From the moment that final whistle was blown by Referee Dinka Peiris on 18th June 2017 at the Sugathadasa Stadium in the President’s trophy semi-final against Isipathana, this story began to unfold. After being placed 6th in the schools’ rugby league last year, many rugby loving pundits wrote the Peterites off completely with no hopes of a big title in the coming years.
After 2010, St. Peter’s College, Colombo had managed to grab a few trophies in the schools’ circuit which included the All Island and Western Province Sevens tournaments on a few occasions including the Super Rugby sevens title in the year 2016. During this time frame, the journey had ups and downs while having a few close calls in the President’s Trophy knock-out Semi Finals against Trinity, Science and Isipathana in the years 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
When the management of St. Peter’s College decided to hire Sri Lanka’s most successful schools’ Rugby coach, a veteran, Mr. Sanath Martis, in the latter part of last year, he stated very clearly that he could not do wonders in an year, but the year 2018 will be the rebuilding phase for the Peterite Rugby for coming years.
After undergoing a knee surgery in Australia, the appointed captain Master Javed Zarook ‘s team had no stars or play makers, but had a set of boys who wanted to put their heads down, train hard and walk in to the season, match by match. He also lost the deputy who had to give up the game due to an injury and for personal reasons, before the season began.
Just before their first game against Zahira, the skipper felt something was not right with his knee, but bore that pain within and played the match at Havies to kick off the 87th Rugby season for Peterite Rugby. The Peterite Centre, Ravin Fernando scored a hat-trick of tries to give the Bamba Brigade their first win of the season 48-12.
In the game against the Double Blues, Wesley College again at Havelock Park the following week, Wesley struck early in the game but the Peterites managed to find their momentum in the second half to beat the Westlyites comfortably 33 to 17. They did not allow the opponents to score a single point in the second half but, the Peterite centre Ravin Fernando suffered a nasty ankle fracture ending his season.
They started their 3rd game without Javed Zarook who opted to be “benched” due to his troublesome knee and he ended up not playing or starting many games from that point. His deputy Mark Assauw led the team well with his 6’1” frame, centre three quarter, Sandesh De Mel went on to score his first hat-trick in the game against the mighty Rajans at Police Park to completely outplay the Kandy team 42-5. The footballer turned rugby player Shehan Liyanapathirana had a 100% success rate in this game and began to lead the highest points scorer’s table for 2018.
The green machines at Havelock park geared up to host the Bamba Brigade the following week in front of packed house. This game was a grudge battle between the two schools and it was a well-known secret that the team which was both mentally and physically prepared, will pull off the game. The Peterite Centre Sandesh was stretchered off with a bad blow to his elbow and was done with, for the season. Having led 15-6 at the lemons, the Peterites pulled off a morale boosting victory with little Jason Karunaratne scoring a try in the last minute, chasing a kick by Shehan Liyanapathirana.
By this time, it was quite evident that the Peterites were dominating the games with their forwards than backs as Sanath Martis and his assistants Banuka Nanayakkara and Rajiv Perera were hatching their next plot. With the best yet to come, many were now starting to sit up and take notice of the boys from Bamba and recognising them as strong contenders to the league title.
The final match in the first round was played at Havies once again with DSS – known and the Dons – hosting the Petes in an all-important fixture. After the Dons had given a scare to the Green Machine by losing that game by a whisker, the real test came for our forwards. With DSS scoring a try early, the Peterite scrum half, Jason scored two quick tries back to back to rattle the Dons’ defence and in the end the Petes went on to win the game 43 points to 7.
The second round began with more bad news in the Peterite camp with their deputy Mark Assaw spraining his ankle in training that week. So, the Bamba Brigade travelled up to Kandy for first time in the season with only one player from last year’s starting line-up against the same opponent, with Jason Karunarathne taking the baton as the captain. Though the wounded Trinity Lions woke up in the last 20 mins, the Peterites held on strong to win the game 28 to 21 scoring 4 goals and earning a bonus point to boot, retaining the Late General Deshamanya Denis Perera Trophy for the 4th consecutive year.
With the monsoon rains begun, the country experienced continuous heavy downfalls as the Peterites went on to face the gutsy Kingswood team who were the most improved side of the league with some super individual performances by the Randles Hill lads. This was the first time that the Bamba Boys were tested on muddy and wet underfoot conditions, courtesy the weather gods. But in the end Petes pipped the Kings 20 to 10, taking two important penalties in the second half.
Seven games were done and dusted and the Peterite enjoyed an unbeaten season in the first round of the league, winning their seven games. Now the season got hotter with 4 contenders for the league title and the league due to end in two weeks.
The brothers from Darley road hosted their younger brothers, St. Peter’s College at CR Grounds next for the Rugby big match played for the Rev. Fr. Basil Wiratunga Shield which was in the trophy cabinet at Maradana since 2015. The battle of Saints encounter was more than just a game, it was all about pride and keeping with the great traditions.
With the Joes coming in to the game losing only one game, that to Royal, it was expected that Saints will come marching in to win the game. It was all a wet and muddy affair at Longdon Place as the Josephians made their crowd of supporters jump from their seats scoring two quick tries in the first ten minutes. After losing their play maker, winger to a red card, the Joes defence stood strong, like a fortress, to hold the Peterites to only a score of one try in the entire game. Even though the Peterites had 3 scoring opportunities in the game, the wet ball and poor thinking didn’t take them to the try line. Peterite No. 10, Kenneth Wimaladasa made a name for himself for the first time in the league with his try and the super break he made covering 50 meters where he was tackled by a Josephian defender a mere 2 metres from the try line.
The most important factor and the puzzle for many was why the Petes’ kicker, Shehan Liyanapathirana, who was the highest points scorer of the league, with a 71% success rate, did not take those 6 penalties in the second half with four of them being inside his kicking range. So there comes the blame game, to the boy and the coaches from a few supporters, with the loss which was hard to grasp and almost ended their league title hopes.
The final match of the league was with the unbeaten Royalists at Reid Avenue and it was also the league decider with the B C Anghie Trophy up for grabs for the Bamba Brigade which they lost in 2014. The stadium was packed and the Royalists knew it was a do or die battle for both teams. The game began at top pace and the Peterites dominated the first 10 minutes of the game. However, the well moulded and well drilled Champion Royal Tuskers kept attacking the Peterite gain line at every given opportunity to win the game quite comfortably, 32 points 13 grabbing the league crown while remaining unbeaten.
The Bamba Brigade had now suffered two back to back defeats. Adding more salt to the wound, they were without their experienced captain, vice-captain and two centres due to injury and ruled out for the season. They had lost the battle, but the war was not over. That was the message every Peterite wanted to give this team. The College management led from the front by Rector – Rev. Fr. Trevor Martin, the coaches, the support staff from the ground boy to the cook at the kitchen who prepares their meals, the Peterite Rugby Foundation, the Peterite Rugby social media admins and all the diehard Peterite Rugby fans around the globe rallied around the Bamba Brigade for their next mission – The President’s Trophy on offer in the knockout round.
Videos and posts started coming out on all Social Media platforms with the final motivational match video for the boys done by a passionate Peterite Rugby fan waking up at 5 a..m. on Friday as he had to travel out of Colombo at 9 a.m. for work. The Past captains and players regrouped to rally round the team at the final practice session to give the boys more courage for the important final.
The coaches started concentrating more on preparing the team mentally with tactical and positional changes done to counter the opponents they were about to face. The injured Peterite skipper, Javed Zarook and Mark Assauw willingly opted to stay out of the full squad for the entire tournament as they sacrificed their places for two other youngsters to come in as reserves. The boys too put their heads down and practiced day in and day out to prepare for their knockout round matches and they won the quarters and semi-finals quite convincingly, beating the Antonian Eagles and Wesley once again at Sugathadasa Stadium with the stand-in captain, Kenneth Wimaladasa leading the Bamba Brigade.
This move allowed decisions in the middle to be taken with a lot of confidence and as per the game plan.. Many Peterite rugby fans had felt that this was something that was lacking in the middle throughout the entire season, with the team’s seniors ruled due to injury as the match pressure was building up every week.
Then came the day which had all rugby lovers in Colombo marching towards the Racecourse Grounds for the big final. With the entire Peterite family standing behind the one team who only had one dream, to bring back lost glory to their College. The hype was building up on social media platforms with the Joes being clearly favoured to win the title for the second consecutive year. The stadium was jam packed with an electric atmosphere as the stage was set for a grand final.
The referee Praneeth Weranga started the proceedings under lights and the Josephians started the scoreboard ticking with a goal and a penalty goal to give them the important lead in the first few minutes. The Peterite full back, Shehan Liyanapathirana was tested with high kicks and he committed two cardinal and rule book errors which resulted in two tries for the Joes.
As the game moved on, the Peterites managed to score their first try through a rolling maul with Julian Gracian who is the silent assassin in the team, going over for his first try. As the half time whistle was blown, the Joes had a comfortable lead in the game with 17 points to 5. The master tactician Sanath Martis kept out the Peterite full back and ace kicker of the team in the second half and bought in young Nanayakkara as there was not much of a choice left in the Bench.
However, Peterites continued to do mistakes as the game progressed in to the second half and the Josepahian kicker gave his team 20 points with 25 minutes to go for the final whistle.
Peterites, kicked all penalties to touch and started their rolling maul and saw their winger touching down in the left corner to give some hope to the Bamba Brigade. The scoreboard then read 20 to 10 in favour of the Darley Road boys. Then came their third try in a similar fashion to the first one. Peterite’s burley hooker, Gracian touched down again to make the score line 20 to 15.
With 3 or 4 minutes to go, the marauding Bamba forwards attacked the Joes gain line with the rolling maul again. This was where the stand in captain, Kenneth Wimaladasa had different thoughts and he sneaked his way to the short side and collected a beautiful pass from his scrum half Jason Karunarathne to score the final try of the game to equal the scores. From this moment onwards one part of the stadium was making the biggest noise celebrating it while the other half kept their hands on their heads thinking “what did just hit us?” as Kenneth kicked the ball to sail though the posts converting the try to give the Peterites the win. This was surely the best come backs ever in the history of a President’s Trophy Final, grabbing that trophy as Kenneth won the trophy for the player of the tournament as well.
The celebrations continued in the stadium the entire night with Peterites around the globe jubilant about the sweet revenge over the loss suffered at the battle of the saints (league match) and dethroning the champions as clear underdogs. While the supporters celebrated the team went to Infant Jesus Church in Slave Island to thank the Almighty for all the blessings throughout the entire tournament.
Congratulations to the entire Peterite Team, the coaches, the management, support staff, the passionate supporters around the globe who stood behind this team the entire season.
The success story of Peterite Rugby 2018 couldn’t be scripted any better than through these words by Walt Disney who once said “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them”. Obviously for him and for many more, this is the absolute truth.
Take a bow Team 2018!