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Thursday, 27 September 2012

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Army’s Rugby on the rise

A team which is fast recapturing its past glory in rugby is the Sri Lanka Army. After being in the doldrums for several years, the soldiers came back storming this year to clinch the Plate trophy of the Dialog ‘A’ Division League Rugby Tournament.

Sri Lanka Army rugby team. Pictures by Mahinda Vithanachchi

The Rugby Committee of the Army headed by Major General Kamal Gunaratne and Secretary Colonel Manjula Wijesinghe are instrumental in the rugby renaissance of Army. They decided to obtain the services of a foreign coach to guide the soldiers and also recruited two top foreign players.

Their coach Benjamin Macdougle from Australia took great pains to mould them into a force to be reckoned with while the two foreigners Savanaca Tukitoga and Epi Kokonosiga were a treat to watch with their powerful runs tearing apart the opponents defence in most of the matches.

Army is also fortunate to have the services of several seasoned campaigners Nushal Meepage, Asoka Jayalal, Ajith Pushpakumara, Nishantha Kotelawala, Upali Wickremasinghe, Skipper Upul Kumara and Sri Lanka Winger Saliya Handapangoda who contributed immensely towards the team’s success with a sterling display.

The experienced Upali Wickramasinghe’s accurate place kicking was another plus point for the Army. The soldiers could be considered as the most unfortunate team in the Dialog ‘A’ Division League . They lost to CR and FC by a whisker 20 – 22 in the very first match of the season and went down fighting to eventual champions, the strong Havelocks by 22 – 25 and then lost to formidable Navy by 14 – 19 due to a last minute try.Then they went down to mighty Kandy SC by the slender margin of three points (6-9) and were beaten by Up Country Lions ( 20 – 23 ) in a controversial match.

Upul Kumara Nushal Meepage Saliya Handapangoda Upali Wickramasinghe Benjamin Macdougle (Coach)

But the gallant soldiers came back storming to win the next three matches over Police ( 32 - 27 ), CH and FC (36- 13 ) and Air Force( 48-11 ). They never looked back from there onwards and after being relegated to the plate competition they scored smashing victories over CH and FC (43 - 22), Air Force(46 - 14),CR and FC ( 52 – 13 )and went on to win the decider against Police by 21 – 19 to emerge Plate Champions.

Army’s rugby reached great heights during the period 1999 to 2003. In 1999, led by Kapila Knowlton, the soldiers won eight matches out of 14 in the Caltex ‘A’ Division League to finish in fourth position. In the year 2000, Army led by Ajith Peiris won seven games in the league and stormed into the Clifford Cup final by beating Havelocks ( 24 – 23) and CH and FC 25 – 24 in the quarters and semis respectively before losing to Kandy SC (12 – 39 ) in the final.

In 2001, Army captained by J.M.Jayatilleke had a marvellous season winning 12 matches out of 14 to emerge runners-up of the ‘A’ Division League and went onto enter the Clifford Cup final before losing to Kandy SC by a whisker (16-17). In 2002, Army once again led by Ajith Peiris had another superb season winning 10 matches to finish third in the league and made a sensational entry into the Clifford Cup final with a stunning 25 – 22 win over the strong CR and FC in the semi -final before going down fighting to Kandy SC ( 19 – 26 ) in the final. In 2003, the soldiers Skippered by Colin Rodrigo finished fourth in the ‘A’ Division League winning nine matches out of 15.

During this period, the Sri Lanka Army also produced several ruggerites who donned the Sri Lanka jersey with distinction .Among them were B.M.Dharmapala,Kapila Knowlton, Vajira Jayatilleke, Nishantha Jayasuriya, Saman Madurasinghe, Sithara Fernando , Herathge Karunaratne, T.A.Silva who brought honour and fame to the Army, with their dazzling displays on the rugby field for Sri Lanka.

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