All in the game
By Namali Premawardhana

What's the talk of the town these days? Rugby, rugby and maybe even some… rugby? This year, the Singer Schools League Rugby Championship has been a simply action-packed, unpredictable and thoroughly exciting tournament. Trinity, St. Peter's and Kingswood College were at the top of the league with one loss each until last weekend when Royal College who were not playing too well suddenly reared up to beat St. Peter's. S. Thomas' and Isipathana College have also been putting up a relatively good performance, leaving the championship and knockout titles still very much up for grabs.

Nobody knows what's coming. The balances are very sensitive, and could topple either way, while the game continues to rock the nail-biting nation. So the Mirror Magazine caught up with some experts on the subject as well as some eager rugby fans, to have some crucial questions answered.

Last year's champions were St. Peter's, who are being challenged this time around by Trinity. Which one of these teams will reign this year? Will it be one of these two schools?

Sanath Martis, the Peterite coach, believes that all the teams are equally balanced this year, and that the final victory will be a matter of which team makes the smaller number of mistakes. S. W. Chang, who is currently coaching Wesley College, on the other hand believes that the titles are definitely heading to the hills in the hands of either the Trinitians or the Kingswoodians. "Their play is well matched, and it will probably boil down to a matter of bonus points," he says.

"Trinity is playing very good rugby at the moment, as is St. Peter's, I believe at the moment it depends on their luck," commented Ananda Wijeratne, Match Commissioner for the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union.

Coach Jivan Goonetilleke of S. Thomas' College also believes that this year's champions will be from the hills. "It's been a very competitive season, and all the top schools are playing in the same division after many, many years," he says, adding that although the champs will be either Trinity or Kingswood, "as far as the standing of the league is concerned, it's anyone's game at the moment." Gavin Jayasekara, the Forwards Coach of S. Thomas College agrees that the teams are "in good form" this year, and that they are all really strong. "You can't put your money on any team this year," he said, adding that "it's probably just a matter of battling it out on the field."

Match Referee Dilroy Fernando's opinion reflects that of Coach Martis. According to him, the teams participating in the league are pretty equally balanced, with St. Peter's, Trinity, Kingswood and S. Thomas' being at the top. "Royal and Isipathana are also playing pretty well," he said, adding that "the arena is still quite open, and we won't be able to say anything definitely until the last match has been played." The champions, he believes will probably be one of either St. Peter's, Trinity or Kingswood.

Well-known sports commentator Chandrishan Perera thinks "the last game will be between Trinity and Kingswood and that "it will be a tough one," for either team to win. St. Peter's unexpected loss to Royal has pushed them slightly farther from the title than they were, and this has opened the picture up a little bit, according to him. "Everybody thinks about form, and how the teams have played, but this season all the teams have been very, very good in terms of competition," he said. He believes that on the one hand, the Trinitians have shown the true meaning of putting in the hard work before the season starts, but that on the other hand, the fact that Kingswood have been at the top in recent times might give them an edge over Trinity's relatively young team.

These however are unbiased comments. So what do the fans think?
Kenneth Jacobs, third year coloursman and fly-half (2007) for Trinity College knows "it's going to be a close call." He believes that although Trinity has a few more crucial games to win, they will "take it down to the wire and pull it through."
Former Thomian ruggerite Jayan Goonetilleke, is thrilled that "Sri Lankan rugby has really moved on with the times" proof being that "Trinity College and St. Peter's College are playing a pretty attractive brand of rugby at the moment." According to him, "competition is at top level and anyone can beat anyone on their day," which is good for the sport and Sri Lanka at large. "I say Trinity is probably the best side this year, although they've lost a couple of matches," he declares, adding that "they have the most complete side out of all the schools".
Anthonian Shamir Munas sides for Trinity this year stating that "they've been winning most of their matches, and they probably have the best team".
Roshane de Silva is firm in the belief that Kingswood will reclaim their title as champions this year since, "they've kept up their standards and lost only to St. Peter’s." She adds though, that the Trinity – Kingswood match will be a crucial deciding point.

An ardent supporter Dulani Mendis believes that Trinity has the potential to top the teams this season, although "they did lose their focus somewhere down the line." She adds that the competition is very tough and all the teams are performing equally well, making it a close call.

But folks, that's only the league championship and the knockout, and neither of these is the highlight of the rugby season. What most of us are waiting for, is the final leg of the Bradby Shield Encounter.

A bit of history: Royal College and Trinity College were among the first schools in Sri Lanka to take up rugby, and the first historic match between these schools was played on July 31, 1920. The yearly encounter was won by Trinity College for the first 21 years consecutively, until Royal College scored their first victory in 1941. In 1945, the principal of Royal College, E.L. Bradby, put forward the idea of playing an annual two-match series played in Colombo and Kandy, to which the principal of Trinity College, C. E. Simithraaratchy, readily agreed. To ensure the success of the series, Principal Bradby offered a challenge shield which was to be held for a period of one year by the winner of the series. The series has been played annually and uninterrupted ever since. The Shield itself, donated by Principal Bradby, is a wooden disk decorated with intricate traditional Kandyan metalwork. It is presented to the winning team immediately following their victory, that they may keep it at their school until the next match, a year later.

We all agree that this is no ordinary game of rugby, and that the teams' status at the league championship has nothing to do with it. For both teams the stakes at this match are much higher than mere victory or loss.

This is so much more than just a game, it is so much more about honour, so who will triumph in the victory, and who will suffer the loss? Two weeks left for the final countdown!

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