Sri Lanka should play its own brand of rugby – YC Chang | Daily News

Sri Lanka should play its own brand of rugby – YC Chang

YC Chang at 78 takes his morning walk at CH&FC.
YC Chang at 78 takes his morning walk at CH&FC.

There was an era when club rugby was the most looked forward to event in the local rugby calendar with its open style of play and drawing spectators by the thousands. But over time all that has changed and what we see today according to a legend of the game Yu Cey Chang popularly known as YC Chang is a boring brand of rugby that has dwindled spectator interest and hardly contributes to the improvement of the national team’s standards.

“I predicted as far back as 2003-04 the game the Union (Sri Lanka Rugby) was bringing forward was so boring that crowds will dwindle. As far as we are concerned although we are governed by the IRB (International Rugby Board) it does not necessarily mean that we can’t change our own laws within the country. The Union can do that. When it comes to international matches we have to play according to IRB rules,” said Chang in a candid interview with the Daily News.

“I said change the laws why should we have this flat defence and why are we hitting and falling, all those needs changes. They did not listen and we are continuing to do it. During my time our laws were very strict in a sense that you had to have tremendous skills in the three quarter line because the wing forwards were allowed to go right upto the opponent’s third row. Then it was brought back that wing forwards had to stay in our own half and in our pack,” explained Chang.

“That indeed was challenging for any three quarter to make a move. We didn’t have a flat defence the ball was dropped and the three quarter line had to make maneuvers, there had to be agility of the individual. That created a lot of enthusiasm amongst the spectators and also the players. If you innovate to a run and pass game in the 15-a-side that itself will help our sevens players. The Fijians even in a 15-a-side move the ball. When it comes to sevens it is nothing to them like duck taking to water.

“During my younger days I enjoyed coming into a rugby field donning on a jersey to see the crowds throng the whole field. That is what the game is all about. Today what do you get? I can count about 50. Our tickets were sold at Chatham Street, Diana’s and all those places. Today you come to the club get a ticket and walk into the ground. In fact CH&FC is doing it free to encourage spectators to come,” he added.


Chang called for the SLR to reassess and make the required changes to make the game more attractive.

“The Union has to reassess, you must rethink this game in an indigenous manner. Our people love the movement of the ball, love to see players running, so create rules that will fit that pattern, don’t worry about the international scene,” said Chang.

“If the changes are brought in and we play a run and pass game the public will also love it and the players will also love it. It may not be within the international rules but we can have a domestic tournament to suit ourselves. The Union on the other hand can get their squad in, pay them what they have to pay instead of pressurising the clubs to pay for them and do whatever they want. When there is a international tournament send your best 15.

“Statistically we will never reach the top four of the world and for that matter we won’t reach the top four in the Asian circuit. So, one can’t say that with all this professionalism and all that, we have done well. During our time in the sixties we matched upto the European planters, they were tough and our score was not bad. We played all those international teams that came here and they defeated us by some 15, 20 or 30 points but now they just can’t do it. They can’t meet a side like New Zealand or Australia and not get hammered by 150 points,” he said.

On the question of Sri Lanka not strengthening their national team by inviting foreign players like other nations do, Chang said that as far back as the eighties he had tried that and failed.

“We had to play the Asiad in 1984 and in 1986 and I went to the Sports Minister Vincent Perera and asked him to allow the Fijians who were playing for our local clubs to represent the country. I told him this is the only chance we had to win a tournament, let us be the first to try, give us as chance and let us win a trophy, but he refused. We only needed that extra bit and we would have won the Asian tournament,” recalled Chang.

“Then a couple of years later you find Malaysia and all the other Asian countries bringing in foreign players into their team. We are very slow in following and inovating our own system. This is typical Sri Lanka. The politicians and Ministers should be completely out of this game. They have no right to be interfering with us with people who know the game. What can a Minister who doesn’t know anything about the game come and talk about rugby? We had this from the eighties, too much of interference.”


Chang prides himself as the first person in the world to bring professionalism into rugby.

“It was a burning point with me in the eighties I was the chief of the rugby union, the chief of the Gymkhana club and I had this dirty experience trying to convince the politicians to help us out. I am proud to say that I am the first person in the world who brought in professionalism. At that time in the early eighties the international rugby board had not even thought about it. They were still thinking amateur. When I started doing this operation there was one helluva hoo-ha from the clubs who objected to it,” said Chang.

“The IRB wrote a letter to me saying that we are aware that you are not going by the rules. I said what are you suggesting? They said that I cannot go professional. I told them if you are going to come and run this show in Sri Lanka please do so, I will hand you over the keys, otherwise let me run it. I told them that this is an internal thing which I am trying out so please let me do it. They said no problem. At the union meeting I told the club representatives, ‘Gentleman you are fussing with me over professionalism I have got the approval from the IRB.”

Chang questioned the wisdom of clubs spending so much of money on players.

“Is it worth it for clubs to go on spending all that money? If you take a year’s rugby expenses of any club the minimum would be about Rs. 20 million, if they are lucky I know some clubs can get as much as Rs. 30 and 40 million. The clubs have to raise that money, the Union does not give one cent,” said Chang.

“Now these boys are professionals they stutter around as if their whole life is worth that amount of money and then at the end of the day if they get an injury that’s the end of it, kaput. The club also does not get anything. I just can’t understand the psyche of this. In fact somewhere in 2002 or 2003 I wrote in the newspapers to stop this nonsense.

“During our days we were headhunted for jobs. Take myself I never thought I go planting but the guys came and asked, do you like planting. I was trained in all their disciplines and then I came to Colombo and became a businessman. Like that we had a future but now there is no future for the younger guys. With the cost of living and expenses say a boy will earn about Rs. 5, 6, 7 million during his career. What is that amount today? How much is it going to work for him? He has to have a job,” Chang emphasised.

“I am always for a change. People must be pragmatic think about the game, think about the clubs. The clubs have their own followers those who sponsor the club they look after it and teach the young fellows the game. They come and enjoy themselves all that was there during my time. Now they come, play the game, take their ‘buth’ (lunch) packet and off they go home, there is no interaction, no fellowship that’s all out,” he bemoaned.

Giving the reasons for such a change Chang said, “It is because we don’t have that feeling in the club higher ups now. It’s professional. Take for instance Havelocks, CR or CH the middle-aged sponsors who were there loved the game and followed it every weekend during my time. At Havelocks senior executives were there and they gave moral encouragement so was it at CH where they come and give you a guiding hand. In that absence the players are alone in the field, they play the game and then they go off. There is no desire to meet any of the older people, it’s a shame.”

Chang was a rugby legend during his heyday and even served the game diligently in the capacity of president of SLR. He was quite a mobile prop forward used to support the ball right down to the wing and he also scored quite a number of tries.


Rolling back the years he was able to piece together some of the most memorable moments in his career.

“There was this incident where I ‘walked’ the CH team off the field over a dispute with the referee in 1972. Azain was blowing and I found that it was totally wrong as I was behind Hemsworth. He didn’t kick but the referee said he did. I said no because I was right behind Hemsworth. The ref refused to accept my word so I walked out with the team. They suspended me but when they had to select the 1972 or 1974 team to the Asiad they picked me as captain,” Chang said.

Another incident Chang recalls was when Kandy coming into the finals and ‘Bena’ who was the captain of the Police side was also the scrum half. “The scores were equal and they were on our line and Bena got the ball and he put it in. I told Vidanage wait, don’t go, but he stepped over and gave a penalty to them and we lost.”

In another game involving Havelocks in the Clifford Cup final playing against Dimbulla-Dickoya Chang said the scores were level when the kick was taken at around 45 to 50 metres by Ken de Joodt. “My god he put a bloody bullet in the centre of the post.”

Having being involved a good part of his life in the game the 76-year-old legend said that sadly that he has stopped watching rugby.

“It has got so boring maybe six, seven, eight years down the line. There is no thrill for me to watch a fellow take the ball and come and hammer you and fall down, then the next guy takes the ball hammers you and falls down. This new style came from New Zealand’s Wayne Shelford in the late eighties who brought that in. He was a huge figure around 300 to 400 lbs he could take the ball from no. 8 and boom...,” said Chang. “When this style came during the 2000 World Cup the French went back and they didn’t follow the Southern Hemispheres style of rugby but started to move the ball. It is interesting to watch them. I liked David Campese a beautiful player, after him I didn’t follow anyone.” 


Add new comment

Or log in with...