Lalin’s Column: The day the Bradby tradition nearly died and two schools wept
Pallekelle on 14 May 2016 even with leaden skies and tiny rain drops falling, was lovely as ever. The main road from Kandy was lined with parked vehicles for some fair distance from the turn off to the grounds. Owner drivers who came late had no other option. ’Parking’ signs were held up at every nook and cranny by enterprising lads on the narrow village road leading to the grounds.
Walking about one kilometer back to the main road after the match even in the dark was considered a better option. At about 3.30 pm as we approached from Digana in lesser traffic, avoiding the grid lock from Kandy, we were over taken by a speeding police car with siren bleating. Some sleek cars following shot past.
At the junction to the ground we had to stop because an old CTB like bus carrying young Royalists approached from Kandy. Maneouvering the turn to the narrow village road proved difficult. We had seen the same bus in the morning on Colombo’s Baseline road. It gave way to a smart luxury bus or two carrying more Royalists. Many of the jovial and merry crowd got on and off the buses heedlessly blocking traffic. They were all good natured, full of anticipation of a good game and victory for their side. It was arranged this time that the Ladies College girl then 6 years who walked a mile to her father’s car after her first Bradby in 2013, would not have to walk as her father had a driver. Her brother couldn’t come this time as he was playing water polo for the school by the sea.
‘Some talk of ….. , …………….and………
And such great names as these
But of all SL’s great old schools
there’s none can compare with ………………………………………..
(With apologies to the author of the song ‘British Grenadiers’)
Vociferous, rapturous, enthusiastic crowds greeted the teams as they strode in to the grounds like gladiators. Trinity was led by their striking 6ft 3 ins captain Rahul Karunathileke carrying its mascot, a regal if not Royal ‘Lion’. He had unfortunately missed the first leg. He knew he had miles to go today. The ground, possibly holding over 10,000, was almost full. Not only with at least 3 Old Royalist cabinet ministers seated prominently and one former Sports minister but also a former Thomian rugby captain, one of 3 brothers who captained them over a decade ago, both lost in the crowd.
Kandyan lamissis, pretty with lovely complexions, almost all in tops of reddish hue inspired Trinity and made Royal despair. So striking were they that they very nearly out shone the spectacular red, gold and blue strips of Trinity that a great Royal scrum half Mahes Rodrigo admitted puts Trinity 10 points ahead at the kick off.
It was a blustery May afternoon following many days of rain. Trinity had ominously won the under 18 matches 24-5 in Colombo and now 17-10 although losing the under 16, drawing the under 14 and losing the under 13 games. Traditional preliminaries were done. Chief guest Jan Tissera who had captained Trinity in 1979 had come from Australia.
The game was to be between a formidable, grinding Royal pack using its preferred, much extolled, rolling maul. It would slow the game down at times almost to a standstill. It made its backs almost irrelevant. Against them were the sweeping, exhilarating and always magnificently dangerous Trinity backs and a stalwart pack. The greater dash of their outsides and hard straight running by the centers would show they knew exactly what they were about. It was to be a grand game, to be enjoyed by all.
It resulted in one if not the most exciting, hard fought, and equally matched, Bradby fixture of all time. (The writer saw his first Bradby in 1948. Sadly Trinity lost). The rugby was excellent especially in the second half, the game thrilling. There was potential for the future, great courage and spirit. It was played with varied levels of skill but with exploding force, determination, guts, passion. No quarter was asked or given. The players bubbled with youthful fire. It ended in a rousing, roisterous nail biting finish in a victory for Trinity (18-13) but aggregating a tie (35 each). Anxious old boys were relieved.
The ground was nothing like the morass it was at the Royal Complex in hard driving rain, thunder and lightning during the second half of the first leg. Royal scored a push over try to win that match with the Trinitians floundering in the mud trying to hold them. ‘C’est magnifique mais ce n’est pas le Rugby‘ would the French say of that game.
Today the turf was wet and soft. It was a choice between a greasy or slippery ball. But a wicked wind blew light rain onto exposed spectators. There was a nip in the air. Would there be hard and furious kicks ahead instead of backs running with the ball?
There was little to choose between the sides. What they lacked in skill they made up in energy and went at each other to demonstrate once and for all which the better team was. Trinity had an experimental look in the first leg as captain Karunathileke had been grounded after the Thomian match. The cohesive Royal forwards had played a demoralized Trinity pack then. A decisive factor today would be the Trinity captain Rahul Karunathileke’s return to the fray. It marked a setback for Royal. Despite a 5 point lead in the first leg, Royal appeared a bit flustered as Trinity’s indefatigable pack held them. Trinity even startled in the line outs they contested, (they didn’t contest all) winning 4 in a row and showed increasing ferocity in the loose. Yet Royal stuck to their trade mark rolling mauls, ignoring their backs.
The game began fast and furious but became desultory with some kicking, dropped and forward passes and untidy loose mauls. The front rows collapsed often. There was wonderment when Trinity was penalized for doing so when actually pushing Royal back. Trinity launched wave after wave of attacks across the field and back but wasted a lot of opportunities when very close to the Royal line. Yet they dared as always when defending to run with the ball, meters in front of their own goal.
After holding Royal in their own 22, Trinity’s left winger Pethiyagoda broke away after a melee and scrambled over but the whistle had gone for a forward pass. It was Royal however that scored first in the 7th minute with a penalty conversion by Askey from close in (R-3+5 T-0).
The Royal back division was satisfactory in attack but weak in defence. Askey’s accuracy and length of kicking salvaged Royal’s absence of control. A scrum near the Trinity line had Royal’s Lokugamage breaking away unexpectedly to score Royal’s only try of the match in the 27th minute. It was converted by Askey. (RC 8+5 - T 0).
A scrum followed the kick off and the Trinity captain sailed over it. Few knew from where. The referee at first flummoxed, recovered and penalized him, repeating plaintively 3 times ’ you can’t jump over the scrum’. He signed off cryptically with a exasperated ‘ah’ (short for ‘you understand’?) at the end!
With a few minutes to go for half time, an elusive Sangasinghe raced up to the line, snapped up a pass, dummied past 2 Royal defenders and went over for a splendid but unconverted try for Trinity (T-5 R-10+5).Had there been a fast, dry ground, the Trinity’s backs would have electrified the crowd with their open and attractive play. As it was they still looked dangerous, inspiring, consistent and elusive.
The Trinity band at the interval made up in the quality of its lilting music for the lack of numbers. The Kandyan dancing troupe did well to dance to the western band’s music. Where was their hewisi band? The Royal players stayed on the ground almost as though they felt that they needed to get even more acclimatized or just to be different. The weather was kind to them.
In a rousing second half, Trinity tightened things and came back fighting. They were outstanding in the loose yet wayward in the tight. There was some straggling in gathering in the line outs. The Royal scrummage was more penetrative. The Trinity backs sure handling of the ball with open attractive moves across the field, rose above the conditions under foot. Trinity hearts surged.
A Royal forward charge was held by sheer courage. The rolling maul continued to prove difficult to counter although Trinity too had produced one successfully in the first half.
Royal made tackling errors but a desperate boot strap tackle stopped a slicing Trinity left wing from scorching through to a try. Moments later an untidy foot rush led by Trinity’s captain followed. The Royalists were disinclined to fall on the ball. It was reminiscent of that 80 yards dribble and try led by another 6 foot Trinity skipper, David Frank in the 1950s. However a penalty was converted soon after by Trinity’s Abeywickreme (T8-R 8+5).
There came another forwards dribble and rush. Royal made some desperate tackles but two Trinitians following up, were held and tripped respectively. It escaped referee Rankothge. He had concentrated on certifying whether the Royal defender had grounded the ball behind the goal line. The crowd roared. Hantane and Knuckles shook. The touch judge energized suddenly convinced the referee but not adequately or enthusiastically that there had been obstruction(s). He failed to say two Trinitians flanking the kicker, not one were held back and obstructed. A penalty and not a penalty goal (7), was awarded. It was put over by Wijesuriya. (T 11 RC 10+5).
The game flowed on as smoothly as the quiet Mahaveli below.
Trinitian SW Chang an excellent referee too in his day who was commentating on Eye TV with Royal’s Jehan Canagaretne, magnanimously allowed after the match that it was the referee’s call between a possibility and a probability of a try.
Trinity backs were highly dangerous whenever they had the ball. The new Trinity fly half who had replaced the vice captain, ran straight and set the line in motion. Scrum half Boyagoda, though there was not a great deal of him, harried his opposite number to desperation. The bustling try he scored over the heads of Royal defenders to very nearly clinch the Bradby for Trinity was terrific. Wijesuriya converted. (T 18-R 10).
It appeared that it was all over bar the shouting but Royal would not concede. They set the field on fire using the rolling maul to crumble Trinity. When checked their forwards launched wave after wave of furious, unrelenting attacks on the Trinity goal line. Trinity held on tenaciously. The Trinity forwards, led by its outstanding captain who got the last ounce from his pack, played with tremendous aggression and inexhaustible energy, not giving much. Their endurance when they held the formidable Royal pack for what seemed an eternity on their goal line was an epic defence recalling the unyielding Kandyans holding the Balana Pass, even Thermopylae.
Once it appeared Royal may have scored. The actions of the Trinity forwards, one of whom was jumping into the air and waving his hands to indicate that a Trinitian was under the ball, probably meant otherwise. The Royalists were more subdued and not convincing. Agonising TMO replays were apparently unable to locate the ball. The referee asked several times ‘can I award a try’. TMO Amit said clearly replied ‘5 m scrum’ each time. The linesman then (finally) came up and indicated clearly there was no try as a Trinitian was under the ball.
There was another 5 m scrum and then another. Trinity stood the strain. It was nerve wracking stuff. Then another scrum and suddenly and amazingly a turn over and kick to touch by Trinity. Time (80 mins) was up according to the score board clock and most of the spectators and all TV commentators. The referee was having nothing of it and continued. (Later in a newspaper interview he said he went by the time on his stop watch synchronized with the 2 linesmen and not ’TV’ time. He had not wanted to please either school. Further having concentrated intensely on the game he was not even aware as to who was in the lead at the 80th minute!). He awarded a penalty to Royal. The time was 84 minutes on the clock. A kick to touch was taken as wanted by Royal’s captain. After the kick was taken the linesman opposite intervened to say that a tee to indicate a kick at goal, had been brought onto the playing area before the kick was taken. (Rule 21 4 c says ’arrival of the kicking tee’). Another kick was allowed. The game was 86 minutes gone but the referee’s clock apparently had said 79.10 minutes. The Daily FT’s correspondent S Jaleel on 18 May opined that referee “Rankothge who had a firm grip on the game lost it in the last 10 minutes”. Askey’s kick went sailing over the crossbar just as no side was blown. (R13 –T 18). The aggregate scores for both legs stood equal at 35 points each, indicating a tie for the shield. Even the ranks of Tuscany would admit it was poetic justice. Royal had lost the match but tied the Bradby. A marvelous and epic struggle had ended in a fair result. Great game.
Tiresome questions were then asked as to who should keep the shield. Chang said that in 1992 when there was a tie, the shield was shared. The defending side, Trinity, kept it for the first half of the year and Royal thereafter. In 1971 when only one match could be played due to the JVP insurgency and Royal had won, Trinity Principal EL Fernando (A old Trinitian) handed the shield over to Royal.
As queries flowed fast and furious about the custody of the shield, Chang repeatedly said “Doesn’t matter who won the Bradby. Rugby won today”. Prophetic?
It grew dark around 6 pm. There was slight drizzle. Except for a few spot lights, lighting of the grounds and car park was virtually nonexistent. Many spectators left the ground to beat the rush for cars even before the presentation of the shields began.
On the podium the two school principals, both recently appointed and possibly uncertain of any rules to guide them in case of a tie, could be seen exchanging views. The announcement for the Simithriarachchi trophy was made twice. The Trinity under 18 captain was there to receive it as Trinity had won by an aggregate of 41 - 15. The Trinity principal had a cautioning hand on his shoulder, presumably as the disposition of the Bradby shield had not yet been settled. Royal’s new Principal Ratnayake appeared flustered (on Eye Channel TV).He got to a side of the podium, leaving the Trinity Principal Fowler Watt alone. The under 18 award was finally made. The announcement for the Bradby followed. Due to the rising tension it was stark with no embellishments about the magnificent game that had enthralled all. The Trinity skipper and host, having shaken hands with the two Principals stood back for the shorter Royal skipper to take the shield first. He took it with both hands, held it aloft and waved it to the crowd. The Trinity skipper as co sharer then made an effort to place his right hand on it, when the Royal captain tore it away. The Royal players piled onto the stage. The Trinity players who had been looking on expectantly, then tried to place their hands on the shield too. The Royalists were pushed and leaped off the podium. The Trinity players followed.
The Royal principal vanished as players and then spectators turned boisterous. He was last seen by the writer rushing off alone, past the Mahaveli side goal posts, stripping off his coat and tie while Argie Bargie reigned around the podium.
Social media exploded from the ends of the earth.
However when the Royalists arrived for the traditional Bradby night dinner, the Trinitians in blazer and tie gave them a guard of honour. Is it all’s well that ends well?
The authorities of the two schools were going all out to defuse the situation which threatens relations that existed for many years between them.
However much will have to be done.
The spirit of the Bradby even though under strain recently is held almost sacred by the two schools. The behaviour, customs, traditions, cameradie are exceptional. There has never been a fight on the field ever at a Bradby although there was one in the League in the early 1990s at the Sugathadasa Stadium.
When the Trinitians performed the ’haka’ a few years back at the Royal complex the entire Royal team crossed the half line violating IRB rules, encircled the Trinitians, pushed, shoved and threw punches in the ugliest incident ever. They apologized for it by going over to Trinity where Principal Brigadier Udaya Ariyaratne graciously received them, accepted their apology and followed up with a grand lunch for all at the Queen’s Hotel.
An unsatisfactory trend has been developing, no doubt acerbated by unruly adult behaviour, not the least being that in legislatures. This trend must stop if the Bradby is to continue, not only as a shield to be played and fought to be won by the better side, but more so to nurture what the Bradby stands for 72 years after it was first awarded and 96 years after the two schools first played each other.
Royal College should review whether the players in its teams are true ‘Royalists’ as one astounded brother of 3 Royalists asked anxiously on the web from Pakistan. Had he also meant the points scorers in both matches and the under 18 team players?
The most important thing to recall is what Royal Principal Bradby set off to do when he presented the shield. Trinity is the cradle of SL rugby and had been playing it for many years before Royal took it up. Royal, St Peter’s and Zahira played it intermittently. It is believed Bradby wished that the shield would perpetuate rugby between the 2 schools. This surely does not mean including the rugby talent of ‘exporting’ schools. Questions are also being asked by parents of Royalists who played for the under 10, 12, 14 and 16 and were excluded from the under 18 rugby team.
On 10 June 2010 in the Asian Tribune I wrote that the Bradby ”is about two schools that have built a reputation and a tradition that even if unenvied is admired by schools that play rugby”. I am glad that these exact words have been used even if not acknowledged in at least one newspaper last week (18 May 2016) .
Whatever the outcome is, let it not undermine the spirit of the ‘Bradby’.
It may be helpful to recall the words of the Royal College editor of the Bradby souvenir of 1998 “And at a time when decency and chivalry have become the early casualties in the pursuit of Victory, let Royal and Trinity show the whole country how 30 young gentlemen bathed in deep tradition can play exciting and entertaining rugby” (CD).
“To speak of fame a venture is
There’s little here can bide,
But we may face the centuries
And dare the deepening tide,
Yet here shall beat the heart of us
The school we handed on”
(Trinity school Song)
- Asian Tribune -