An appeal to school rugby coaches:
please don’t bridle brilliance!
By Kavan Rambukwella
This article was originally published in the Sunday Times, on 24th March 1996
I have always accepted the wonderful story of William Webb Ellis who picked up the ball in a game of football at Rugby schools, and ran like mad for the opponent’s goal line, thereby establishing the unique feature of Rugby Football. But I am sad to say he must surely be turning, nay somersaulting in his grave for what passes off today for this great game he originated.
When I was taught the rudiments of rugger at Trinity in the late forties our revered coach used to tell us three quarters. “This is a run and pass game so do not involve yourself in the melee – get away as far as possible from it, the open spaces are your play ground.” This must surely hold good even today. What have we got to witness today? The ball is won from a scrum or line out a ruck or maul and instead of going for the open spaces the backs run right back into the forwards (even when there have been glaring gaps in defence) and start another of those rucks or mauls. They argue that you wear down your opponent and also gain yardage crossing the advantage line for the final assault when you will surely have at least one overlap if not two.
Perhaps there is logic in this theory but where it was a spectators sport of run and pass and swerve and side step and jinx and dummy. They are made to play second fiddle to the objective of what is termed 1st phase, 2nd phase and even 3rd phase. Boring stuff, to watch. Where is the flair of the individual player? He is allowed very little to develop his own style. His individuality is subjugated for the greater good of the team it is said and so on! When at school if I was told “run back into the forwards with the ball”. I may have taken to another more interesting sport!
Before this stereo type enforced play was introduced “the phases” were automatic, in that when there was a break down in the expansive game the first to get to the break down were the back rows of both teams. They formed the “phase” and it was heeled or taken with them and much ground was gained – when it was heeled the backs were in position to use their individual flair. Today the game is a stop, start, affair and less attractive as a spectator sport.
I say let the clubs and international teams indulge in this fractured play. May I make a plea to all school coaches. Pull down your blinkers, allow individual freedom of movement and let free flair reign. Talent must not be restrained or brilliance bridled.
The onus is yours to instill the basic skills to youthful exuberance and to have running, passing, tackling and kicking to a fine art – the rest will come to them by instinct.
In my formative years my school coach Phillip Buultjens used to exhort to his charges “I would rather you lose the match playing well than win playing poorly.” Of course playing well we rarely lost. How many coaches of today would give such advise to their teams? He will never be outdated for sure.
Late Kavan Rambukwella as referred to as the ‘Golden Boy’ of Ceylon Rugby back then was an outstanding rugby player, one of the finest center-three-quarters Trinity College produced and the country has seen, a Trinity Rugby Lion played for College 1st XV between 1948-1952, Trinity College Athletics captain, played for Dickoya, CR & FC and All Ceylon (between 1951-1960), captained and coached CR & FC and then coached Police SC (all between 1960-1971), a well respected Rugby administrator, a selector and a promoter and held offices as President of CR & FC and SLRFU (1978/79). He dedicated his life to promoting Rugby, a strategist, a think tank, a visionary and someone who was always there to help any ruggerite or a school or a club when needed assistance on and off field. Kavan, a true Legend of Sri Lanka Rugby who maintained high standards and principles throughout his career, passed away in 2002. We believe, this article and its content are still relevant to modern-day Schools Rugby though times are different. Hence republishing with permission.