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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2585

Lalin’s Column: Tumult in the Kandyan hills

By Major General (Retd.) Lalin Fernando

Pallekelle rugby grounds, just above the Mahaveli River, looked a lovely green in its gloriously wooded setting. Tabebuia Rosea trees were in glorious bloom on the road side from Kandy .The Knuckles and surrounding hills make this ground about the prettiest of them all. Perfect weather and a firm ground meant a dry ball promising fast and furious play. The setting was perfect for the 60th annual rugby contest between Trinity and S Thomas’ for the Canon de Saram shield on 23 March 2016.

The grand stand was full while the Hill side pavilion opposite was nearly full. The approach road to the grounds however remains worn out and far too narrow. Car parking is still an adventure. The 10 year old Ladies College girl was 6 when she had to walk one km to get to her grandfather’s car after a Brady match. This time it was a bit less to her father’s. The grounds would be in inky darkness after the match as they have always been for the past 15 years. City dwellers would experience a nervous thrill picking their way through the long grass to their vehicles.

‘And where’s the wealth, I’m wondering
Could buy the cheers that roll
When the last charge goes thundering
Towards the twilight goal’

(From the Trinity College song- Sir Henry Newbolt)

The preliminaries were done. Young boys were being blooded for senior days watched over by anxious parents. Much talent was seen. Trinity won the under 14, 16 and 18 matches. This was nothing unusual. The Thomian under 16, champions in previous age groups were minus their captain. He had a cracked collar bone, being injudiciously selected to play for the first XV in the match v Old Boys. His father and grandfather, present nevertheless, had in their time respectively captained and played in the First XV. The team looked lost. The coach too.

The First XV match was a delightful and sparkling game, real champagne stuff. Backing up and anticipation, reminiscent of the Kiwis, whose colours both School heads, but surprisingly too for Trinity’s, wore. There was little to criticize except for some early aggro that was contained by both captains Karunathileke and de Silva. Disciplined anarchy was preferred. It was an entertaining encounter that turned deliriously exciting in the last part of the second half. Thankfully there were very few stoppages for injury.

A loose defensive weakness against the high ball by the Thomians was pounced on early to gain much ground. The Thomian pack had marginal superiority but Silva the Thomian scrum half who had given a tigerish example of multum in parvo against Royal College the previous Saturday was but a shadow of himself. Desperate measures were adopted by Trinity led by its well over 6 foot captain. He was unfortunately given a yellow card for a deliberate off side infringement half way in the first half that saw vigorous but not so skillful play.

Fortunes fluctuated but play was mostly in the Thomian half. S Thomas however scored first through a penalty put over by Herath (3-0) after Trinity‘s Perera had missed two. Trinity was twice penalized surprisingly if not curiously for killing the ball within inches of the Thomian goal line. Trinity, almost on the half time whistle when awarded yet another penalty close to the goal posts amidst resounding shouts of ‘take the kick’, decided against traditional wisdom and ran the ball from a scrum. Alahakoon slipped through to score far right. It is said that ’Who dares wins’ and ‘fortune favours the brave’. Perera missed the conversion. (5-3).

The second half saw a splendid display of attacking rugby and decisive tackling by both sides. The Thomians continued to show a lack of penetration outside the scrum until the last 20 minutes. Trinity appeared to have a distinct edge in the loose and the team worked like demons. Their shortish passing was a constant menace and took in the breadth of the field twice in each half. They were quick to exploit mistakes by pouncing on the loose pass. They scored a thrilling try from an intercepted pass almost on their own goal line. A desperate 60 m dash by Henakankanamge that nailed a steaming Abeywickrama, could not prevent a Trinity try as there were 3 back ups in support. Dange scored unopposed under the posts. Perera converted. (Trinity 12-3).

The rampaging Trinity insides were now running straight and hard and not going for outside breaks. Shortly afterwards Wijesuriya coming in from the bench converted a penalty for Trinity (15-3).

The Thomians were now within an ace of defeat half way through the second half when Trinity skipper Karunathileke, the tallest player on the field was red carded for a high tackle on the very robust but shorter Thomian cricket skipper Jayatileke who is also a national water polo player. There was added shock and dismay among the Trinitians as they realized Karunathileke would now also have to miss the first Bradby . He had missed 30 minutes of this game too. Last year a red card for Thomian skipper Silva was over ruled on appeal.

The Thomians rejuvenated, played like men on fire. Instead of their disruptive, bustling, hopeful forwards making the moves as in the first half, their hungry backs were brought into play. Henakankanamge an outstanding player, the Thomian hero at the Schools Sevens and in their magnificent victory over Royal had been a constant if not starved and brooding menace. He galloped away with explosive speed to score a thrilling try despite valiant efforts to stop him. (S Thomas 15-8) .Moments later after another Henakankanamge run, Herath barged past 3 defenders, was held and passed to Dissanayake who scored and converted himself (15-15) .The Thomian school song could be heard loud and clear once again.

Another yellow card soon after for Trinity’s other 2nd row forward Piyankara meant that with just 13 players on the field their woes were compounded in the last 10 minutes of the game. Was Trinity to be swamped? The Thomians overjoyed, excelling themselves, threw everything at Trinity. A drop goal off a scrum from just behind the 22 m line put over with a deceptive insouciance by Thomian Nanayakkara took the game away from Trinity. (18-15).The Thomian supporters roared unceasingly. Exploiting mistakes and wide gaps in the 13 man defence, Henakankanamge cantered away again with another 50 m special burst, shrugging off tackles to score. (23-15). A Thomian tempest was blowing over Pallekelle.

The badly outnumbered Trinitians having fought like the old Kandyans defending the Balane Pass now hurtled back, encouraging each other desperately to keep fighting. They swung the ball from one corner to the other again and again as the minutes ticked away remorselessly. The Thomians held but just. Finally Trinity’s centre Sheik lunged through and scored near the left corner flag. In the gathering gloom the kick just veered of the farther post as the final whistle went. (23-20).

The mighty roar of the Thomian supporters was a mix of immense joy and tremendous relief. Yet even the most enthusiastic Trinity supporter could not but feel justice had been done. This was definitely one of the most enjoyable games in this series if not on this ground.

The Trinitians must know that the summit even if viewed closely is not easily scaled when playing the Thomians.

Well done S Thomas. Well played Trinity. You are nulli secundus.

The referee Rankothge was for a short time Trinity under 13 coach. It was his team that was playing on this fateful day.

- Asian Tribune -

Lalin’s Column:  Tumult in the Kandyan hills
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