by Sujith Silva
The Movers and Shakers
The first ever Schools Knockout Tournament was organized by SLRFU in 1978 when they hosted an invitational Schools and Club rugby knockout tournament to celebrate ‘Centenary of Rugby in Sri Lanka’. S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia under the captaincy of Shane Pinder beat Roshan Deen’s Peterites and beat Rohantha Peiris’ Royalist who were the League Champions in the semi-finals. Late Sharm de Alwis in one of his newspaper columns described this game as “In the semi-finals versus Royal, Christopher Thambipillai (Christopher Jordash) intercepted Asantha de Mel’s pass and scorched the grass for 60 yards to score a spectacular try and for Rienzie Wijeratne to declare in his column that it “was the try that tore the heart out of Royal.” Thomians had the privilege of winning the tournament by beating Ginigalgodage’s Isipathana XV by 13-6 in the finals. Havelocks SC under Anton Benedict won the Club Knockout tournament and ended as Triple Champions that year.
The League Tournament which was organized by the Schools Section of SLRFU during the 80’s did consist of two divisions, A & B. In 1980, the A Division teams competed for the first time in Gratien Cup tournament, and B Division teams in Tyrell Muttiah Cup tournament. Winners were selected based on a point system. Until then Schools picked up its Champion based on the school having the best record during the season but a Trophy was not on offer. However, this was short-lived as the Gratien Cup league tournament was discontinued in 1983 and the league became unofficial again. Thereafter League tournament was held sans a trophy with more or less a tournament amongst 10-12 teams of A Division which mostly comprised of traditional rugby playing schools and their traditional fixtures. Then the B Division which mostly comprised of other up and coming teams competing against each other where the top team gets a promotion for A Division while the bottom seed from A Division gets a demotion to B Division.
Then in 1985 on the backing of the then Prime Minister R. Premadasa, after successfully hosting a Knockout Tournament for Rugby Clubs in 1984, a tournament for Schools was introduced to be played after the completion of the League Tournament but parallel to Knockout Tournament for Clubs. The top seven school teams from the A Division (Division 1) and the winner of Division B got an opportunity to play in this. This was first staged in 1985 when it was known as the Premadasa Trophy, named after Ranasinghe Premadasa who later went onto become the President of Sri Lanka. It was played amidst carnival atmosphere spread over two weeks at the newly refurbished Sugathadasa Stadium at Kotahena (Colombo 13) which had floodlights, synthetic 400m track all modern sports facilities with a majestic looking Grand Stand with a roofing around the terraces. Those who can recall the status of old Sugathadasa Stadium before its renovation, the rustic fences, and ruined terraces will vouch for its ultra-modern transformation. School matches were played from 4.00p.m onwards and followed by Club matches after 6.00p.m under floodlights. It was indeed held with pomp and glamour with spectators queuing up to buy tickets from the afternoon. They were not to be disappointed with the flair of rugby on offer with a hotly contested schools tournament and a club tournament which also included foreign players. That was a refreshing experience for kids and adults, or to an entire family to watch a rugger tournament in front of a packed house at Sugathadasa Stadium which now hardly gets filled even for an International Soccer tournament. This was held successfully with organizers SLRFU having a dedicated committee to head this tournament with the backing of Government and BMC and sponsors clamouring in while schools and their supporters looking forward to it as this was the only trophy on offer for a 1st XV Schools Rugby tournament in Sri Lanka.
However, things took a turn, with the untimely demise of President R. Premadasa in 1993 due to LTTE suicide bomb blast on a May Day rally in Colombo. The tournament though continued was in limbo sans all pomp and pageantry during 1993 and 1994 due to political instability following which successive governments presumably didn’t like the idea of carrying forward the name R. Premadasa with his legacy as for some he was a People’s man and a visionary but for some he was a dictator and a traitor. Let the political pundits’ debate about his place in the history while we take a moment to appreciate his good deeds to uplift sports in Sri Lanka. In 1995 this tournament was renamed as President’s Trophy and in 2002 there were speculations of renaming this tournament as Prime Minister’s Trophy or Premier Trophy with Sri Lanka electing its 10th Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe for his 3rd term in December 2001 with majority power in the government while Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaratunga remained as President. However, sanity prevailed, for the Knockout Tournament while it was continued unhindered there was another tournament introduced as Premier Trophy which was held only in 2002 and 2003. In 2004 the Premier Trophy was withdrawn from A Division with lack of interest amongst schools and also maybe with Prime Minister’s term of office ending abruptly with President dismissing his government and calling for the General election. Albeit President’s Trophy knockout tournament continued with less or minimum government intervention. It has to be noted that not all teams who are invited or selected for this tournament takes part, especially after its revival in mid-90’s when teams started to opt out due to many reasons, injuries and fatigue but mostly for Advance Level examinations as schools rugby league runs till end June clashing with local Advance Level Examination in August which affects some players who are sitting for it. Mind you Rugby in Sri Lanka does not offer a luxury sporting career but it does turn a boy into a man with a strong character, perhaps a decent gentleman.
Since of late, finding teams to compete in this tournament is a task for organizers and this has also had its toll on the interest and excitement amongst schools and their supporters. In 2005 the tournament organizers Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Association expanded this by including the Premier Trophy for Division B (B Group teams) and in 2008 the Chairman’s Trophy (for C Group), to provide more opportunities for rest of the schools. In 2009 when the official League was not conducted due to a legal battle between participating schools and SLSRA then government backed ‘Tharunyata Hetak’ youth movement under now member of Parliament Namal Rajapakse son of then President Mahinda Rajapakse stepped in to conduct the league tournament which was named as President’s League Tournament. Therefore the Knockout Tournament was renamed under its sponsor’s name as the Milo Trophy who came forward to sponsor this tournament in 1992 and after two years in 2011 once again SLSRA brought back its original name as the President’s Trophy. Since then it is contested as President’s Trophy Schools Knockouts rugby tournament, though the future name might or might not change the competition needs an overhaul if it’s to restore its lost glamour and excitement. It is not about big sponsorships or drawing crowds. It’s about the purpose, the timeliness, the consistency and uplifting the quality and standards be it what is played on the field or the experience of watching a game played by the boys from the stands. If a simple man who came from a poverty-stricken heart of Colombo never played rugger but had a vision for this tournament back in ’85 could revive the passion, though the first tournament was played in ’78, now men with far greater wisdom and experience on this beautiful and exciting game can end up doing wonders. Only if they come together for the betterment of sports and spectators alike, to uplift the game, enjoy the moment with #spiritofthegame in heart!
Here’s the story as it unfolded
1978 – S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia under Shane Pinder’s captaincy won the first ever Invitational Schools Knockout Tournament. They beat St. Peter’s College (36-0) in the quarter finals and beat Royal College in the semi-final and beat Isipathana College in the finals (13-6).
Read more: 1978 season https://www.quadrangle.lk/featured-story/blue-gold-magic-champion-royal-xv-78/
1985 and 1986 – Isipathana College under Chandana Deepthi won the inaugural Premadasa Trophy by beating
Ananda College in the finals and went on to become the Triple Champions. Isipathana also successfully defended the title following year under Salvin Sallay in 1986 when they beat Royal College by 7-4 in the finals. Isipathana had the distinction of entering the final six years on a roll with the very beginning winning two and ending as runner’s up in remaining four years (1987-1990).
1987 – Trinity College under Tyrrel Rajapakse met previous year’s runners-up Royal College in the quarterfinals, their third meeting against Suren Madanayake’s Royalists. Trinity recorded a close win by 10-6 and beat their home town rivals Kingswood College in the semi-finals at Sugathadasa Stadium by 11 points to 6. In the much looked forward to finals between the defending Premadasa Trophy Champions Isipathana College led by Nilantha Lakshmiwewa and the Schools Rugby Champions of ‘87 Trinity College, Trinitians managed to pull off a memorable win under a carnival atmosphere at Sugathadasa Stadium by 12-3 points and won the Premadasa Trophy and ended as Invincible double champions.
1988 – Royal College under Lasitha ‘Bonsa’ Gunaratne after successfully beating all their opponents and winning the league and the Bradby entered the R. Premadasa Trophy Knockout tournament. In quarterfinals, Royalists beat Wesley College by 13-11 and in the semi-finals beat Anandians by 11-6. It was another showdown against Isipathana College in the finals where they managed to win the maiden Premadasa Trophy with a 13-0 win at Sugathadasa Stadium.
1989 -1991 – With the end of the 80’s decade the era of Thomian dominance commenced as they had their best, the invincible run of three years from 89-91 as triple rugby champions coached by late Mr.Quentin Israel. S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia won all their matches during this period till the winning streak came to an end in 1992 at the hands of Royalists. In between S.Thomas’ under Rizvie Suhayb beat Isipathana in 1989 in the Premadasa Trophy finals after beating Trinitians in the semi-finals. In 1990 Narein Perera’s Thomians though lost to same opponent in the finals the match was awarded to S. Thomas’ after S. Thomas’ protested as Isipathana College was found to have played an overage player. In 1991 S. Thomas’ under Charya de Saram managed to beat Ananda College in the finals by 15-6. Ananda led by Samantha Gunawardena and in the semi-final pipped Ayaz Deens’ Trinity XV by 9-6. Isipathana College did not participate in 1991 due to they’ve been banned.
1992 – Isipathana College re-entry to the tournament under Champika Nishantha ensured they win back the trophy this time against high riding Anandians who earlier had a giant-killing performance by beat Trinity College in quarter finals and S. Thomas’ in semi-finals. However, they came stuck against green shirts as Isipathana won by 9-8. Isipathana went onto becoming Triple Champions.
1993 – Trinity College under Nalin Muhandiramge became the 2nd Trinity side to taste the winning champagne of coveted R. Premadasa Trophy as they managed to defeat Royal College in quarterfinals and St.Peter’s College in the semi-finals and in the finals beat Isipathana College led by Chamila Samantha by 17-10.
1994 – The final year of Premadasa Trophy and at Sugathadasa Stadium S. Thomas’ under Nalin Wijegunawardene managed to beat Kingswood College in the Semi-Finals and then beat St. Peter’s College in the finals by 8-6 to clinch the trophy for one last time.
1995 – St. Peter’s College under Sanjeewa Abeygnewardena managed to secure the first President’s Trophy after tournament being renamed. Peterites beat Trinity College in the semi-finals (20-3) and then Isipathana led by R. Waheed in the finals by 6-3 at Sugathadasa stadium, the maiden success for Peterites in the knockout tournament.
1996 – Isipathana College came back strongly under Bandula Mallikaarachchi to be crowned as the League and President’s trophy champions as they beat St. Peter’s College under Kirk Williams by 15-7 in the finals.
1997 – Isipathana College continued their dominance with another invincible season under Vajira Hewage as they became triple champions by beating Thurstan College in the finals to clinch the President’s Trophy.
1998 – Thurstan College under Nuwan Kumara managed to beat Isipathana College led by Shamly Nawaz in the President’s trophy knockout tournament and reached their second successive finals. In the finals they were up against resurgent Zahira College and lost to them but later Thurstan were declared winners as it was found Zahira College has fielded an ineligible player.
1999 – Isipathana College under Crishan Chandran become unbeaten double champions as they beat Ananda College in the finals of the President’s Trophy.
2000 – Kingswood College under Chamara Vithanage went onto beat St. Peter’s College in the quarterfinals, St. Anthony’s College in the semi-finals and then League Champions S. Thomas’ College in the finals to become the first winners of Randle Hills School. Thomians earlier beat Thurstan College in the semi-finals after Thurstanites beat Isipathana College in the quarterfinals.
2001 – Isipathana College captained by Ranga Perera beat St. Peter’s College captained by Dilan Abeygoonewardena by 20-17 to win the President’s Trophy.
2002 – Royal College under Zulki Hameed beat Wesley College who entered the finals for the very first time under Lahiru Boteju to win the President’s Trophy by 26-15 at Royal Sports Complex, their first win for the millennium. Royal missed out on winning the Rugby Double, as they were penalised by the Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association (SLSRA), for not playing their encounter against Thurstan College during the League Tournament. St. Peter’s College were declared League winners and they lost to Wesley College in the semi-finals of the President’s Trophy. Isipathana College did not participate in the President’s Trophy in protest of the decision made by SLSRA. However Isipathana College took part in the first ever Premier Trophy and under Anuradha Walpola Isipathanians won it by beating St. Peter’s College in the finals by 16-11 at Sugathadasa Stadium.
2003 – Kingswood College under Dinesh Siriwardena after emerging winners of B Division went onto win the President’s Trophy by beating Isipathana College in the quarterfinals, St. Anthony’s College Kandy in semi-finals (20-17) and S.Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia in the finals by 26-22. Thomians beat Peterites (27-12) in the quarterfinals and edged out Wesleyites in the semi-finals by 13-12. Royal College under Rajith Jayasundara emerged champions of the Schools League but opted out of the President’s Cup due to the matches clashing with Bradby fixture. Isipathana College once again won the Premier Trophy.
2004 – Kingswood College under Fazil Marija retained the President’s Trophy after beating Wesley College in the finals (33-13) at Nittawela Stadium and ended as unbeaten double champions. Earlier in the tournament Wesleyites managed to beat St. Joseph’s College (18-14) in the quarterfinals, Ananda College (who beat Isipathana College in the quarterfinals 18-16) in the semi-finals while Kingswoodians beat Antonians (who beat Thomians 17-0) in the semi-finals after beating Sylvestrians in the quarterfinals. This was the first time President’s Trophy finals was played in Kandy while Royal once again opted out due to matches clashing with traditional Bradby fixture. Premier Trophy was suspended from A Division.
2005 – Kingswood College under Eranda Weerakody and coached by Ronnie Ibrahim did the repeat, 3rd successive year to win the knockouts only to be achieved after Thomians (1989-1991) as they beat St. Peter’s College led by Sajith Adikari by 23-3 at Sugathadasa Stadium. Peterites in the league held Kingswoodians to a 17 all draw which was the only match Kings could not win in the entire season as Kingswood College went on to win the grand double unbeaten. St.Anthony’s College who remained unbeaten in B Group and made it to the President’s trophy but lost to Peterites (18-13) in the semi-finals at CR & FC. Meanwhile Kingswood College beat Wesley College in the 1st semi-final in extra time after game ended in a 6 all draw at Longden place. Isipathana College won the Premier Trophy for B Group by beating Science College (26-15). Both tournaments were played during the month of October which was unprecedented till then.
2006 – St. Peter’s College under Harendra Ariyawardena broke the Kingswood stronghold to clinch the President’s Trophy finals by beating Kingswoodians 8-3 at Royal Sports Complex and won the Double Championship, their first title since 1995. Earlier St. Peter’s College beat their traditional rivals St. Joseph’s College (18-0) in the quarterfinals and St. Anthony’s College (30-14) in semi-finals while Kingswoodians had the better of Isipathana in the semi-finals. Nalanda College won the Premier trophy (for B Group) be beating Mahanama College (22 – 11). The schools rugby season was marred by poor spectator behaviour, legal battles between schools and SLSRA. The President’s Trophy tournament was once again held during the month of October.
Read more: About hooliganism in schools sports https://www.quadrangle.lk/local-news/we-take-a-stand-against/
2007 – St. Peter’s College under Ranuka Jayasinghe’s captaincy retained the President’s Trophy at Bambalapitiya as they beat Isipathana College by 23-13 at Royal Sports Complex. It was a grand double as Peterites ended the season unbeaten, their first invincible 1st XV side after seven decades. In the Premier Trophy, Nalanda College successfully defended the title by beating Piliyandala Central.
2008 – St. Peter’s College under Poornaka Delpachitra did the rare repeat, 3rd successive year to retain the President’s Trophy only achieved by Thomians (1989-91) and Kingswoodians (2003-05) prior. They beat once again Isipathana College by 16-11 at Royal Sports Complex to retain the President’s Trophy. In the Premier Trophy, St. John’s College beat Piliyandala Central in the finals.
2009 – S.Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia under Shaveen Kapuwatte tasted the sweet victory in the knockout format
after waiting for 17 long years and having made it to two finals in between. Thomians beat Isipathana College by 22-19 led by Niroshan Fernando who also made it to their 3rd successive finals at Royal Sports Complex after beating St. Anthony’s College led by Amila Weligampola by 36-26 in the semi-finals of the President’s Trophy. League Champions Royal College did not participate in the tournament. Prince of Wales College won the Premier Trophy by beating C.W.W.Kanangara MV by 33-17.
2010 – St. Peter’s College and Royal College became joint Champions of President’s Trophy. In a bizarre chain of events, where the all top teams after a long while made themselves available for the tournament a winner was decided after two year wait. St. Peter’s College after being unbeaten and winning the League made it to semi-finals against Isipathana College. Due to a crowd invasion to the field, the game was suspended with 10 minutes to go for the halftime where St. Peter’s were leading 14-0. A rematch was offered on a subsequent date but Isipathana College did not take the field and St. Peter’s College was awarded the match. Peterites advanced to the finals against Royal College at Royal Sports Complex who earlier beat Wesley College in their semi-finals. However at the last minute before the scheduled final was to commence, it was suspended by the organizers (SLSRA) due to a court order. The two teams, St. Peter’s College under Keith Gurusinghe’s captaincy and Royal College under Duminda Attygala’s captaincy in a sporting gesture still played a match albeit as a friendly encounter without disappointing the spectators in presence. In a closely contested game, St Peter’s College won the encounter by 29–27. After two years, the court case was dismissed and the trophy was offered back by the tournament organizers where the two schools decided to jointly share the Trophy. This was first Peterite unbeaten Triple Champion team. Meanwhile in the Premier Trophy, Lumbini College won it by beating Science College 18-17.
2011 – Trinity College under Murad Ramzeen fulfilled a long awaited (18 years) dream of winning a tournament as they defeated Dharmaraja College in the quarterfinals and St. Peter’s College in the semi-finals and then Isipathana College in the all-important finals by 21-10 to clinch their maiden President’s Trophy and 3rd knockout trophy, which they last won in 1993 under Nalin Muhandiramge.
2012 – Isipathana College the kings of the knockout tournament bounced back to record their first President’s Trophy knockout title in 11 years as Kumendra Darmadasa led them to a famous victory against fancied Trinitians led by Kaneel Seneviratne by 21-13. Earlier in the League tournament Trinity College went on to beat Isipathana College and then Isipathana College was adjudged League winners over Trinity due to the suspension of Vidyaratha College. Only six teams took part in the Knockout tournament with both Trinity and Isipathana receiving walkovers in the quarterfinals and then both teams beat Wesley (41-24) and Dharmaraja (27-15) respectively in the semi-finals.
2013 – Wesley College savoured their best for the last encounter of the season and achieved their finest moment
under Skipper Rahul de Silva as they won their maiden Rugby title by beating Trinitians who were making their 3rd straight appearance in the President’s Trophy finals, by 34 – 21 at Royal Sports Complex. Wesley made it through by beating more formidable Science College by 20-17 in the quarterfinals and followed it up with a win over League Champions Dharmaraja College by 22 – 13 in the semi-finals. Both Wesley and Dharmaraja gained promotions from B Division in 2012 and went on to win their maiden A Division titles in the process.
2014 – Isipathana College the only unbeaten XV of the season led by Shenal Deelaka went on to clinch their triple championship as they beat Royal College by 27-22 playing under Nishman Jayawardena. Earlier in quarterfinals, Isipathana beat Thurstan College (50-5) and beat Science College in the semi-final by 39-17. Royal too had a good outing when they defeated St. Joseph’s in the quarter-final and then beat their Bradby rivals Trinity College in the semi-final by a wafer-thin margin of 30-29. Isipathana College won the League and the 07’s and won all matches barring St. Peter’s game in the League which ended in a 25 all draw. This was Isipathana’s first unbeaten champion side since 1999.
2015 – Science College under the captaincy of Lasindu Karunathilaka who were the dark horse of the competition went onto beat more fancied teams and clinch their maiden President’s Trophy title with a stunning win over Isipathana College in the finals by 21-18. They also beat St. Peter’s College in the quarterfinals and then beat League Champions Royal College in the semi-finals. Isipathana beat Trinity College in the other semi-final.
2016 – Isipathana College under Kushan Indunil after winning the Schools Rugby League went further by winning
back the President’s Trophy in their 3rd straight final with a resounding win over Royal College by 47-12 at Racecourse Grounds, Colombo. The tournament was contested by seven teams as defending champions Science College withdrawing from the tournament due to financial constraints and Trinity College and St.Joseph’s College also pulling out due to injuries and also the replacement for Trinity’s absence D.S.Senanayake College. There were few objections on the venue for the finals and later both sides agreed to play the final on 13 July at Racecourse Grounds. Isipathana College went onto become Invincible Schools Rugby Champions for 2016.
2017 – St. Joseph’s College playing in their first-ever major rugby final under the captaincy of Vinul Fernando clinched their maiden Rugby title by winning the President’s Trophy as they secured a hard-fought win over Isipathana College by 19-13 at
Racecourse Grounds, Colombo. St. Joseph’s beat Dharmaraja College in the semi-finals by 34-12 while Isipathana beat St. Peter’s College 22-20. League Champions Royal College did not participate due to injury concerns while rest of the seven top schools teams Dharmaraja College, Wesley College, St. Joseph’s College, Trinity College, St. Peter’s College, Isipathana College and St. Anthony’s College competed in the tournament. The Premier’s Trophy was won by Maliyadeva College who defeated Ananda College by 22-20 at Sugathadasa Stadium while St. Anne’s College, Kurunegala beat Carey College, Colombo by 15-12 to win the Chairman’s Trophy.
Read more about the history of Sri Lankan Schools Rugby :https://www.quadrangle.lk/featured-story/we-kick-off-a-historical-journey-of-lankas-school-rugby-through-the-ages/