They have no foreigners to train or coach them or tell them what to eat for breakfast. They grew up with native advice making use of all that is local and had only one goal and that was to become a force in schools rugby which is now no more the domain of the elite. If all goes well, in two weeks’ time they’ll be the new champions of schools rugby and if that happens they will be the most deserving team that a trophy could be handed over to them. For Dharmaraja has what it takes to be a champion team with the right players in place to match any team in the current season.
Dharmaraja first showed signs of a force in the making when they impressed in the schools Sevens two years ago in Colombo where they won the title. Since then there was no looking back and Dharmaraja led by Rochana Hettiarchhi and coached by old Rajan and former Sri Lanka player Radika Hettiarachchi are currently on top. Dharmaraja are the only unbeaten team and they may have St. Joseph’s College to thank for beating Trinity last week and pushing them down from their pedestal. But Dharmaraja have also earned their place in the top as they beat six of their opponents, St. Anthony’s College, St. Peter’s College, Science College, Wesley College, Kingswood College and Isipathana College by convincing margins while holding Trinity to a 34-34 draw. Dharmaraja will also make no secret about their success.
“I have taught them how important it is to keep the ball and how to get the ball back when it is lost”, said coach Hettiarachchi. What is most interesting about the Dharmaraja team is that Hettiarachchi has made all members good ball players, which has contributed immensely in their quest for success.
Dharmaraja have two remaining matches against St. Joseph’s and Royal in Colombo and need to win both to bow out with a clean sheet.
They have two of the best props in the schools arena in Prasanna Bandara and Dulaksha Weerakoon with Charinda Kalinga as reserve. Their hooker Gihan Jayasinghe can strike at lightning speed while Dulantha Hiyarapitiya is the reserve hooker. They can boast of two strong towering second rowers in Vihanga Nawalage and Hasmitha Karunatilleke who are outstanding in loose play while Amila Weerakoon in the reserve.Fast breaking flankers Tilina Sampath and Janaka Wijesinghe have always being in the thick of it and are also solid in defence while Number Eight Lochana Fernando is considered the pick of the forwards.
Dharmaraja has probably the best line in the country with scrum-half Ishanka Wimalasuriya, fly-half Rochan Hettiarachchi, centres Bhuvaneka Udangamuwa and Dilantha Madushanka and wingers Pradeep Tharindu and Manushka Kumara making up the order with Tilina Wijesinghe being the last man in defence who is a real specialist with his kicks at goal and that includes drop-goals from even the half-way mark.
Taking to rugby in 1972, Dharmaraja have come a long way and today are holding their own against the leading schools that have played the game long before them. It was in 1978 that Dharmaraja rugby first came into the limelight when they were picked by the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) as one of the best eight teams in the country to play in their centenary year at the schools knockout tournament.
Two men can be credited with giving Dharmaraja a big push in that year in former S. Thomas’ College master and president of the Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Section the late Lal Kumarasinghe and their principal AP Gunaratne. Presently working behind the scene is the Old Rajans Rugby Football Union (ORRFU) which has thrown its weight behind the team and procured sponsorships among other things acquired.
Going by the performances the players have put in and their commitment and determination, it appears the Rajans, as they are called, have come to stay in the big league of schools rugby. Coach Radika Hettiarachchi is no stranger to rugby. He was produced by Dharmaraja and went on to captain the champion Kandy Sports Club and play for Sri Lanka. At present he plays for the Upcountry Lions and is a maestro in the field who has done his best to mould the Rajans into what they are today with the backing of the ORRFU and the team’s master Saliya Alexender.