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Schools rugby at the crossroads

When Scottish Tea planter James Taylor introduced the Tea plant he also carried a bagful of British traditions that reshaped Ceylon (how Sri Lanka was then known). Apart from the Railways, Roads, bridges and tea estates they also brought a rich culture of rugby traditions that got firmly rooted initially in the plantation clubs and spilled over to the schools with Kingswood College, Kandy becoming the first school to take up to Rugby in 1891.

Since then up to about 1960 schools like Trinity, Royal, St Peter's, Zahira, St Thomas', St Joseph's, Thurstan and Wesley took up to rugby. This was an exciting beginning with Bradby Shield for Royal vs. Trinity being introduced and rugby became a popular sport among the schools. School Rugby was administered by the Schools section of the CRFU.

During this era schools section operating under CRFU had some dedicated school masters like, M T Thambapillai, Archibald Perera, Donald Munasinghe (better known in boxing circles) and Lal Kumarasinghe to name a few.

Gratiaen Cup

Traditionally the Schools season ended up with the popular Colombo vs Outstations game for the Gratiaen Cup that became a hunting ground for talent scouts of the clubs.

Final stage of the tournament was the match between Combined Schools and Combined Universities (then playing in the "A" division) another colourful event.

This was a peaceful era with least intervention from politicians and education department.

However, in later years with more and more schools coming in to the fray schools section broke away and set up their union in 1995 to be independent of the principal body, with changing times quite rightly School masters took control but sadly majority of them lacked a rugby background. Since then School Rugby went from crisis to crisis and schools often had to march to Hulfsdorp to seek justice. These litigations disrupted the school Rugby season.

In fact in recent times many offences were reported from a school the head of which was also the President of the Schools Rugby Association. Time and again litigations came up and to some extent the friendly relationships between schools too became a casualty.

Complete disarray

We now hear that trouble is brewing with schools body in complete disarray bending the rules that will kill the spirit of this noble game.

Traditionally each year the two top teams of the 'B' Division are promoted to "A" Division with the team that ended up last in the "A" Division being demoted to "B" Division.

Violating rules

It is reliably understood that a third team (whose principal is now a key official in the schools body) is to be promoted violating all known rules and norms, and the team to be demoted to "B" is refusing to go down as a protest against this unsporty move.

Undoubtedly we could expect more battles in the courts than scrums and line outs in the playing fields. This is an unfortunate tragedy resulting in hatred, displeasure and disunity - is this what we want in Sri Lanka that was saved from conflict and disaster by none other than President Mahinda Rajapaksa who always played the game within rules during his school days. One hopes that saner counsel would prevail and the rich legacy of Rugby be preserved for the sake of the younger generation.

Rugby is a game played to make friends and not to spread hatred and enmity compounded by disruption to the tournament.

SK

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