Lankan born Imad Reyal stole the spotlight last week in the Asia Rugby Championship Division II when his scintillating performance took the United Arab Emirates to a title win.
Starting off in the UAE XV’s jersey for the Division II tournament held in Uzbekistan, Reyal was the playwright of UAE’s success story that finally gave them the Division I promotion. UAE took advantage of a lackluster Uzbekistan outfit to beat them 65 -13 and later bulldozed Thailand 70 – 18 in the finals. Playing at Full-back, Reyal was the team’s playmaker, scoring two tries in each of the games while creating many chances with his goose-steps and dynamic speed.
It was yet another feather on the cap for the 24-year-old, since his debut in the Middle East in the sevens circuit in 2011. Gaining recognition from the try he scored against Samoa in the 2011 Dubai Sevens series, he has since been a regular in the UAE Sevens team and has represented the XV’s on 10 occasions.
Having learnt the basics of the ‘Oval Ball game’ from St. Anthony’s College, Kandy, Reyal moved to Trinity College and represented the side in sevens rugby. The decision to move to the Middle East after his secondary education was the turning point of his life, according to him and after a lapse of five years, he has progressed to become one of the Emirati’s most valuable players.
Running strong at the peak of his career, Reyal believes that his childhood passion for the sport and his determination is what drives him forward.
“It is what I love doing and that is what drives me to take the chances and do what I do.”
Signing a fresh contract with the UAE Premiership Club, Jebel Ali Dragons, Reyal intends to continue playing in the gulf until an opportunity opens up in New Zealand for him to make a professional comeback. His last stint in Kiwi land on a rugby scholarship, was somewhat of a failure as his visa under the Sri Lankan passport ran out.
“If I had stayed for another two months, I could have had a crack at ITM development but, given my passport, it was really hard for me to stay back,”
There always is something special in playing in the Lankan atmosphere. Reyal recalls the opportunity he got when UAE travelled to Sri Lanka for the final leg of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series last October. This was the first occasion he played in front of his very own fans and in his words, it was a special feeling.
“It was good to be back in my motherland and to play in front of them in the conditions that I am used to, it was a great feeling for me”
Above all, an opportunity to play for the Tuskers would be something that he would value a lot in his career in the sport.
“I wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to play for my home country. It will be tough because there is a lot of raw talent coming and Sri Lanka is progressing in the right direction but it would be great to play in a Lankan jersey”
Sri Lankan Rugby which is currently aiming at being one of the two top teams in Asia should ideally consider the potential of Imad Reyal, who could prove to be a valuable asset to the sport in the country. His consistent form in the international arena along with his aggressive playing style will be an important utility for the Tuskers, especially in the sevens circuit.
Just last week, the United Arab Emirates climbed ten spots in the World Rugby rankings table from 83 to 73 and got the ticket to Division I in the Asia Rugby Championship. The Emiratis have reaped the rewards of Reyal’s efforts thus far but he will definitely be a value addition for Sri Lanka if they open their doors to him as they look to progress forward from the 43rd position in the World rankings.