New Lanka Lions captain Zalique Jayah is determined to regain the Gulf Men’s Open title at next month’s Dubai Rugby Sevens after relinquishing their grip on it last year.
Former Wesley and Colombo Hockey and Football Club three-quarter Jayah will be leading the side, also known as the Ceylon Warriors, for the first time at the tournament, which begins on November 30 at The Sevens Stadium.
The Lions are bolstered by a raft of fresh young talent, and Jayah says there is only one aim.
“I’m really honoured to become the captain of Lanka Lions and thank the committee for supporting me and the boys and having faith in me to lead this side,” said Jayah, 27, who captained Wesley College in 2008 and represented Southern Sharks at the Carlton International Sevens in Sri Lanka in 2013.
“I hope to give my best to the team and expect the same from boys with the aim of lifting the cup.”
Jayah will be able to call upon the services of Madisha Silva, who led the Lions to an historic triumph in Dubai in 2015 as they won the Gulf Men’s Open title for the first time.
“We have a very good set of boys who are very keen on winning the cup this year,” added Jayah, an Emirates cabin crew member who is playing in the Dubai Sevens for the fourth year.
“We have many new players coming in and they are gelling into the team very nicely.”
Former Trinity College, Kandy, players Dilshan Kelaniyangoda, Hilmy Mohammed and Anojan Balasundaram are the other experienced players in the side, which has been infused by new blood in Tharindu Malikge and Miyuru Sandaruwan.
Dubai Exiles youngsters Adil Deen and UAE sevens international Jerry Kilicanasau also give them a cutting edge.
The Lions will get the chance to get their team combinations and strategies right when they compete in the Eden Park Sevens, a traditional warm-up tournament to the Dubai Sevens for local teams, which is taking place at The Sevens this weekend.
Lanka Lions coach Richard Murcott, who guided the side to a historic double of Eden Park and Gulf Men’s Open success in 2015, says they have learnt from the mistakes of last year where they crashed out in the semi-finals.
“We didn’t recover enough from injuries. We had quite a lot of the squad carrying injuries. It has been taken care of this year,” said the former Havelocks coach who will be unleashing a new strategy this year.
“We are going to work towards the strengths of side which of course is our speed and agility. Having said that we will have to change our patterns because teams have learnt it now.”
How seriously the Lions are taking this year’s tournament can be gauged by the fact preparations for Dubai began in August with the appointment of a new manager in Jeremy Emmanuel, with Kilicanasau as assistant coach.
“We won’t be committing a lot into set-pieces but when required we will change our plans,” added Murcott.
“We will try these new patterns on Friday and see whether it’s going to work for us in the Dubai Sevens.”
Former Sri Lanka and Arabian Gulf legend Roger Rodrigo, chairman of Lanka Lions Sports Club, expressed his gratitude to the team sponsors, including Ice Watch, Sri Lankan Airlines, Suren Agencies and World Wide.
Olympic winning sevens coach Ben Ryan returned to the rugby pitch of Hamdan Bin Rashed School Dubai, thrilling 30 youngsters who grasped the opportunity to raise their game in a HSBC grassroots coaching clinic with the Englishman.
For the second year in a row, the former Fiji coach was joined at the HSBC grassroots rugby initiative by trusted partner Chris Cracknell, with the pair offering their hand to help the local youngsters of the United Arab Emirates Rugby Football (UAERF) player pathway programme.
Organised by HSBC, in partnership with the UAERF, the player pathway programme aims to cultivate the next generation of Emirati and expat talent, providing them with the platform and skills to thrive in the game.
Speaking on the sidelines after the session, Ryan was delighted to be back in the UAE.
“It’s not often we get a chance to return to the scene of a previous coaching clinic, one year on, to see the progress that has been made,” Ryan said. “Last year we introduced these up and coming rugby players to the basics. Now they are looking to elevate their games to the next level. It’s great to see.”
He continued: “Programmes like this run by HSBC really give these guys a chance. A chance not only to learn a sport, but to fall in love with it. We’re just the facilitators really, working with HSBC and the UAERF to bring people together in an environment that will help them thrive.”
In the 2016/17 season, HSBC’s grassroots rugby programme in the UAE saw 8,150 children benefit from coaching with many using the clinics as final preparation for the National School Boys competition, which is now a key fixture at the Dubai Rugby Sevens.
When asked what it would take to propel the next generation of UAE youngsters into a global spotlight Ryan was happy to offer up his secrets for success.
“You need to keep it simple” he said.
“The UAE doesn’t have the traditional rugby heritage of other countries so it’s all about continuing to build the basic sporting pathways. That means not only focussing on the kids and their opportunities to play, but also on the local coaches who are providing the inspiration and making these sessions happen.”
The Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens takes place from Thursday 30th November to Saturday 2nd December.
Over 100,000 sports fans are expected to walk through the gates at the Sevens Stadium across the three days of competition.
The Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens will take place from November 30 to December 2 at The Sevens Stadium.
Tickets for the first event in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series are now on sale.
Over 100,000 fans and 4,500 players from all over the world are expected to descend on The Sevens Stadium over the long weekend.
The Invitation Tournament will see over 260 teams battling it out on all eight rugby pitches and on the netball courts, making 2017 the largest tournament to-date.
Free entry for those under 12 remains and children will have entertainment options available in the village including a dedicated area for teenagers.
All ticket prices for 2017 remain the same as 2016 and buying tickets in advance will save money. Fans can purchase their tickets online at www.dubairugby7s.com
Ticket Prices (general admission) are:
Thursday, November 30 – free admission
Friday, December 1 – in advance AED300, on the day AED400
Saturday, December 2 – in advance AED300, on the day AED400
Season Tickets (Friday and Saturday) – in advance AED500, on the day AED600
Children under 12 admitted free
Special reserved seating and hospitality packages are available – please visit: www.dubairugby7s.com