By Prasanna Cooray
Although the 2016 Singer inter-schools rugby league is only four weeks old, it is likely that the contention for the top notch has come to be limited to three schools, namely Isipathana, Science and S. Thomas’. This is not only because these three are the only unbeaten teams left in the league after four weeks, but also for the brand of rugby they have been playing. They have been able to send out signals loud and clear to other schools that they are the forces to reckon with this season.
For the statistics, Isipathana in four outings have scored a staggering 193 points against 58 by their opponents. Science, while accumulating 160 points for themselves have conceded 50. S. Thomas’, on the other hand, with a less impressive statistical outlook have 116 points for and 44 against them on the slate. However, it has to be mentioned that most of the oppositions both Isipathana and Science had faced so far had been weak sides. The only formidable resistance both these teams received was from St. Peter’s. In a thriller Science beat the Peterites 13-10, while Patana outplayed them more convincingly 36-21, last Friday.
Isipathana, arguably the kings of the local schools rugby scene for the past couple of decades, as usual are equipped with a well-knit unit. They were the schools rugby triple champions (winning league, knock-out and sevens) in 2014 and the triple runners-up last year. Coached by the former Kingswood, Kandy and Sri Lanka player Nilfer Ibrahim, and captained by the fourth year coloursman Kushan Indunil, who plays center, Isipathana have a well balanced side. As coach Ibrahim puts it, "This year we don’t have big names as in the previous years. But we have a very balanced side, where every player is giving out his best". Among the other leading players in the side include Sumudu Rankothge (center), Gayan Wikramarathne (full back), Vageesha Weerasinghe (No 8), Adeesha Weerathunge (flanker), Ranidu Padmasanka (wing three), Chamod Fernando (wing three) and Devin Gunarathne (flanker).
Science College (formerly Saththissara MV) Mount Lavinia has become a force to reckon with in the local schools rugby scene, especially since the last five years or so. Science, being the last year’s Under 18 and the Knock-out champs have 12 of the regulars from the last year’s team. Coach, old boy Amila Chathuranga, who guided his alma mater to great heights during the last 10 years sounds pretty complacent about his side. "We have one of the best sides in schools rugby this season. The fact that we were the Under 18 and the Knock-out champions last year prove our worth" quipped Chathuranga with pride. Fifth year coloursman center Nirosh Udayanga leads the side. The other key players of the side include Thanuja Maduranga (center and vice captain), Udesh Madushanka (flanker), Janith Lakshan (flanker) and Ashan Madhumadawa (scrum half).
S. Thomas’, already the 7s champs this year, since overcoming St. Joseph’s 32-03 in the curtain-raiser have lived very much up to their expectations. Compared to both Isipathana and Science, Thomians have faced much stiffer oppositions in the likes of Royal and Trinity, whom they beat 21-15 and 23-20 respectively, both away from their home. In the process, Thomians have secured three mementos, namely the Lady Jayathileke Shield, Michael Gunaratne Trophy and Cannon R.S. de Saram Shield under their belt. Samoan coach Tavita Tulagese has turned the Thomians, who were very much in the wilderness the last couple of years, into a real fighting unit. Lead by hooker Pandula de Silva, Thomian side is equipped with many talented players in the likes of prop Sachithra Jayathilake (who was their cricket captain as well), Bumindra Dissanayake (fly half) and Ashwantha Herath (center). However, the guy who stands head and shoulders above the rest for the school by the sea is their speedy winger Naveen Henakankanamge. The son of former Isipathana, Navy and Sri Lanka center H.K. Sisira, young Henakankanamge, who was their sevens captain, is the leading try scorer for his team. However, as it was seen in more than one occasion, STC really needs to get their act together. There were many a hiccup they had in the games against Royal and Trinity. While it was a last minute try that stole the Gunaratne Trophy for the Thomians against Royal, the Trinity side was depleted to 13 in the last 20 minutes of the game, when they came from behind to win.
Royal, St. Peter’s and Kingswood have been the disappointments of the season. The last year’s league champions Royal, who as a rule possesses the best set of forwards among the schools, has been off-colour this season. Although they won two, drew one and lost one of the four matches played so far, has failed to show the true potential they are capable of under the guidance of their coach Sanath Martis, who is among the best coaches in the schools rugby scene today. While St. Peter’s has won two and lost two, the Kingswoodians have been on the receiving right along the season thus far.
This week all eyes will be on two matches, Pathana-Science at Havelock Park on Friday and Royal-Trinity (Bradby Shield first leg) at the Royal Complex on Saturday, which will be a league fixture as well.