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Pullouts by three top teams initially picked for the knockouts and a walkover by a team invited as a stopgap measure could do little to dent the pride of the inter-school President’s Trophy rugby knockout tournament which is now on to its 22nd year.

Isipathana College, which stamped its class in the league tournament, has continued unnerved into the knockout tournament, which demands additional lasting power and also tests concentration and patience of players. The lads from Havelock Town are unlikely to possess the mind frame of an all-conquering armed force taking position in a final battle field. For them, the approach to the Milo knockout is more of a mission where they have to win back or bring home something which was theirs a year ago. That’s why Isipathana College skipper Kushan Indunil said, “There is something which we have lost and we need to win it back to complete the successes in rugby this season.” He made these comments at the launch of the Milo Knockout Tournament which was held in Colombo a few days ago.

The Milo President’s Trophy (Pix by Kelum C Nelumdeniya)
The Milo President’s Trophy (Pix by Kelum C Nelumdeniya)

School rugby, unlike any other form of rugby, is so interesting because even the best team is not sure of winning on any given day. This unpredictability in the outcome of matches is something that sponsors are in love with. This is an aspect in school rugby which can be marketed by the authorities. When Zahira was pitted against S. Thomas’ in the quarter-finals, some expected the lads from Maradana to end up with a thrashing. The result was a gutsy display of skillful rugby by the Zahirians who went down fighting 43-10.

Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association Secretary Denzil Darling acknowledged the fact that all top teams had made significant improvement in skill levels. This was evident in the league tournament as well as in the ongoing Milo schools knockout tournament. The four semi-finalists in the knockout tournament Isipathana, S. Thomas’, Royal and St. Peter’s easily fit into this description.

Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association Secretary Denzil Darling acknowledged in an interview with Nation that school rugby resembled a giant with the sport drawing all the attraction. When these teams take a professional approach to the game and are backed by large companies and are financially secure, the SLSRFA sees its work cut down to just conducting the tournaments.

School rugby is reaching boiling point with the two semi-final matches of the knockout tournament being worked off this weekend at Royal Sports Complex. The final is scheduled for July 9 at the same venue.