File photo of referee D Nimal officiating in a first round match between Isipathana and St. Peter’s

Referees and spectators are up in arms and kicking their heels over the scheduling of all high stakes second round inter-school League rugby championship matches on the same day which is unlike any of the past tournaments.

According to the second round schedule drawn up by the Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association (SLSRFA), the eight teams in the running play one another on the same day (Saturday) which has hit neutral spectators the hardest and given referees a nightmare.

Unlike in several past seasons, the 2015 League promises to be an edge-of-the-seat scenario with even teams like Science College, St. Joseph’s College and Kingswood College having the potential to upset the fancied outfits thereby creating more curiosity.
But the pitfalls of conducting a well followed tournament showed up even before the second round could have kicked off.

The biggest fear is that the best referees may not be handling some of the bigger high profile games that could also hide the unforeseen with as many as eight top shelf referees needed on the day which includes the standby referee.

“We have brought it to the notice of match organizers and it’s a big struggle and strain on our hands. In case something befalls the first referee during the match the standby referee would have to be the ideal replacement and fall into that category. In the past we had the numbers. Now it’s a different story. We can only hope it will not come to that stage”, said Dilroy Fernando, the head coach of referees and the most knowledgeable reader of match situations.

Fernando said that 20 match officials, that include on-field referees, touch judges and sub-officials are needed to handle the four matches on the day.

Saturday is considered a day for a whopping gate collection in a season where some schools draw up huge budgets that can run into Rs.40 million.

It is also no secret that school team coaches patronize matches other than their own in a bid to acquire an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of rival teams.

“What is happening here is that tournament officials don’t think as far as we think. For them it’s just completing the match schedule so they can say we conducted a tournament smoothly. I wonder whether spectator options were taken note of when they (SLSRFA) made the schedule”, said Royal College coach Sanath Martis who is grudgingly acknowledged as the most successful of all school coaches.

Nilfer Ibrahim, the coach of defending champions Isipathana College, said that while it was a matter for schools to decide he preferred to have played their match against S. Thomas’ College on Friday “just for convenience”.

But unlike Martis or Ibrahim, most other school coaches will be harder pressed and under added pressure to spy on their rivals taking into account the cramped up second round.
Royal has already made a move to play their match against Kingswood, scheduled for Saturday on Sunday, but stood very little chance as the latter did not commit to a change.

The SLSRFA however claim they were flexible in drawing up the second round match schedule and no door has been shut for a change of date.

“This is the best solution there is. We know that teams will like to play on a Saturday. But they are also free to play on a different date if they wish for whatever the reason”, said SLSRFA Tournament Coordinator N. Mudannayake.

Ironically just five matches were played by a team inside three months from March to May before the start of the second round.