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The Premadasa Trophy rugby tournament

by Y.C. Chang

A very interesting tournament that had its beginning in 1984 died a natural death when the man in whose name the trophy was honoured died under tragic circumstances. R. Premadasa was the Prime Minister at that time and I can remember vividly the meetings we had with him on this tournament.

On his side was Ajantha Wijesena, the then Chairman of BMC who was the prime mover of the whole system and there was that very amiable retired Senior Police Officer A. C. Lawrence who assisted him.

R. Premadasa awed me from the beginning. Not because he adorned any intellectual or academic decorations, but because he was a simple man with simple thoughts that he put into action. With our collective management experience from the SLRFU ie.

Malik Samarawickrema, Dhusantha Samaresekera and myself we found that he was always ahead of all of us in his vision. Premadasa was not a person who allowed matters to take its own course. He was there at every meeting until the inauguration of the tournament.

The tournament became an instant success with the schools and the clubs participating in tandem. His keen sense of observation was his strength.

Once I remember when the games were in progress, he made one of his impromptu visits to the Sugathadasa Stadium. On this afternoon, we had a slight shower of rain. Whilst sitting in the VIP section he hailed the stadium Curator, who was an Assistant Superintendent of police seconded to the Stadium, and asked him how everything was?

The Curator promptly affirmed that all was well. Are you sure you checked everything? Yes Sir. Well you have not checked well, there are puddles of water on the VIP's drive in. Have the road cambered before the finals of the tournament and make sure all water drains off. That was Premadasa.

I was browsing through memory lane when I laid hand on a souvenir printed for this tournament in 1988. This was the last year of my Presidency at the Union that I steered from 1985 - four of my most memorable years. Lionel Almeida was the Vice President, Dushantha Samarasekera was the Secretary with Malik Samarawickrema as Treasurer.

The organising committee for this tournament was chaired by Dushantha Samarasekera along with Major Jayantha Weerasinghe-Secretary, Kishin Butani-Tickets and Invitations, SSP Sivendran-Press & Public Relations, Wing Commander Vijitha Tennakone and Senerath Alwis-BMC & Stadium Transport Liaison, J. Weerasinghe and Com. S. Gamhewa-Opening & Closing ceremonies, J. Weerasinghe-Games, K. Butani-Refreshments, Anton Benedict-Referees Liaison, R. T. De Silva-Protocol, Lal Kumarasinghe & M. S. Zainudeen-Schools, C. H. Seneviratne-Trophies.

This team who made Premadasa appreciate the Union for its efficiency are still around whilst Dushantha Samarasekera is settled down in Canada, Jayantha Weerasinghe and C. H. Seneviratne in Australia. Malik Samarawickrema and Kishin Butani both managing empires in the commercial world are still very active-more so financially.

They came to my assistance just a few weeks ago to help me in the construction of the new dressing rooms for the Havelocks Sports Club. For them its rugby - where it is played hardly matters as long as they can assist. Their philanthropy extends to all gamut of the game with humility.

Leafing through the pages I found Neil Wijeratne's contribution to the souvenir under the heading "SOME MEMORABLE PERFORMANCES OF THE TOURNAMENT" very captivating.

He called it the carnival of the year and the most eagerly awaited and hotly contested rugby festival, just four years since its inception. It occupied a supreme spot in the island's rugby calendar on par with the Clifford Cup and the Gold Leaf trophy tournaments.

The venue turned out to be ideal for day and night. rugby providing maximum comfort for the players and spectators. Recapturing some of the glorious moments since its inauguration, he could not forget the dramatic Cup Final of 1984 between the CH & FC and the CR & FC.

Both teams were led by players of the highest calibre with Chandrishan Perera for the CH and C. P. Abeygunewardena for the CR. The background for that long remembered incident was laid when Asanga Seneviratne (CR) and K. D. Nanayakkara (CH) fired across a penalty each within the first two minutes.

Twenty minutes later these two put over a penalty each to level the scores. Minutes before the short whistle Roshan Perera touched down to give the CH a 10/6 lead over the CR.

In the 13th minute of the second half young Asanga Seneviratne converted two more penalties to give the CR a lead of 12/10 points. Nanayakkara's penalty gave the CH a slender lead of 13/12 points almost to the last minute of the game.

The story book ending to this match as penned by Neil dramatically says that the CR were attacking from the Indoor Stadium end and the CH were defending the Asoka Hall end. CR won a scrum which was the last scrum of the match.

The ball swung from CP's hands to the line comprising of Asanga Seneviratne, Dilroy Fernando, Rohantha Pieris and then to Winger Ajith Gunesekera who sprinted but was brought down inches from the corner flag and into touch by Chandrishan Perera. It is here that Neil has diplomatically preferred to err and say that the CR scored through a line out.

With M. R. Moosa's flag high up in the air Referee Denzil Kobbekaduwa who was unsighted did not call a line-out, but allowed the recycling of the ball through the CR line for teenager Sriyan Cooray to score the winning try.

What was Moosa's right as a touch judge to call the referee's attention to award the line out, but by him lowering the flag after the CR scored, could very well be construed to the fact that he wanted the CR to win.

The Balanced Scales that the Referees and Touch Judges adorned on their chests had now titled the CR way. This particular incident had a depressing effect on all the CH players and supporters that will live in their memory forever.

In 1985 the Army defeated the triple champions the Police by 24/12 to eliminate them from the quarter finals. In this year the CH & FC had to struggle with the Navy to win by 33/29 points in what he considered as an electronic scoring.

The Air Force CH confrontations also turned out to be of the highest class where the scores were 16 all until the last stages of the game when flanker Brian McCaully scored the winning try in extra time. In 1986 too the CH & FC clinched the Premadasa trophy but not after having gruelling time against the Air Force ably led by Nalin de Silva. At extra time the teams were deadlocked at 6 all.

The final result was to be off the boots of three kicks each at goal from each side. Whilst the CH successfully converted all three through Bharatha Hegoda, Apsi Nagata and Haroon Musafer, the Air Force was able to get only two over from the boots of Tony Wimalasooriya and Dammika Samarasekera, whilst Lakshman Caldera failed. When referee Anton Benedict finally blew noside the playing time had exceeded two hours.

Neil's impressions of the colourful players such as the Harlequins ruggerite Simon Hunter, Chandrishan Perera and Owen Mottau for their running and kicking is a symphony of English Literature at its best. He ends the article thus "Whenever we look back at the history of the prestigious Premadasa Rugby Tournament, the memory of those outstanding performances will definitely give thrill and pleasure."

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