Poaching players is a tradition that has come to stay in Sri Lanka Schools Sports but, in the latest development, this practice has reached an extreme level, where a school had to withdraw from an important tournament because, almost the entire team was pinched by five top schools.
St. John's College Nugegoda, a school with a history of 102 years, had to forfeit their presence from the recently concluded Singer Schools Under-20 Division I Rugby Tournament, after they lost 14 players, leaving just four in the first XV squad.
The school has been engaged in Rugby since 1989, and this incident makes St. John's Nugegoda the first in the tournament's history to withdraw from a major competition, due to loss of its key players who, eventually, went on to represent five top-tier schools.
Behind the scenes, it is reported that the head of the school played a silent role to release the players, which many supporters and admirers of Rugby at St. John's Nugegoda, claim it was a well planned plot.
Some even claim that the head of the school has been 'monetarily looked after' by the five schools, for releasing the 14 players with 'No-Objection' Certificates (NOC).
"If this is true, it's a clear sabotage of all our efforts and the reputation the school has gained over the years, as one of the top contenders in the centre tier. How can a head of a school conduct himself in such a manner, as to utterly leave the school with no option but to abandon the all important League Tournament, where St. John's Nugegoda is one of the strongest sides in Division I of Segment II," asked a member of the school's Rugby Committee.
It is revealed that three schools from Division I of Segment I, namely Royal Colombo, St. Joseph's and DS Senanayake, and own group rivals Ananda and Mahanama Colleges are the destinations of the 14 players from this year's first XV squad of St. John's Nugegoda.
Mahanama has poached six of the players, DS Senanayake five and one each headed to Royal Colombo, St. Joseph's and Ananda, leaving just three seniors and one junior player.
This has resulted in the Old Boys Association (OBA) and the Rugby Supporting Committee (RSO) of St. John's Nugegoda distancing themselves from nurturing the game at school and its players, after its whole was left dejected.
Even the coach, former Science College and CH&FC player, Tuan Shamrock is left 'high and dry', without a task or objective to look forward to.
The school's Rugby officials are currently making an valiant effort to win back the interest of the OBA and the RSO, who collectively generate the annual expenditure of Rs two million to sustain the first XV squad.
But, both parties have so far turned down the continuous requests, stating they fear a similar crossover could happen in the future too.
"If the allegations are true, it's an absolute disgrace for the head of a school. It's like betraying his own family. It won't be an issue, if a player or two is released on merit and for the benefit of his own future, but releasing a bulk at once and making his own school suffer the consequences is unacceptable," an old boy of the school lamented.
St. John's Nugegoda entered the Schools Rugby competitions actively in 1989 from Division II of Segment 'C', and reached Division I of Segment 'C' in 2011, after notable performances and surprising wins over well known sides.
In 2013, they reached Division I of Segment 'B', an improving outfit and a side to be reckoned with till the unexpected desertion this year.
The original squad, had it remained this season, St. John's Nugegoda would have had every chance of claiming a spot among the top four overall, according to team sources, who revealed that, this set of players had been together since 2009 from the Under-12 age category.
The same set of players competed in the Under-16 10-a-side Tournament in 2014 and emerged Plate runners-up to Trinity College, after beating top sides Dharmaraja and Vidyartha.
Once, a key player who joined the exodus finally, was granted a scholarship by a Trinity parent for his outstanding performance while studying at St. John's.
It is said that the OBA, Rugby Supporting Committee and team officials have vehemently disapproved the head of the school's decision to release the players with No Objection Certificates, but to no avail.
Adding further fuel to the fire, an official of the Western Province Education Dept has been visiting the school since last Monday, to investigate the matter.
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