevens, where they ended up a credible third on both occasions to the Asian powerhouses, Japan and Hong Kong.

With rugby being the second largest participation sport in Sri Lanka behind cricket, Clarke and Mortlock were surprised but delighted by the passion and the talent within the local rugby community.

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“It was a wonderful experience,” Clarke said. “I was not only captured by the country’s passion for rugby, but by the beautiful nature of the Sri Lankan people.

“This was no surprise with the great Sri Lankan population we have here in Melbourne.”

Clarke and Mortlock witnessed the quality of rugby first hand, having attended the Carlton International Sevens in Galle, with Clarke identifying many opportunities for the Rebels to partner with a variety of organisations to help propel Sri Lankan rugby on to the world stage.

“Having spent the week with some passionate rugby officials and attending the Carlton International Sevens, it is obvious that there is an enormous amount of rugby talent in Sri Lanka, and I believe the Melbourne Rebels can offer a wealth of high performance input which will accelerate the development of the game in Sri Lanka,” Clarke said.

“We will be looking to be involved in as many ways as possible, including coaching clinics, player internships, development tours and participation in the Carlton International Sevens in future years.”

Mortlock played 80 Tests for Australia, while also leading the Wallabies in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, however never had the opportunity to visit Sri Lanka as a player.

Mortlock happily admits to feeling humbled by his Sri Lankan experience.

“I was just blown away by the fantastic atmosphere, and the quality of play at the Carlton International Sevens,” Mortlock said.

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“The SLRFU are very much like the Rebels were in 2010, as we looked to build on the rugby foundations laid many years prior, so it was great to be able to share my experience and insights while in Sri Lanka.”

Having genuinely related to the current state of Sri Lankan rugby, Mortlock was adamant the Rebels depth of expertise would be a fantastic resource to help developing foreign rugby nations, like Sri Lanka, forge their way forward.

“As the Rebels’ first captain, the challenge for me was to come to Melbourne and bring a relatively unfamiliar sport to the world’s sporting capital,” Mortlock said.

“I have found the journey extremely rewarding, especially knowing it has been collective effort from all at the club.

“From the high performance and fitness team, right through to our media and marketing departments, we were able to succeed through a vast array of knowledge and experience, and I’m proud to see the club where it is today.

With the Rebels’ international rugby program being driven by new head coach Tony McGahan in 2014, Clarke was adamant the worldwide presence of the Rebels brand commercially would also be hugely beneficial to Sri Lanka, through both rugby and local business.

“Although rugby is only one of many ‘languages’ linking our two great countries, it should certainly be a key factor in exploring commercial partnerships with a range of organisations,” Clarke said.

“Rugby is an international currency that can provide a range of significant beneifits for Sri Lanka.

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“The opportunity to partner with organisations such as Sri Lankan Airlines and Sri Lankan Tourism would also help drive awareness of Sri Lanka as a wonderful tourism destination for Australians, as an alternative to other Asian holiday destinations such as Bali.”

But ultimately, Clarke was clear about the benefits of partnering the Rebels international rugby program with the inspirational people behind the code in Sri Lanka driving the sport, sensing now is the time for the rugby in Sri Lanka to emerge as true player in Super Rugby.

“Who knows; the first ever Sri Lankan Super Rugby player could be a Melbourne Rebel!”

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