The Battle of the Forwards – 2018-19

How a set of players united to win their playing rights!

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If history books have taught us anything, it is that when there is discrimination to one or a set of individuals of society, there is always a fight back.

When the Union shut its door on the national fifteens program last year citing financial reasons, it left the hopes and aspirations of an untiring set of individuals to waste.

2016 was the tour for the Tuskers in the fifteens

When the decision was taken that there will be no fifteens national tour, the voices of the parties that were involved were not taken into consideration, nor was the effort that each of these individuals had put in to that day.

Every player who plays for their respective school, yearns to someday wear club colours but an even deep yearning exists: to pull on the national jersey and wear that Tusker on their chests.

For Sachith Silva, his dream of representing the country was a reality this 2019 Asia Division I Championship

But the call to put a hold on the national fifteens tour for was met with dissent in the rugby community as it left some of the playing fraternity in the lurch, with nowhere to go.

If you’re a forward, wearing a national jersey depends solely on the XVs setup. For many, this was something that they had worked for all their lives.

Defying the odds, in the aftermath of the 2018 season, there comes a coalition, a coup to overrule the 2018 verdict. A group of senior players were forming their own brigades in their respective commandments. It was a national cause and everyone was ready to play their role.

Pathirana and his forwards led the charge for Kandy

In the hills, where the League and Clifford were collecting moss, was the 6 footer Shehan Pathirana rallying his comrades. He finds fitting recruits in the boisterous ‘Buwa’ Udangamuwa, Tharindu Chaturanga and a series of veterans who join the common cause.

Dushmantha picks the tall powerhouse Sharo as his wingman as they start to build a new era of forwards domination in the Pink jersey

Elsewhere, in the house of Havelock, a different storm is brewing. Keeping the rebellion aside, the possibilities of making a XV looked very slim.

In comes Dushmantha Bodhiwatte. Dushmantha had been the country’s first-choice #1 for a while and when his 2018 jersey didn’t come, he knew he had to do something.

Dushmantha picks the tall powerhouse Sharo as his wingman as they start to build a new era of forwards domination in the Pink jersey.

The heat built up in Welisara too, the De Silva’s, Kasun and Charith were busy recruiting and grooming their divisions.

New hope was being born at the Gymkhana club CH&FC, they were preparing for something big. Big names from all parts of the country were coming together in coalition and it was former national sevens captain Sudarshana Muthuthanthri who was entrusted with the responsibility of leading them all.

At Longdon Place it was Omalka Gunarathane, Joel Perera and Shehaan Dias who contributed to the cause.

Names of Sathya, Niwanka and Prasath headlined the charge from the Racecourse.

The time finally arrived. It was the third week of the Dialog Rugby League. Everyone waited for the right time to strike.  It was the start of Christmas festivities.

The CR & FC team arrived in Kandy. Kandy over the years have had their reputation to be that star-studded backline but things were different this time.

Way different.

From the kick-off whistle, it was the Kandy forwards who were let loose. Returning to the field, Buwaneka Udangamuwa steamrolled every single CR player out of Nittawela.  

At the back of that scrum was Shehan Pathirana, leading the forwards’ charge as Kandy seemed to take the entire Nittawela by surprise.

The number 8 crashed through CR’s gates right out.  He ended up scoring a hat-trick and in a lapse of 80 minutes, the Pathirana led revolt has seen success.

It was the start of the rebellion to prove the Union’s decision wrong.

Up in Havelock Town, the Pink jerseys had survived two early scares. The Pink Jerseys have been the forward dominant team all throughout history but this year was going to be special.

They were fighting for a cause. A cause to prove that the Park club is still a heavyweight, despite the exodus of many experienced players.

Carrying the weight of the club, Dushmantha molds the next generation. He has his life-long mate Flatney in the front row and a new #2.

Having played as substitute hooker all this time, young Azmeer Fajudeen had been finally given the #2 jersey meaning he would now be Havelock’s newest cog.

A huge responsibility lay on Fajudeen but the youngster was confident of facing the challenge with success.

With the likes of Flatney and Bodhi binding alongside him, he just has to look left and right for inspiration.

Behind him is the tattooed superman; Sharo. When the club lost its players, it was Sharo who stood his ground to fight for the cause. Around him are Lasindu, Madushan and Senal; a new flock of players who are eagerly waiting to make a name for themselves.

This forward pack exceeded expectations from the beginning and went beyond what anyone could have forseen. In matches where Havies were given zero chance of winning, a set of big boys defied their critics.

Havies mauled, pushed and scrummed like their lives depended on it. And they won! From a team that stood no chance at any point, Havelock Sports Club brought in their best this year and took out every single opponent.

The final Havelock battle was the only one they didn’t win. Going down to Kandy, but the team will content with their performance as what they achieved together outweighed any silverware.

What Havelock achieved as a team will outweigh any silverware

The Soldiers made their contribution in this fight as well. They put their bodies on the line on the rugby field this time and for the first time the Soldiers conquered the hills of Kandy.

The Army pack, led by Flanker Upul Abeyrathne were a well drilled 8 man-outfit, the fittest of the battalions. They made their efforts worthwhile and were responsible for bringing new life to the Dialog Rugby League, opening up the playing field.

Shehan Pathirana knew he had to finish off what he started off with his mate Buwaneka Udangamuwa in Nittawela. With no Udangamuwa by his side at the end of the campaign, he found replacements to finish it off.

A happy ending for Kandy after 16 weeks

In the final battle against Havelock, Kandy’s eight held their nerve to keep the trophy in the hill country.

Looking at the compelling efforts from all sides, Sri Lanka Rugby made an announcement; an announcement that the fifteens program will be reinstated.

The revolt had been successful.

The Sri Lanka national fifteens squad departed the island last night(25th) for the Asia Division I Championship in Chinese Taipei under the leadership of Omalka Gunarathane

Figure 2The Sri Lanka National Fifteens Squad

In the midst of the battle, it is disappointing to note that the ones who were at the forefront of the chare of the forwards didn’t make it into the final squad.

Dushmantha Priyadarshana ‘Bodhi’ had to be stretchered off a week into the final week of the league and medical staff ruled him out for the next six months.

The fierce commander of Kandy, Buwaneka Udangamuwa didn’t survive the fight either.

The leader from Kandy, Shehan Pathirana, carrying injury, made sure that his presence was felt in the Kandy side until the end. He too did not make the national jersey.

In end-May, Sri Lanka will be touring Chinese Taipei for the championship and as these trio and a lot of other people who didn’t make the side tune in to watch the Tuskers in action, they will know that their efforts were well worth it.