Coaching is an art and also a science. The art, as in being able to draw up a clear sketch of a game plan so fans will savor a famous win as if Picasso drew it. The Science, just like how Walter White explained and cooked Mayonnaise on his Breaking Bad chemistry class.
Boa Straight Up! – Visit the Column by Boa Athu
We’ve had no shortage of old-school taskmasters and new age technicians. Season twenty eighteen saw the emergence of the new school trad. They were all the rage. From barrier to the box. One stood tall in particular.
So, what does it really take to be a great coach, especially in local schools first fifteen rugby?
Some are blessed with this skill and seem as if they were born to coach. Others, by accident and it may seem as if being in the right place at the right time. Some –seemingly, were at the wrong place at the right time.
It’s a “thing” they either walked or talked themselves into and it has stuck for better or worse. You get the picture.
In times where in Sri Lankan schoolboy rugby, almost anyone is a “coach” be it on the field or on Facebook, we take a closer look at the movers and shakers of the now concluded Singer Schools Rugby League (season proper) 2018.
As this emerging and once upon a time, “closed ranks of the covertly professional “– dissolve, a very lucrative and financially rewarding market evolves, let’s see who the real contenders and not so are. Undoubtedly, everyone wants in on this and a piece of the coaching pie.
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Top 5 from this year
A high profile and well compensated Forbes like list includes an emerging class of young, innovative and inventive think tanks as well as aging war horses who have a knack to bounce back, we hope. Without any further ado, let’s check out our top five in the first of our pound for pound reviews.
#1. Dushanth Lewke
Royal College: 1st, League champions, (9-0)
ThePapare.com #Straight up P4P Coach of the year
In his rookie year as the head coach taking over the mantle for which he was three years in waiting. As if never, he wins the Singer League, Bradby shield, Michael Gunaratne, Milroy Fernando, B.C Anghie trophies and the hearts of almost everyone. What’s more, he did this in an all-conquering, unbeaten fashion. Simply stunning! In an age of ultra-competitiveness, that is truly incredible.
He is your quintessential quiet achiever, who epitomizes the new school, hybrid tactician, a true “coach” in every sense.
Easily the most up to date and strategically superior operator. He left far more experienced personnel in his wake and simply showed up everyone. This includes Sanath Martis, who he cut his teeth under– as assistant to, schooled him as if Lewke was the senior pro. His ability to learn, and translate that into the active dissemination of knowledge is incredible. It’s a hard skill to execute in Sri Lanka. Picking up vital skills and methods from his New Zealand excursions (Crusaders academy and Auckland tour), clearly, his player pool has absorbed, much thanks to good teachings like ink to a blotting paper.
The results and way they were achieved are sole judges, mostly. Benefitted in having an ace of spades line up. He caught everyone out trying to bluff and play their poker face. He doesn’t play all in, bides his time on the cards he is dealt and then — a winning hand. A perfect ten (times).
His ability to tread exposed and run on form with equal clarity, chopping and changing tactics as a key strength. Frequently moving and shuffling his strike players, building a unit of versatility and shape-shifting nimbleness.
The fifty-five to nil drubbing of S Thomas’ is the perfect example (55-0), similarly bouncing back from a close shave against Wesley, moving on to thrash Isipathana and then St Peter’s. Scoring twelve tries in one hundred forty minutes. That’s a try every, just under twelve minutes per average, inside his last two games in charge (for two thousand eighteen).
Most potent moment: Fishtail driving maul V St Peter’s. Having been driven out and convincingly defended against a second man throw, his troops adjusted beautifully and threw to the back of the lineout, set up a brute of a maul and drove over sprawling and falling Peterites. A statement of intent and potency.
What gets the thumbs up is that he gets most work done with least talk and is the most unassuming among the coaching fraternity. Never one to panic, never one to throw arms around and resort to flowery language, he is the sort of man you can let your kids pick up those good habits from.
I always had an inclination he was the mastermind of Royal’s success. This season clearly and without a doubt, underscored my thought-pattern with hard evidence. Sees a significant rise in his stock and may very well end up being the highest paid coach for twenty nineteen given he is with the big fish and budget. Stunning season and a clear-cut Pound for pound numero uno, by a Jurassic mile.
#2. Nilfer Ibrahim
St Joseph’s: League runners-up (8-1)
One of the key movers and shakers of the modern era. Like a caretaker chief executive who harvests his riches and then moves on to another pasture, Nilufer has built a strong reputation as a thinking man on his feet.
His stints with Isipathana, Trinity and now his stable in making, St Joseph’s seem to always produce A grade results. Has a three-three-two year pattern within eight years with a tremendous track record. Changing his alignment, that of the Sigmoid curve theory which Gillette razors follow. Introducing new scenery to his better manage his career.
Like Lewke, he is an innovator and loves to shapeshift. The season-defining moment came when his charges, down to fourteen men, defended and out thought a Peterite fifteen. When most teams would have thrown in the towel, Joes stepped it up and his tactical shutdown and the territorial gameplay was admirable.
Allows his key men to run as they please, knowing to let creativity and free-flowing, unstructured play to take its course. It’s hard to coach that sort of flair but equally hard not to curb that enthusiasm and make it part of your game plan. A clear-cut second but some way to go as far as catching up with #1 Lewke.
Signed up as CR & FC’s new head coach and they can certainly do with more brains than brawn. His stock just rose a good 15 percent.
Most potent moment: Two set pieces which were match-winners against St. Peter’s. Heavily criticized for their inability to put these set plays together, twice within the space of ten minutes we witnessed exceptional movements. Great coaching skills and a quick turnaround is a trait of his which we should admire.
#3 Paul Toia
Wesley: (3-6) placed 7th in the league
The only overseas pro on the list and good enough to make the cut. Paul is certainly a great motivator of his cares, judging by the way Wesley, with their limited technical resources, has carved out a very simple yet effective game plan. It works and on their day, as they showed us against Royal, can be devastating. He and his tactics were the only genuine time that the champions were truly tested, strategically- bested and almost beaten. Almost.
The only let down for him this season has been their inconsistency and butterfingers when handling the ball.
That being said, this brings a sense of unpredictability and enthusiasm which he has channeled to their advantage. A typical Kiwi and playing patterns reminiscent in the Southern hemisphere, it will be interesting to see how he gets on in the coming season/s.
As for now, the clever outlining and skill activity index brought to Campbell park gets a top three billing.
Most potent moment: Splitting open Royal’s fortress-like midfield defense with clever running lines and tactical kicking, executed well to a repeated pattern. No one else came remotely close.
#4 Ananda Kasturiarachi
Maliyadeva: (8-2) Placed 3rd in the plate and earns promotion
The mercurial “Castro” is a revolution and a revelation in every sense. A coach with a long history and experience of working with many different sides, he has effectively transferred his learnings and combative playing style to Maliyadeva.
Always knocking on the door and looking to attack using depth and width, understanding the expressive nature of his playing group. The icing on the cake was a cracking game where they beat an equally game Science college, where his tactical ability to suck in the opposition and release his backs at the right time won them the game. In the process, Science, pulled out all their stops, scoring what was one of the best tries of the season and yet, came short.
Had a close shave against S Thomas’, marred by post-game spectator violence but gave the opposition a heck of a scare and were unlucky not to win. His ability to break the game down in critical areas and getting his key players into a settled pattern of play got Maliyadeva to where they are. Like any good racehorse with potential, they and he will get better as time passes. Never failing to always, give the punters a grand old sight, storming in the home straight.
No doubt, the bigger spenders in this bullish market will come knocking on his door. Another who sees his stock surge a good twenty percent.
The try which sealed the deal against Science at muddy farmer central in Bogambara. Understanding the opposition being thin on the short side, a beautifully crafted blindside movement filled with offloads, dotting down, in the rain– to guarantee their advance to the big league. Not their flashiest but “the most telling” movement which defined Castro’s season in charge.
#5 Sanath Martis
St Peter’s: (7-2) placed 3rd in the league
Easily the most high profile and highest paid commodity on the list. Given that he manages both Havelocks and St Peter’s, a true and legit full-time coach. As far as the schools season goes, it was “steady as she goes” until he came up against the top two. Fell apart in spectacular fashion against a staunch fourteen-man St Joseph’s and was found wanting with ineffective tactics. Beaten to the breakdown and set piece by a side who out-thought St Peter’s.
It was the same scenario against Royal and to compound matters, well beaten by his deputy from last two seasons in Lewke, our top pick. Had his opportunities but again outwitted and out- thought with playing patterns. Two weeks running, beaten at the breakdown and then out wide.
Again, unable to make a man down advantage count with flawed tactics. Excellent at public relations and diplomat with off field matters but that did not help him this year. A sign of the level of competition and improvements, where mind games play lesser of an importance.
He has by and large got the aura and respect of the old school coach but that was blown away by two much younger and innovative minds, losing that fear factor. Relegating him to fifth on our list, making it on reputation and reputation alone. Had a perfect opportunity to show who’s boss against his opponents but couldn’t make the cut.
Completes his first of three years on contract with the Bambalapitiya school but if not for his history and heroics from the past, could have had it easily ended. It will be an interesting tenure, how he balances the demands of both club and school, delivering on high expectations, given the rigors of balancing pre-season prep with an already depleted Havelocks SC. Keeping in mind that his recent club form as a coach has been anything but spectacular (CH and FC from several seasons ago and Havies from 2017).
Sees his stock slide as questions will arise, perhaps behind closed doors and contracts. Afterall, we live in a world and he coaches in a country where– you are as only good as where you end up on the league table.
Most potent moment: Nothing in particular, given that his standards are so high, nothing sticks out except individual moments of brilliance from several of his game breakers like Kenneth Wimaladasa and his line breaks against St Josephs, to whom they subsequently lost.
Head to head battles of note season proper 2018
Lewke V N Ibrahim
A close call was on the books but superior forward play and a virtual shutout in recycling- possession were key. Playmaker Gemunu Chethiya, who so clearly featured in almost every game was scuttled and stifled with an in your face, defensive pattern.
Joes were ineffective in the set pieces and eventually surrendered to Royal. Close on the scoreboard but far apart on the judge’s scorecard.
Winner: Lewke, Unanimous.
Ibrahim V Martis
Another highly anticipated hit out in the traditional derby of the saints. An incredible red card tipped the scales, very clearly in Pete’s favor. However, stale tactics and floundering attacking waves looked average against a mighty and determined Josephian defense. Moreover, declining shots at goal would prove fatal for Martis.
Against all odds and a threatening yet dormant back division, Peters suffered their first defeat against top-flight opposition.
Winner: N Ibrahim, Unanimous.
Lewke V Toia
Arguably, the game of the season. It had everything. The before, the during and the after. For the first time, tactically, Royal was beaten and beaten well. Toia and his kicking game stumped the champions. What’s more –that inspirational midfield break, against (another first) Feroze/Dilshan pairing was a stunner.
Eventually, after huffing and puffing, grinding out several minutes of recycled ruck ball- deep in the second half, Royal came away winners. That, by a micron, skin of their teeth. A win none the less. That said, Toia won the bragging rights for rattling Royal’s cage. It seemed like he had a cattle prod.
Winner: Toia by split decision.
Martis V Lewke
The most anticipated showdown within a showdown. The master and his apprentice, or so we thought. Royal, tactically and strategically dominated when it mattered. It was impactful and bruising. Set pieces, non-contested breakdowns, fishtail mauls, close quarter rucking and then out wide, turnovers in precision and the list goes on. Peter’s could not activate any of their previously effective tools. This looked like a different league altogether.
Further, a few unforced errors from Royal from counter attacks limited the damage on a blow out of a scoreboard. A no contest in the end and an emphatic verdict. An almost, TKO– Techincal Knock Out at seventy minutes.
He could very well bounce back next year but the game has changed and rapidly changing. What a difference one season and a change of geography make. Arguably, should have, could have, would have stayed on with Royal but then again Lewke’s influence is now, very hard to deny. What’s more, saving Royal millions of rupees in wages and payouts.
For he, Lewke that is, Straight up, is, the– coach of the year for twenty eighteen.
Winner: Lewke, Unanimous.
Pound for pound, this is an extremely talented list and would hopefully make for more battles in next years, season proper. In a cutthroat, emotionally charged and at times, politically driven industry, they have all done well to deserve their space. Some better than others.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ThePapare.com