It was a beautiful day for rugby. Pallekelle, flanked by the Mahaveli at Kundasale and over looked by Hantane and the Knuckles Range was inviting but was not as lush as Bogambara.
The Trinity stadium began to fill up even by 2 pm on 30 June for the much awaited second leg of the Bradby. The car parks were full by 3pm so the main Kundasale road was commandeered too. A high spirited almost Kandy Perahera like crowd, kept piling in.
Amongst them as always were the prettiest lassies one would ever see. And there were Royalists praying for a miracle too.
‘With the red, gold, and blue in my view’ – Trinity Blazer Song
There was a one way tree lined ring road for vehicles. Entry was from the Digana side and exit near the Pallekelle Gam Udawa gates. There would be well over 12,000 fans before the kick off. The grand stand of the pavilion developed with considerable clout from Singer Sri Lanka with about 20 tiers seating nearly 1,500, had after 16 years, been finally completed by a determined Trinity Principal. By its sides were the stands for parents of the boys of both schools. Opposite the grand stand was a covered terrace seating over 3,000 and on either side of it was a stand for each school. The Trinity boys in white school uniform as always at matches were in the open stands behind the goal posts on the Mahaveli side.
The score board showing the score and the time donated by Royal’s Amarasuriya the Singer Chairman who never misses a match, was to their right. Across the field were raucous and spirited old Royalists and Trinitians in mixed but jovial company under the shade of abundant flowering trees.
As the crowds awaited the gladiators, the under 18 boys played their hearts out hoping their performance would inspire their seniors. Trinity won by 19-10 for an aggregate of 31-22 and thus also the Simithraaratchy cup. The other age groups had played at Bogambara to release the pressure of the ‘madding crowd’ here.
The two teams strode out betraying a slight swagger acknowledging the thunderous roars that shook the stadium. The chief guest CY Ching captain of Trinity’s famous if not the best all conquering 1974 side (which averaged 41 points a game and had 4 Chinese in it) wished the teams happy hunting. Thereafter came the gusty rendering of the respective school songs, one with oaken hearts ready to learn or depart and the other Lion hearted, the best of them all .
As the teams went out on to the field the Royalists deceptively looked less than confident while the Trinitians looked more relaxed and sure having not inconsiderable home crowd support and a reassuring 21 point lead from the first leg. However Royal would soon show that appearances were very misleading as it often is at the Bradby. Trinity has not forgotten how Lucky (later Surgeon Commander SL Navy) Dissanayake kicked 3 phenomenal long distance drop goals at Nittawela in 1964 for Royal to win unexpectedly even after an opening Sahayam special.
Trinity kicked off. There were signs of Bradby nerves as both side kicked heartily at each other to no great purpose. The Royal pack began asserting itself when suddenly the Trinity backs swept across the field in a blur of the bewitching tri colours. Captain Seneviratne who was to have a superlative game sliced through, darted ahead and passed to Giriyagama on the right wing who went unerringly and with greased heels for the goal line. Karunathilleke converted. Trinity 7-0 and leading overall by 28 points.
Royal’s response was awaited with tingling anticipation. It came swiftly with relentless and concentrated force. Royal dominated the set and loose pieces picking and driving the defiant and sturdy Trinity pack back relentlessly. Trinity’s pride and joy, the hungry backs were kept on a leash. The crowds held their breath. A battle of the titans was on.
Royal launched a series of ponderous frontal attacks on the Trinity line. Towering 6 ft 3 ins Bawa, the biggest player on the field, powered over to score. Jamaldeen converted. They continued to dominate. Anxiety showed in the Trinity camp as the pounding continued .Their defence desperate and mobile was yet undismayed.
Yet burly and menacing de Alwis then barged through for an unconverted try for Royal to lead 12-7 at half time. The Trinity cheering was subdued. Who would break first?
The second half started with Royal heavies once again applying pressure, dominating and threatening to score. The Trinity forwards threw themselves on the Royalists in near desperation. They counter attacked to get the ball to their magnificent and devastating backs and when they finally did Alwis charged through shattering and sundering the Royal backs before passing to Udalagama who scorched through to score the first of his hat trick of tries.
This one was converted by sure footed Karunathileke to draw level 12-12.
Then a Jamaldeen penalty made it 15-12 for Royal. This was followed for a period by some desultory and what looked like aimless kicking by both sides. The Trinity crowd shouted hoarsely ‘pass, pass’ as it looked abundantly clear that when the ball was with their pride and joy backs, a try was always in the offing but it was not yet to be. There were some spunky Royal raids too but they were beaten back hard. Trinity had a plan it appeared except that the kicks went straight to the Royal backs instead of the open spaces. The Royal forwards had to back track time and again. This must have affected them eventually as was soon to be seen.
Sheik streaked through on the right wing, passed to Udalagama who scored (Trinity 19-15).
Royal came fighting back with its juggernaut. Bawa from a set scrum jostled his way to score a somewhat controversial try for Royal to lead 20-19. Was there an Edward as in 1954 to shout ‘colours for all’ as Royal sniffed victory? There was another bout of kicking from end to end as the Trinity crowd screamed ‘pass, pass’ believing it was all that was needed to wrap up this game.
There was a Bradby tradition at Trinity to sing Frank Sinatra’s ‘Give me 5 minutes more, only 5 minutes more, let me stay in your arms …’ It was somehow meant to inspire the team to charge through in those last few twilight minutes. But with 10 minutes to go as in Colombo last year and 2 weeks ago, the much dreaded, feared, awaited and glorious Trinity blitz exploded.
Their backs with skipper Seneviratne and Karunathileke piercing, out flanking, scattering and cutting the Royal defence to shreds sent their wingers haring down the flanks to score.
Udalagama broke through again and was tackled on the line for Wadood to pick and score (24-20) .Royal panicked. With 3minutes to go Udalagama set the seal on a magnificent performance when he intercepted an idle pass on the right and galloped 75 m to score.
Karunathileke converted (31-20). In the final minute Seneviratne cut loose, swerved, sprinted 60m and was felled inches from the line on the left but Wadood was right there to pounce over the line in a flash (36-20). It was an avalanche. Once again the Royal backs were missing in action while their exhausted, rumbustious forwards cursed and swore.
Trinity’s full back, diminutive Wadood, just clearing 5feet was a mighty atom. He appeared to have been abandoned after the under 16s had played. To the wonderment of all he took the testing high balls with sure hands and withstood the hammering that followed and then astoundingly plunged right back into the blundering Royalists. He sized them up quickly with absolutely fearless eyes. They surrounded him and sought to pounce on him, bounce and pound him. They tried to strike him down and drag him around but “by the living God that made him, he was a better man” than any of them. Halique Wadood.
Royal having flattered, was eventually routed. It was a riot of Trinity colours swirling on the grounds as the Kandyan hills reverberated to the thunder of another Trinity victory.
With the long blast the Trinitians streamed on to the grounds and spread in front of the grand stand and beyond. They were pleasantly surprised to see the head of state himself, an unobtrusive visitor who had graced the match almost from the start. He must have enjoyed what must have been his first Bradby. The team under the direction of its Kiwi coach Nigel Foote performed what appeared to be a well rehearsed Maori war dance, the Haka.
The cheering and the singing reached a crescendo as first the chief guest CY Ching presented the Trinity under 18 captain JDJ Perera with the Simithraaratchy cup and then graciously requested HE the President to very kindly present the Bradby shield to a happy and proud skipper Kanil Seneviratne. The celebrations started. It is rumoured it only ended on the stadium grounds at 8pm and in Kandy town as dawn broke.
But for the majority including that uncomplaining 6 year old girl, it was a 1.5 km trudge along an unlit narrow road back to their vehicles parked on main Kandy- Kundasale road. It was worth it for Trinitians young and old who would have made it even to hell and back to savour this glorious victory. The Royalists amongst them may have wondered at this additional penance they had to undergo but they were surely proud and fortified that their team had given the combined Bradby and League champions a mortal scare for nearly 70 minutes of the game, before the deluge.
Article Written by Major General (Retired) Lalin Fernando
Photographs by Amandra Ratwatte
Published 6 years ago by Lalin Fernando