Last Thursday, Sri Lanka and the global rugby fraternity received the tragic news of the passing of George Simpkin, a rugby guru who strengthened the sport in several countries including Sri Lanka during his lifetime.
Simpkin, a New Zealander, was responsible for training several national rugby teams world over and made several successful predictions over the future of international rugby. Sri Lanka too was blessed to have him as our rugby coach where he coached both the Sri Lanka men’s Sevens as well as the 15-a-side teams.
As you all are aware, rugby has been my true passion ever since childhood, and I was honored to have been closely connected with the guru himself since a young age. I first met coach Simpkin when he coached the national under 19 rugby team and ever since then I built up a close friendship with my mentor which lasted till he breathed his last.
To me, coach Simpkin was a father figure, a mentor and a true friend who played an important role in my life.
Knowing my true passion for the sport, I discussed my plans of how to improve the sport in Sri Lanka back in mid 2000s. Sri Lanka was facing a war at that time but I was aware that the sport had so much of potential in this country as Sri Lanka had so many talented players. In 2009, with the assistance and strong support, Simpkin helped me and Sri Lanka Rugby to launch the Carlton 7s which soon became an international tournament in the country. While the sport strengthened domestic rugby, it also put Sri Lanka on the global sporting map, which Sri Lanka so badly needed at that time as we had just ended a 30 year civil war.
The Carlton 7s, under the guidance of Simpkin, ran successfully till 2014, but due to petty political gains, the former government discontinued it in 2015, which was a blow to the sport and Sri Lanka Rugby.
Just as Simpkin contributed heavily towards Sri Lanka rugby he was also credited with introducing rugby to China which is now a force in Asia as well as being the first national coach of Germany. He was also known for being chiefly instrumental in getting Hong Kong’s development program on track.
He led Fiji to the World Cup quarter-finals in 1987, was the mastermind when Hong Kong reached the Cup quarter-finals at the Hong Kong Sevens in 1989 and was also the pioneer behind China’s entry into world rugby. Simpkin and his wife left Hong Kong in 1997 and decided to retire in Sri Lanka where he lived in Kandy where they made a number of friends through his business interests, but he soon found himself Sri Lanka’s national coach.
He died on Thursday near Hamilton in New Zealand after a battle with cancer. He was 77 years old.
While no individual can replace the role Simpkin played in world rugby, I personally, am going to miss this dear friend, mentor and father figure. He was a motivator, perfectionist, but most of all one of the best human beings I have ever met. I will miss him dearly.