They say rugby is a “ruffians game played by gentlemen”, this saying rings true when you meet the dashing young Nigel Ratwatte who is soft spoken, well mannered and well built. Nigel began his school career at Trinity College Kandy and later moved with his family to Mauritius. In Mauritius Nigel played club rugby and won a rugby scholarship to finish his schooling in South Africa. Nigel represented the Mauritius 15 a side Senior National team making him the first and the youngest Sri Lankan to have represented a foreign national rugby team. The young Nigel won the award for MAN OF THE MATCH in the first Aftican Regions Castle Cup Tournament. Nigel has represented Mauritius in both 15’s and 7’s rugby and now represents Sri Lanka in both formats of this great game. Fitness & Sports is proud to have Nigel Ratwatte the Sri Lanka and Kandy Sports Club Fullback as our cover feature.
Fitness & Sports: What circumstances led you to first pick up the oval shaped ball?
Nigel Ratwatte: All my batch mates at Trinity College were playing tap rugby when we were kids so I naturally took up the oval shaped ball. And also at home, my brother and I would play with the rugby ball. We would also play rugby with our friends from our village in Kandy in the paddy fields. This is where I got a feel for rugby. If we did not have a rugby ball we would fill up a water bottle with sand and use that as an improvised rugby ball. When I was around 8 or 9 years old my parents enrolled me in the Mini Rugby Camp at Kandy Sports Club. My rugby career took flight from here.
F&S: What is your favourite moment in your rugby career so far?
NR: Representing Sri Lanka in both 7’s and 15’s rugby for the first time was definitely a proud moment for me. When we (Sri Lanka) came 3rd Place (Overall) in the Asian Rugby Sevens Circuit in 2015 was “the moment” for me as we had never before come 3rd Place (Overall) in the Rugby Sevens Circuit before. Number 1 was Japan, Number 2 was Hong Kong and we (Sri Lanka) came Number 3. This was a big achievement for all of us in the team.
Another significant moment in my rugby career was winning the Club Sevens Tournament in 2013 with the Upcountry Lions as the team was newly formed, did not have any big names and no one expected us to win the tournament, but we won.
Winning my first Dialog Club Rugby League for the first time at Kandy Sports Club was definitely a very special moment for me. We have been winning the League so far and I will do my best to help the club (Kandy) win more leagues during my career.
F&S: Describe your rugby experience while you were living in Mauritius and South Africa prior to coming back home to Sri Lanka?
NR: When my family moved to Mauritius we had no idea that there was any rugby in Mauritius and we were under this impression for over a year till one day my mom read the newspaper and found out about a rugby tournament taking place. We found out all the information and my brother and I enrolled in that particular club. I was Under 15 at the time. I resumed my rugby career. My teammates and others
at the club were surprised to see a Sri Lankan playing rugby instead of cricket. As I showed good progress in my rugby I kept playing at senior levels. When I was Under 15, I played for the Under 17 side and when I was Under 17, I was taken straight into the Senior Team. The club was called the Western Cowboys Rugby Club and I represented this team for a couple of years. After my School Certificate (like O-Levels) I was given a scholarship by King Edwards VII in Johannesburg, South Africa to complete my secondary schooling. I was 16 years old at the time. I went straight into their first 15 side. It was harder than I
expected because the South Africans are very big people compared to Asians. I had a tough time initially but adapted with the help of my coach who saw potential in me. I played both fly half and wing three quarter.
While I was at school in South Africa I represented the Mauritius National Rugby Team. I got special approval from the school to be eleased for two weeks to represent Mauritius. I toured in the African Nations Cup where we played against Botswana, Namibia and Tanzania. I have also toured the Indian Ocean Games which was held in Madagascar in rugby 7’s. I represented Mauritius in both 15’s and 7’s.
After I finished my schooling I moved back to Mauritius with my parents. Then I was offered a contract for a year by CR & FC in Colombo. Jehan Canagaratne who was the President of the club at the time contacted my parents. In 2010 I came to Sri Lanka to play for CR & FC. I was 19 years old. We were Runners up in the League that year. I am very grateful to Jehan for giving me this opportunity.
F&S: Who is the one rugby player you have looked up to as a kid?
NR: When I was a kid I looked up to Jean de Villiers a former South African player who played centre. I admired his commitment and discipline on and off the rugby field. I have met him once and he is a true gentleman and an ambassador to the sport. Now the player I look up to is Beauden Barret the current New Zealand fly half. I like the way he plays, his skill, how he reads the game, his composure on the field and his overall control of the game. I have started to learn new things from him which I hope to absorb into my rugby.
F&S: For your position (full back) what are the main requirements?
NR: A full back position requires good vision, the ability to kick well, to be able to take high balls under pressure, the ability to scan the game as the full back is the only player at the back, to identify the spaces where to run through and where to attack.
A good overall level of fitness is essential for anyone who plays rugby especially at the international level. The fullback needs to have flexibility, agility, speed, endurance and explosiveness and we train with these fitness goals in mind.
F&S: Describe the transition from playing rugby for Mauritius to playing rugby in Sri Lanka?
NR: In Mauritius, rugby is a relatively new sport. It is a very popular game but the rugby is more amateur than professional even at the national level. When I first played for Sri Lanka, our coach was Ben Gollings. The 7’s camp was my first time wearing the national jersey. Prior to playing for Sri Lanka, I did not know much about the 7’s format of rugby but Ben Gollings taught me a lot about the technicalities, the strategy of rugby 7’s. The camp was very structured and organized.
Everything went according to a plan. I discovered how serious rugby is taken in Sri Lanka and I appreciated the professional approach with regard to the coaching and training. Every player was given a schedule on what they had to do. We had to be disciplined in our commitment to the game. We had training twice a day for about two and a half months. We had four tournaments coming up then. I developed my rugby skills at school in South Africa, when I came to Sri Lanka to play for the national team I learnt professionalism and the structured approach to training that transcends to both on and off the field.
F&S: 7’s and 15 a side rugby require different skill sets, how do you make the adjustment after the 15 a side season to playing sevens (physically and mentally)?
NR: To prepare for the 15’s game you need to put on size and strength. Training for 15’s emphasizes more on bulking up. We work a lot on strategy and game plan. The longer version of the game is very strategic. Though the sport of 15 a side rugby lasts for 80 minutes, the fitness requirement is not as demanding as rugby 7’s where a game lasts only for 14 minutes but you play a few games in a day. Rugby 7’s requires a degree of fitness and alertness for the entire duration of the game because there are only 7 players per side. In 15’s rugby there are 15 players to a side which means the work load is distributed amongst more players and the pace of the game is a lot slower when compared to rugby 7’s.
After the rugby 15’s season we come into the rugby 7’s camp and make the transition to the shorter version of the game. The emphasis on fitness is a lot more, our gym schedules change where we work more to build our speed, agility and explosiveness. There is more physicality involved in rugby 15’s because you have to break through the tackles where in rugby 7’s you create the gaps,
minimize the contact and keep the ball alive more than 15’s. In15’s you play to a plan of about 4, 5 rucks, there a lot of phases in this game. In the shorter version of 7’s it is a lot of speed and running through the gaps. So our training is customized to prepare us for the different physical and strategic requirements of the two different versions of rugby.
Beakfast Oats / Two half boiled eggs Then, anything Sri Lankan available on the table ! / Fruits and protein shake Lunch Fruits / Rice and curry / Yogurt Teatime Snack Tea / Biscuits pancake or buns / Bananas Dinner Pasta / Salad / Yogurt
F&S: You have a pilot’s license and reading for your MBA whilst playing rugby full time and you are a husband and a father, how do you manage your time?
NR: It’s difficult at times but I tend to manage my time pretty well thanks to my wife. She helps me a lot and supports me tremendously in what I do in sports and my studies. I am very grateful to have a very beautiful and supportive wife.
I started studying for my pilot’s license in 2010 and managed to complete it in 2013. I have got the license and I now need to complete my flying hours. In my MBA I have finished two stages I should have my MBA next year, by mid March. During the off season I am in training for the 7’s so then most of my free time is at home. I am very consistent with my gym sessions in the morning. After the gym I come home spend time at home then head to the office and keep weekends for my family. During the season it is more hectic as I train in Kandy and my family is in Colombo but they (family) try and come spend the weekend in Kandy.
F&S: Who are the people who have helped you in your journey to where you are today?
NR: First would be my parents who encouraged me since I was a kid. Then it is my wife who gives me the support and encouragement today. My little boy is a huge motivation for me, everything I do I keep him in mind. He inspires me to continuously strive to greater heights. Mr. Malik Samarawickrama has helped me a lot in bringing me to where I am today. I am very grateful to have these people in my life. I thank God for all the blessings in my life.
F&S: What are your goals in your rugby career and in life?
NR: I want to keep on trying to improve my rugby every day. I would love to help Sri Lanka qualify for the Olympics and win the Hong Kong 7’s.
F&S: Words of advice to the aspiring young rugby players?
NR: Always be positive, never give up on what you are doing. Don’t cut short on what you are doing. It will be tough but the tougher it is the better you will be as a player. A rugby player will always have injuries, that is the nature of this very physical contact sport, I have been struggling with the last 1 ½ years with my knee but have patience. The time will come when everything falls into place. Be patient, be disciplined and always think positive.