An unprecedented police presence at a heavily-guarded schools rugby venue last Sunday was reduced to what it may have been meant, an anxious anticipation, as players from St. Joseph’s College hugged and welcomed their counterparts from Dharmaraja College at their inter-school League match.
The scenes would have been unthinkable to many rugby followers after nine players from St. Joseph’s College were assaulted and brutalized at the last year’s encounter in Kandy where Dharmaraja College is located and a dreaded backlash was expected.
St. Joseph’s College won the match 44-10 but more than the result it was the spirit of the Joes that was most relished by supporters and old boys of both schools who in an extremely rare occurrence interacted and exchanged pleasantries after the game at Longden Place in Colombo.
For a more than 50-strong police force some in anti-riot helmets and batons, the occasion gave them a most relaxed atmosphere while some of their colleagues hung around in a fortified truck parked just near the entrance.
“We did not want to take any chances but we were pleased to note that everything ended well without incident. I got a report from the match commissioner that said both teams played a disciplined game and they even got together after the match. I hope other teams can follow this example”, said Denzil Darling the secretary of the Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association.
Apart from a few occasional catcalls or boos which may have been understandable given the high intensity that the schools League has picked up over the past four weeks, the match brought out one of the cleanest contests ever witnessed in years as referee Dinka Pieris had a dream run in handling the proceedings.
On one occasion during the contest a Dharmaraja player was applauded by fans of St. Joseph’s College when he went to the aid of a fallen opponent who was in pain with cramps.
According to a ruling by the Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association, Dharmaraja College should have been serving a full nine-month ban for their role in assaulting the Joes last season, but the reception their players were accorded by St. Joseph’s College brought sheer relief to tournament organisers who stand accused of running an unsafe League and turning a blind eye to justice and fair-play.
St. Joseph’s College kicked off as one of the fancied teams this season and in their two previous matches their opponents Royal College and Isipathana College had close calls before scraping through to win.
Last week also marked a relatively peaceful period as the tournament’s defending champions Isipathana College were demolished by St. Peter’s College 32-15 in what analysts believed to be a major upset.
For the Peterites it may have been expected as arguably they appear to play their best rugby against Isipathana and traditional rival St. Joseph’s College while going soft on another heavyweight Royal College whom they have not beaten in four years.
But coach,Colin Denish said he only asked for a different approach and at no stage do they take any of their opponents lightly.
“We only wanted to change our game plan for the match and not open it out too much”, said Denish.
What was special about the Peterites on the day was their continuous tackling and crippling of Isipathana’s prolific backline where most of their try-scoring potential lies.