The year was 2009. Sri Lanka junior national side was to tour Hong Kong for the junior rugby Asiad and with two months to go for the tournament, which was to be held in September, it was without a coach as Theo Serafim resigned. Kingswood College coach and then Navy SC player Nilfer Ibrahim was offered the job and to mingle with him, Royal College assistant coach Bilal Yusuf was choosen.
The team led by Isipathana College’s Niroshan Fernando went on create waves in the Asian region thumping Singapore and reached the zenith of their powers when they beat Korea in the third place play off for the first time in Sri Lanka’s history. Now Ibrahim and Yusuf who are recognized as young coaches with tactical acumen find themselves in the opposite corners of the Bradby rivals.
“I enjoyed coaching with Nilfer. He’s a very good coach. Actually we worked quite well during that three weeks and we beat Korea. Both of us gelled together well during that tour.” remembers Yusuf. Yusuf who holds the dual role of head coach and trainer at Royal is IRB level two certified and has a Strength and conditioning degree from Acceleration Australia.
Ibrahim who is taking Trinity to places after joining the setup in 2011 having won the Bradby and the President’s trophy already says coaching was in his blood. “I joined the Dharmaraja side in 2007 which was in the B division and we became champions and were sevens plate champions. Then my school Kingswood wanted me at the helm and under me they became the 2008 league champions, 2009 Sevens champions and league runner up in 2010.”
Unlike Nilfer, Yusuf’s transition to coaching was by accident when after leaving school he was invited to fill a void in the under-12 side in 2003. Incidentally that side’s captain was a young boy called Arshad Jamaldeen. “The first team i took over was the under-12 which was captained by Jamaldeen. So i have known these guys from the word go.”
Yusuf ascended to the under-16 side in 2004-2006 and to the under-18s from 2007-2008 and had the lucky charm of being the assistant to Serafim’s unbeaten side in 2009. He coached CR&FC and St.Joseph’s the following years and now has come back to his school. He says it is the ultimate job he could have dreamed of. “In my book, the highest i can get to in Sri Lanka is coaching Royal College. The passion for Rugby in schools is amazing compared to clubs. Personally i haven’t set any big targets, Royal is as highest as it can get.”
Johan Taylor, Laga are some well-known figures Ibrahim has worked with and to be the sevens coach of Sri Lanka is one of main priorities. “Its a cut and chop job but i want stay there for some time. Build a team for the future and take Sri Lanka to the top ten in the world.”
Ibrahim maintains they (him and Yusuf) still have a good friendship since the Asiad days and wishing each other before matches has been a common practice. It’s unlikely they’ll be wishing one another before the Bradby though.