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Havelocks Sports Club end 31 year wait in style

As a Havies Supporter since 1967 it gives me great joy and happiness to watch the 2012 Havelocks team playing champagne rugby to become the league champions after a lapse of 31 years. Last time they became league champs was in 1981 under Angelo Wickremeratne, the dynamic flanker.

In the 1970’s Havelocks were the most popular team among the local rugby fans. Large crowds watched matches involving Havelocks cheering their team to win at most time.

The 1967 team was led by another flanker, Gamini (Gama) Fernando. Those days rugby commentaries were aired over Radio Ceylon and the commentator was none other than Bob Harvie in fact. His voice moved faster than the ball ironically, it was Gama again who revived Havelocks Rugby in 1974 this time as the coach after Havelocks had a lean period for three years. This time they beat CR and FC 16-4 to win the Clifford Cup, with CR fielding a virtual Sri Lanka side.

From 1974 to 1981 (a period of eight years) Havelocks were on song winning many cups and trophies. Havies held the favourites tag during this period.

1981 was the best year of rugby for Havelocks as they won four division titles in the calendar year. Police and CR and FC were main challengers. During the latter stages of the league, Police led by dynamic winger Judy Preena posed a threat to the Havies. However, Havies beat Police in a blockbuster clash at the Havelock Park and CR easily at Longden Place in second round games to clinch the title.

Havies won four major “A Division” titles in 1981, namely, inter Club Sevens at the beginning of year, league championship, knock out and the inter club sevens for 1982 which was held in late 1981 to pick the Sri Lankan squad for next Hong Kong Sevens. I feel this must be a record for a rugby club to win four major titles in one calender year.

Talking about the Havelocks team in 1981, there were many local super stars like Michael Jayasekere, Hisham Abdeen, Frank Hubert and Angelo Himself. There were mo foreigners in the team. The squad is given below in remembering their great heroics and team spirit, according to my memory.

Props - Royce Samaratunge, Orville Fernando, Sandy Keller, Hooker - Kolitha Gunatileke, Second Row - Neomal Surasena, Andrew Vanhoff, Norman Kulasiri, Third Row – Angelo Wickremeratne, Hisham Abdeen, Mohamed Sallay, Scrum Half – Sandy Hamid, Fly Halves – Frank Hubert, Peter Seneviratne, Centres – Michael Jayasekere, Len Silva, Ajith De Silva, Wingers – Rienzie De Silva, Bharatha Mendis, P Selvaraj, Full Backs – Marco De Silva, Ravi Ponnambalam

One cannot forget the dazzling runs of Michael Jayasekere, up and under and punts of Hisham Abdeen (who had a rich harvest of tries), crash tackling of Angelo, Frank Hubert’s booming kicks to touch, etc. every team member had the will to win. After this superlative performance in 1981, Havelocks won only two major titles other than the Sevens in 1984 they won the knock out tournament under Mohamed Sallay beating Police 12-6 with a last minute try scored by Beverley De Kauwe and after a further 19 years they won the Premier Champions Trophy in 2003 under prop Shafie Hassan by beating CR and FC 21-19. Both finals were played at Longden Place.

From 2004 to 2011 Havelocks Rugby suffered heavily to other clubs picking their star players.

2012 Havies team led by Henry Terrence broke the ice by winning the league after 31 years. Their game plan was superb, they scored heavily in early games and led the points table from the beginning of the season. I expected a close finish to the league title between the 3 top teams Kandy (defending champions), Navy and Havelocks. These teams were expected to win all their home matches and give off the best in their away games. This would have put all 3 teams equal on wins with bonus points to decide on the final outcome. This happened upto 18 August 2012. On this day Kandy only had to win at Havelock Park in their return against Havies, even by a single point. With this win Kandy would have lost only one game for the season (their away match with Navy).

Bright sun shine greeted Havies on this Saturday afternoon ensuring open play for their three quarters. Though Kandy led 5 nil in the first quarter of the game, flood gates opened for the Havies to win in the end by a huge margin of 31 points (50-19) and they inflicted Kandy’s heaviest defeat for a long period of time. With this win over Kandy, Navy had a slim chance of winning the league with a big win over Havies in their return game, in their own den a week later.

However, Havies had to wait only for 24 hours to clinch the league with Up Country Lions beating Navy at Nawalapitiya. In the following week Havies beat Navy at Welisara displaying true champion grit and skill. I would rate the win over Kandy at Havelock Park (50-19) as one of the two best games I watched for Havies, the other being the Clifford Cup Final in 1974 beating the fancied CR and FC.

I would also like to offer big bouquets to the entire Havelocks 2012 Rugby Squad who brought joy and happiness to many many of their fans and also to the trio who masterminded this achievement, namely, Tusitha Pieris, Leonard de Zilva (captain of 1998 and 1999) and evergreen coach Tavita Talagaese (Laga) who is no stranger to Sri Lankan club rugby circles, with all their game plans and on field tactics. Finally, much credit should go to club management led by president Tyronne Coonghe sponsors (Nations Lanka, The Finance and Dialog). One also cannot forget many great players of the past of Havies, namely, Anton Benedict, Lal Silva, Chaminda (Diga) Rupasinghe, Michael Jayasekere and others and rugby promotor Asanga Seneviratne who set the ball rolling for the club.

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