Radhika Hettiarachchi, Iron man and local Lomu of Rugby

0
551

Sri Lanka Rugby, especially Rugby 7’s, was at its peak (let’s say) in the early 2000’s. We had a bunch of powerful and big made players who dominated the 7’s arena, which commenced in 1999.   

The 2003 Singer-SriLankan Airlines Rugby 7’s was the fifth year the tournament was held, and for the first-time teams from Kenya, Morocco, the Arabian Gulf, Australia, New Zealand, and the Cook Islands were invited to participate. Sri Lanka played in pool D. They won their first game against Denmark 31-5, lost to Australia 19-7, and to Chinese Taipei 35-7.

In the 2nd round Sri Lanka played in the Plate Championship and won the semi-final against Germany 26 -19. In the final they took on Belgium and claimed a convincing 33-19 victory. The matches were played at the Bogambara stadium. Kenya emerged champs and Portugal – after losing a tense final – ended as the runner-up.

In the 2004 Singer 7’s, Sri Lanka were in pool B. They lost their first game against Thailand 26-10, but bounced back to win against Kazakhstan 26-10. Once again playing in the Plate Championship, the islanders beat Malaysia 29-7 in the semis, and then beat Arabian Gulf 31-19 to claim their 2nd consecutive Plate Championship. 2003 was the first time Sri Lanka became Plate Champs and they achieved the same in 2004 and 2005 as well.

 The National team participated in almost all the top 7’s tournaments and one of their main achievements was when they became Bowl Champs in the 2010 Singapore 7’s.

The common factor in 2003 and 2004 and 2010 was the captain. The national 7’s team was led in 2003, 2004, 2009, and 2010 by one of the best 7’s players the island has produced, Radhika Hettiarachchi.

Born in the outskirts of Kandy on 14 November 1977 to Nirmala and Vijey Hettiarachchi, Radhika was the middle child between two brothers. The three brothers (Vinod – elder and Udaya – younger) attended Dharmaraja Kandy from Grade One.

Radhika was a real all-rounder who never limited himself to one sport. He first started with football, playing from Under-12 to 19 and led all the teams. Along with football, he played Rugby from his Under-12 days. He turned out to be a big built teenager and decided to bring out the athlete in him. He would take up different sports and excel in all of them.

Radhika then took up weightlifting and bodybuilding from Under-17 level. Hockey, Volleyball and Athletics also became a part of his life during the last couple of years at college. In athletics, he won at the Central Province Athletic Championship in 1996.

One would wonder why a kid would engage in many different sports at once, and I guess it is to do with the genes and the background. Radhika’s father was a good sportsman in his youth. Hettiarachchi senior held records for bodybuilding, and Udaya played the hooligans game for Kandy SC, CR&FC and Sri Lanka.

Engaging in many sports also means that you are in a dilemma to choose one particular sport to excel in. From Under-12 level, Radhika was engaged in football and rugby simultaneously and he had to make a choice after bidding farewell to his school life.

“It was football that I played with so much love. My first love was football, and later I found rugby interesting too. I started both sports from Under-12 level and continued showcasing my talents till under-19. I was selected to play for the under-19 Sri Lanka Schools football team. I wanted to play for the country too, but finally found out that there is something I love more than my first love, and it was rugby. During Under-17 level, I would go to watch Kandy SC play and immediately I thought to myself that one day I am going to play for Kandy and later represent my country.” Radhika stated why he decided to excel in the oval-shaped ball game.

Being a good all-round sportsman at school also meant that school colours were a part of his success. For two consecutive years (1995 and 1996), Radhika bagged College Colours and the College ‘Dagoba’ (the highest award offered at School) for Soccer and Rugby, which made him the first Rajan to bag the ‘Dagoba’ in two consecutive years for Rugby and Football. Without a doubt Radhika left his whites with an unmatched legacy. 

In his last year at School, Radhika got an invitation to play for the OTSC club in 1996. His talents and skills were so good he got the opportunity to play for the Sri Lanka Under-24 team. Radhika was then only 19 and he proved to everyone that he belonged to the Rugby field when he was adjudged the best player in two of the games.

His eye-catching performances caught the eyes of the Kandy SC management and soon he was invited to join Kandy SC. From 1997 Radhika was an important member of the Kandy team and would adorn the Sri Lanka Rugby arena for many years establishing different kinds of records, especially becoming the league and triple Champs for several years. From there onwards Club Rugby was a part of his life where he would win awards on his own. In 2002 he became the best player of the tournament; in 2003 the best three quarter and in 2004 the best Captain.

Radhika was a fan of the late legendary All Black’s player Jonah Lomu for a good part of his playing career and wanted to emulate him. “From my youth I followed Jonah Lomu and he is my role model. I even used to cut my hair like Jonah, and one day had a target to play like him. Many used to call me Local Lomu and the iron man of Sri Lanka Rugby.’ Radhika spoke about his role model in the sport.

From 1997 till 2005 Radhika played for Kandy SC, captaining the team in 2004, one of the years they won the triple. In 2006 Radhika decided to come down to Colombo and played for CR & FC. Once again he was back in Kandy from 2007 and donned the jersey till 2010, losing only about five games in his 12-year career at Kandy SC.

In 1998, at the tender age of 21, he represented the national team after playing for the Under-24 team in 1997. In 1998 he first toured Australia and from there onwards for many years to come Radhika was seen putting his heart out for the national team till 2010. He captained the Singer 7’s in 2003 and 2004 and Sri Lanka became Plate Champions. Sri Lanka played at the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, quadrangular, 7s tournaments in Malaysia and showcased their talents. Radhika was a born leader who would showcase his leadership qualities to the maximum. He was once again appointed captain of the national rugby 7s in 2009 and 2010. Playing as the wing three quarter and full back for the national XV team, Radhika also led the 15’s team once in 2008 against China.

 I mentioned earlier that our Rugby was at its peak in the 2000’s. This was evident when in 2004 we played in the Dubai 7’s, Hong Kong 7’s and South Africa 7’s under the leadership of Radhika, but later on we did not have the luxury of participating in them. Radhika also holds a special record as no Sri Lankan has scored more points in Hong Kong 7’s than him. According to his memory he has scored 46 points at Hong Kong 7’s.

Before hanging up his boots, Radhika also captained the Sri Lanka 7s team at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. In 2011, Radhika decided to take up coaching and started with his Alma Mater in the latter part of 2012. Radhika found immediate success in his new challenge as in 2013 Dharmaraja became the league champs for the first time in history. An exceptional leader who led the national team with pride, dignity, and few records of his own showed glimpses of a great coach in the making.

Even though Radhika’s national career came to an end in 2011, he continued to play club Rugby till 2013. While coaching the Rajans he played for the Up-country Lions and ended his career leading the team and winning the 7’s tournament.

From 2012 to 2016 he coached Dharmaraja, taking them to new heights. His coaching methods spoke volumes when he was appointed head coach of Nepal national Men’s and Women’s 7’s team in 2018 and 2019. Again, he came back to the island in 2019 and coached the Army team till 2022. This year he was also appointed as assistant coach to Lewke at Royal College. Radhika also has now completed coaching level 1, 2 and part one of level 3, and is hoping to complete the other levels too.

Radhika married Chathurika in the 2003 and the duo has two beautiful girls, Methumya who attends Mahamaya and Kinara who attends JMC college.

 “My parents never pressured me to stick to studies, but always showed me the importance of it. Mainly because I had a sporty background at home, it was easy for me to engage in sports. My father was a bodybuilding champion, and he was engaged in weightlifting and athletics too. Studies play a major role, and I was able to balance out both. It is because of sports that I am here and have achieved so much in life. Sports taught me what team working is, what winning and losing is and what it takes to be a better disciplined human being. It is because of sports at least people know me.” Radhika commented on the support received from his parents and what sports has added to his personality.

One thing Local Lomu believes is that our 7’s team is doing well and that our stepping, speed and skills level is up to the mark, but the only issue he sees is the size of our players, and if we can find bigger and stronger built players then we have a good chance of reaching the top. 

Finally, Radhika wanted to thank all his coaches starting from his School, Gunadasa, Padmasiri, Nimal, Srimal, Anil Jayasinghe to name a few, and his national and club coaches, George Simpkin, Hemanth Yatawara, Laga, Ana Sarnapala, Chandrishan Perera, Ben Gollings, Lewke to name a few. 

By Vimukthi Adithya