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Rugby union in Sri Lanka

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Rugby union in Sri Lanka

Rugby union in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka vs Australian rugby sevens at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
Country Sri Lanka
Governing body Sri Lankan Rugby Football Union
National team Sri Lanka
First played 1879
Registered players 121,938 (total)
Clubs 105
National competitions
Club competitions

Rugby union in Sri Lanka is mainly played at a semi-professional and recreational level. It is a popular team sport with a history dating back to 1879, making it the second-oldest rugby union playing nation in the world. In 2012, according to International Rugby Board figures, there were over 103,000 registered rugby union players in Sri Lanka, making it the second largest rugby-playing nation in Asia, behind Japan.[1]

Governing Body

The Sri Lankan Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) is the governing body in the country. The Sri Lankan Football Union (as Ceylon Rugby Football Union) was founded in 1908,[2] the first Rugby Union in Asia. The SLRFU joined the IRB in 1988.[3] In March 2011 the IRB stripped the SLRFU of full member status after it failed to conduct board elections in accordance with the By-Laws,[4] the SLRFU's full membership however was subsequently re-instated follows the successful completion of the Union’s Annual General Meeting and Board elections.


Sri Lanka discovered the game of rugby at the same time as India,[3] and the first rugby club, The Colombo Football Club, was founded in Sri Lanka in 1879. The first rugby match played between two selected teams occurred on the 30th of June of that year between Colombo and a 'World' Team. The nation's first 'national' match involved an All Ceylon team against the All Blacks.[5] Rugby was introduced to high schools in by L. E. Blaze, the first principle of Kingswood College, Kandy in 1891. Kingswood played the first high school rugby match in the country against their hometown rivals Trinity College in 1906. The match resulted in a draw, 6-all.

The 1930 and the 1950 British Lions tour to New Zealand and Australia, also played unofficial matches in Ceylon on their way home.[3][6]

In the post-WWII period, S. Muthiah campaigned for the sports introduction into the national police service.

Despite not performing well on the international stage, Sri Lanka is sometimes considered one of the rugby's success stories, with crowds of forty or fifty thousand turning out for club games.[3] Sri Lanka's problems have been threefold - firstly, a lack of finance, secondly, third world infrastructure, and thirdly, the country has been war torn for a number of years.[3]

Notable Sri Lankan players include Len Saverimutto, who is the father of scrum half Christian Saverimutto, who was capped three times for Ireland in the 1995-6 season.[3] Mahesh Rodrigo was a dual international and represented Sri Lanka in the national cricket team; he was a scrum half, and captained the Ceylon XV.

National teams

national team in 2014


Sri Lanka has yet to qualify for the Rugby World Cup, however the national team has enjoyed success in recent years, rising to 40th on the world rankings in 2013.[7] The team is currently ranked fifth in Asia and compete in Division One of the Asian Five Nations.

Sri Lanka also has a national sevens team,[8] which is ranked ninth in Asia and 32nd in the world rankings.


Although Sri Lanka's women have not yet played test match rugby, they have been playing international sevens rugby since 2003, with the team debuting at Hong Kong and reaching ninth place in the tournament. In 2005 the Sri Lanka women’s team won the Bowl finals at the Asian Sevens held in Singapore. In 2013 and again in 2014 the team won the Plate final at the Asian Championships in Thailand (defeating Singapore, 17-5) and in Hong Kong (defeating Thailand, 19-14), the best results the team has achieved to date. (Current playing record).



Serendib International Cup

The Serendib International Cup was an international rugby union competition for emerging nations held in Sri Lanka between the hosts and the Malagasy and Polish teams. The tournament was backed by the International Rugby Board and was played over three match days in Colombo between 26 October and 1 November, coinciding with the 2013 end-of-year rugby union tests.[9][10]

The tournament served as a pan-regional competition in Asia that will further the profile of Asian rugby and international rugby in Sri Lanka, as the region prepares to host the Rugby World Cup for the first time in 2019 in Japan. The tournament also provided an invaluable platform to step up in performance and ranking for all three Unions as well as the opportunity for the emerging nations to play internationals matches outside of their own region.[11]

The competition was set bring together thriving Unions that are experiencing unprecedented growth, participation and interest in the sport.[9] Its future plans are to make it into a second tier World Cup, which is set to expand to 16-24 teams in the years to come.[12] It will be the launch of a new era in Sri Lankan Rugby as the country is becoming a leading contender in Asia.[10]


Dialog Rugby League

The major club competition in Sri Lanka is the Dialog Rugby League. The 'A' Division features nine teams, which compete on a home and away basis. The League Competition was sponsored by Caltex between 2000 and 2010. In 2006 the Navy SC withdrew from the competition, due to their members military commitments. The club rejoined the competition in 2009 with the Old Zahirians Sporting Club being forced to leave. In 2012 the competition was expanded with the inclusion of a team from Nawalapitiya, the Upcountry Lions, the following year a further team from Hambantota, the Hambantota Sharks was included. The competition is currently sponsored by national telecommunications company, Dialog Axiata.

Division 'A' Clubs

Clifford Cup

The most prestigious club knockout tournament in Sri Lanka is the Clifford Cup. It commenced in 1911, as a competition between the mercantile executives in Colombo and planters in the hill country. The Clifford Cup was awarded by Lady Elizabeth Clifford, wife of the then Governor Sir Hugh Clifford. The competition has been played amongst eight clubs with 79 seasons played over 100 years.

President's Trophy

Singer League

The Singer League is the schools rugby championships. The current (2014) school rugby champions are Isipathana College, who defeated Kingswood College in the season decider, 33-13. Isipathana also were victorious in the Schools Rugby 7’s and Milo President’s trophy knockout rugby tournament. The sixth time that the College have won the triple crown.

Carlton Super 7's

The inaugural Carlton Super 7's overall champions in 2011 were the Central Kings,[13] in 2012 it was the Southern Sharks, 2013 the Jaffna Challengers[14] and 2014 the Western Warriors.[15] The competition comprises ten teams, each representing the ten provinces of the country:

Singer Sri Lankan Airlines Rugby 7's

The Singer Sri Lankan Airlines Rugby 7's was an annual international rugby sevens competition held in Kandy between 1999 and 2010. It has subsequently been transformed into a local club side competition, called the Carlton Super 7's International League.


  1. ^ Stoney, Emma (25 April 2012). "A Passion for Rugby in an Unexpected Place".  
  2. ^ "National Unions". Rugby Football History. Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Bath, Richard (Ed) (1997). The Complete Book of Rugby. Seven Oaks Ltd. p. 74.  
  4. ^ "IRB strips Sri Lanka rugby of full member status". The National. 8 March 2011. Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  5. ^
  6. ^  
  7. ^ "World Rugby Rankings". Live Networks, Inc. October 2014. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  8. ^ McLaren, Bill A Visit to Hong Kong in Starmer-Smith, Nigel & Robertson, Ian (eds) The Whitbread Rugby World '90 (Lennard Books, 1989), p 70
  9. ^ a b "Sri Lanka to host new IRB supported event". IRB. Retrieved 4 October 2013. 
  10. ^ a b "Namal skipper for Serendib International Cup". Retrieved 4 October 2013. 
  11. ^ "Serendib International Cup match schedule released". Retrieved 4 October 2013. 
  12. ^ "Serendib International Cup to be Powered By Dialog". thepapare. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 
  13. ^ Nagahawatte, Ravi (7 November 2011). "Central Kings crowned Overall Winners at Carlton Super Sevens".  
  14. ^ "Jaffna Challengers win Carlton Super Sevens Series in Sri Lanka". Ultimate Rugby 7s. 4 August 2013. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  15. ^ "Carlton Super 7′s 2014 : Western Warriors crowned as overall champions". 16 August 2014. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 

Further reading

  • Perera, SS (1981). 100 Years of Rugby Football in Sri Lanka 1879–1978.  

External links

  • IRB Sri Lanka page
  • Official union page
  • Asian Rugby Football Union
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