Kandy player Raveen de Silva grabs the ball against Air Force at the Ratmalana venue | (Pic by Mushtaq Thasleem)

A most despised venue at Ratmalana produces a shattering result that caught many including the media pundits on the blindside

Drop the name of the laid-back suburb of downtown Ratmalana and only a handful of sporting fans even if they are supporters of Air Force rugby would want to patronize it for matches.

The logic is understandable. Ratmalana has no recognized rugby playing school or club to make it synonymous with the robust game and above all it’s an out-of-the-way venue and the home of the country’s most subdued entity contesting the Premier domestic League. Bluntly, the most despised venue to host a rugby match in the country.

But last week Ratmalana that is most reputed for a Second World War aerodrome and a biscuit manufacturer, produced a savoury result that a majority of rugby fans would have wanted to hear when the defending champions and the most pampered club team in the history of rugby in the island, Kandy Sports Club, were blasted from their pedestal by the underdog Air Force team.

The result was perhaps the most shocking that caught everyone including the media on the blind-side.

Spectators at another League match between Havelocks and Police at Police Park in convenient Colombo on the same day believed it was a joke when they heard the result.

A journalist at the Police Park venue thought it was mere sarcasm when Ransiri Sahabandu, a former secretary, coach and Rugby Chairman of rival club CR and FC broke the news that Kandy had been beaten.

“It’s an eye-opener for any club to know that any superior side can be beaten when there is commitment and players believe in themselves which is something I have always emphasized,” said Sahabandu.

His sentiments are expected to be shared by many followers who are yearning for a level-playing field devoid of politicking and where nothing is impossible.

The media, which is mostly up-start on predicting rugby match results, never expected Kandy to lose after the defending champions thrashed the lowly rated CH and FC team by a whopping 96 points to nil the week before.

Coverage of the match and the unexpected result was limited to a mere morsel as if nothing had happened with the Havelocks versus Police match given absolute prominence although that match was reduced to a one-horse race with the former winning 37-12.
But yet to the skeptics it remains to be seen whether the venue at Ratmalana and its caretaker club Air Force can induce at least their own supporters for matches. Custodians of Air Force rugby can only hope last week’s result can be just the kind of boost they needed.

“We hope that actually something can happen now,” said Group Captain Indrajith Weerasuriya the optimistic Chairman of Air Force Rugby.

A former second rower who first played for Havelocks and CR and FC before teaming up with the flying force, Group Captain Weerasuriya said the epic win against Kandy was the brightest spark they could look forward to as far as enticing fans was concerned.
“Most people (rugby fans) think that there are security restrictions because we are located at an air base. But that is not the case,” said Weerasuriya. “It is a separate ground and we cannot change the mindset of spectators. But what we can now do is hope that the result (beating Kandy) will change everything and spectators will be encouraged to come and witness matches.”

Although without any spectator stands, Ratmalana offers vehicle owners one of the biggest car parks at a rugby venue in the country while young sentries manning a roadside entrance in uniform are usually polite to usher in the few fans.

Three years ago spectators were compelled to undergo embarrassing security checks at a venue inside a naval complex at Welisara some 18 kilometres away from Colombo. The airmen will never be able to boast of a venue in the city of Colombo, but at least they did what seemed impossible to many and their Ratmalana ground had a kind of turf from which fairytales of a blockbuster nature can come.