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Memories of a Clifford Cup final 1973 - Police SC Vs Army SC

It is Clifford Cup time in Sri Lanka. The atmosphere has taken a drastic change when compared to the era that I am trying to describe. My first Clifford final was 3 decades ago in 1973 and I had just joined the Police with former Trinity Captain Seewali Samarasekara and both of us were in the Police team to face the strong Army SC in the final.

The build up for the final was so alarming that from IG Police, Army Commander down words every one was involved in the event.

IGP was Stantley Senanayake and General Sepala Attigalle was the Commander of the Army.

Two heads of the department have issued best wishes to their respective teams and opponents. Full page article, the photographs of both teams with separate photograph of the captains and the performances of the two teams and how they reached the finals was described in a masterly manner.

If my memory is correct. Army SC beat CR & FC in the semi finals and Police beat Air Force to reach the finals.

Why this match was a unique one, it was referred to by none other than that respected former Air Force Commander Harry Gunathilaka.

On a bright evening, the following Army team took the field led by Double International S.P. De Silva and Police team too was led by a Double International on the same lines, and one of the versatile sportsmen that Police ever produced in Nizam Hajireen and incidently both occupied the all important full back position.

The line-up was also special, the Army had the following granite forwards with M.F. Fernando, Alponso, Rodrigo, Ruparathna to form the front row. Second row were local Charles Bronson, Edwin, No. 08 was former Trinitian Saliya Udugama with T.H. Jayah, Weerasinghe and Wickramage forming the balance in the pack.

Scrum half was that brilliant Trinitian Japana Jayawardena, Royalist Harin Malwatta, what a half combination with Basheer Mushafa, Reginold De Silva, Gunadasa, Kalu Weerasinghe and evergreen S.P. De Silva was the full back.

The Police team too was rock solid with the following. Ibrahim, Tanker Hameed, Morseth, Rock Banda, Sawangan, Kularathna, Daya Jayasundara, R.P. Linton, Anton Benedict forming the third row, what a solid third row, scrum half Nimal Lewke, R.M. Lafeer, Charles "Mr Reliable" Wijewardena, Seewali Samarasekera, Somachandra, Bandula Wijesinghe and Nizam Hajireen.

At that time, there were no TV. It was brilliant Bob Harvey who narrated the game in a masterly manner listening to him was like watching it on screen.

What a match it was? From the kick off no quarter was asked or given. Police through a Charles Wijewardena penalty took the lead but within no time Army struck back with S.P. De Silva and at the half time Police with a Bandula Wijesinghe try and 3 penalties by Wijewardena had 16 points on the board. Army with a Kalu Weerasinghe try and conversion, a penalty by SP De Silva had 10 points on the board.

Second half was a terrific battle to dominate up front with bone crushing tackles by both sides, but one thing was evident and that was that both IGP and the Army Commander would have been the happiest to see the discipline of both the sides.

There were no rough play or unwarranted incidents. It was rugby at its best. With time ticking away, 2 penalties converted by S.P. De Silva made scores equal and just five minutes from close, Army got a 3 points lead though another SP special.

Then came the hidden code to light, which only the Police captain Hajreen and the Police S/H Lewke knew. Just before the team, left the dressing room, Captain Hajreen called Lewke to a aside and told him "If I give the Code Nazi (In Malay Rice) you pass the ball to me, not to stand off and it happened, just two minutes before the final whistle.

Police won a scrum just 35 meters away from the Army goal line and according to the skipper's instructions he received the ball and balance is history, as Nizam 'versatile' Hajreen fired a peach of a drop goal where the ball sailed through the up right posts and few seconds later respected Referee Air Vice Marshal Harry Gunathilaka blew the final whistle and it was 19 - all draw.

There are many memories of this match, but what I remember best was the way Army pack was led by that iron man Ruparathna. It was significant, because the pack leader chose the mother tongue to lead his men.

His famous instructions to the Army pack was "Army Powardla Sardine Wage Pack Karanna" (Army forwards bind tight) Ruparathna still remains a friend of mine and from some remote area, speaks to me for various matters.

Our friendship which started on the playing field will continue forever and the genuine way he led his pack will be remembered forever.

After the match, at the dinner "Police Prop, Rock Band former Poramadulla Central Champion wrestler after eating 3 Buriyanis got up and looked at Capt. Hajreen and said 'Kema - Harine Neda Sir', "Food is not good" Haje's reply was "thank God" for that - if the Kema was good he would have eaten ... Six".

The glamour, enthusiasm, crowds and those cheering squads with people like "Army Willey" whose voice was unforgettable. Although he is no more among the living his voice to encourage the Army team still ring in our ears. "Come on Army.... move".

Since then, many have changed and out of the 30 that played on that day only the writer is still in the Police Department, the other 29 have left the Army and Police due to various reasons such as retirement etc. and some of them are not among the living.

These memories will live with rugby fans forever.

We never played rugby for financial gains, what we have earned is much more than money, golden memories, "Life long Friendship, which we value most".

Nimal Lewke Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police, Northern Province.

 

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