Hena’kankanamage. A name impossible to pronounce at the first, or even second attempt. But anyone present at the Royal College Sports Complex on Saturday, won’t forget it in a hurry.

Henakananmge’s tryThough not the best game of rugby in terms of quality, they don’t come any tenser than that. S.Thomas’ on paper had the better side going into the fixture against arch rivals Royal, with many senior players and a fine balance between a good set of forwards and pace out wide. Naveen Hena’kankanamage had already registered a brace of tries coming into this game, which included a hat-trick against the Joes in the season opener. So I would have imagined that Royal would have done their homework and marked him. A lot easier said than done.

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I watched Royal play Wesley, and like most, thought they were fortunate to come out on the right side of the result. It was more a case of the ‘double blues’ failing to capitalize on the opportunities created rather than the Reid Avenue boys winning it. However, it has to be said that some attributes – the rolling maul, in particular, they execute this better than any other team in the country. Dushanth Lewke needs to take a bow. The maul was always going to be their main weapon, and come the Royal-Thomian, I expected Sanath Martis’ charges to do that all day and night. They did just that, and to perfection. What’s more, it almost paid off. Despite the injection of pace into the game of rugby union in recent times, it just goes to show that if you have a good set of forwards who can grind oppositions down, you will always be hard to beat.

Royal led 10-7 going into the break. The Thomians came back to snatch the lead, before the Royal ‘eight’ once again forced their counterparts into submission, mauling their way over the chalk. So, 15-14 it was going into the dying stages of the game. Unfortunately for the home side, their Full Back made a hash of the clearing kick by knocking-on, giving the Mount Lavinia boys one last bite at the cherry. The ball spat out of the ensuing scrum before Half Back De Silva somehow got the ball through the hands to Hena’kankanamage. The winger wrong footed his opposite number to dance down the touch line with just the Full Back in his way, whom he brushed off with consummate ease to go over. It was done.

Thomian triumphs over Royal in the oval shaped game are few, and they don’t come very often. As Shanaka Amarasinghe pointed out in a recent article, S.Thomas’ had won only thrice over the last two decades going into this year’s encounter. Not pretty reading for any Thomian.

This game really exposed the weaknesses of the Royal backline, especially in defense. Teams that lay in wait, such as Trinity, and Isipathana will take note of this. The Bradby is just over a fortnight away, and I’m certain there will be some tinkering done to the team between now and then.

So, the Thomian machine rumbles on, undefeated. Next stop is a visit to the hill capital, to take on the Lions, in their own den. I just watched Trinity dismantle what must be said was a pretty abject DS team at Longdon Place. Despite the frailties of the opposition, to pile on 60 plus points does not come easy. And in all fairness, they did so, in giving most of their replacements a fair deal of game time. I was pretty impressed with what I saw. More so with their three quarter line, than their forwards. They have a solid ball carrying inside Centre, and a back three with loads of gas. Coach Miller, seems to have really put them through the mill (no pun intended) during the off season. They are a dangerous side, and if you aimlessly kick away possession, they will hurt you. The Thomian-Trinity encounter for the De Saram shield promises to be a humdinger, with both sides going into the game undefeated. The winner will top the group going into the second round, with the points likely to be crucial, come the closing stages of the season.

Dushanth LewkeFor Wesley College, it was a classic case of third time lucky when they met St. Joseph’s. Speaking to Head Coach Jivan Goonetilleke (who is also my brother, in case you have been living under a rock), he was fairly philosophical after the game. “We played well and lost the previous two, played badly today and won”. How precious, a win against Royal, or Trinity would have been. But t’was not to be, and life and the rugby season must go on.

So, in group ‘A’, DSSC look certain to go down to the ‘Plate’. Accompany them to the drop looks very much likely to be the Josephians, after yesterday’s defeat. But there’s still a lot to be played, and strange things do happen in sport.

On the other side of the groupings, Isipathana are in red hot form, having notched up another 50 pointer. The Kingswoodians, the unfortunate recipients this time. The only reason I’m not getting too carried away with what they’ve achieved, is for the reason that they haven’t really been tested yet. Still, after losing as many as eleven players from last year’s team, credit must be given to their think tank, and set up. Their upcoming games against Science College, and St. Peter’s will prove to be the true litmus test.

St. Peter’s seem to have shrugged off the bitterness of losing to Science, after overcoming the Eagles in Kandy. The Antonians made the Bambalapitiya lads work very hard for this win. That will only serve the Petes well. I rate this team very highly. There is a fluency in their play. They have been unfortunate with some costly errors at crucial times which proved their undoing against Science. They will still have a big say on how things pan out come the business end of the tournament.

Science College RugbyScience College, are one of the best success stories in schools rugby. They seem to have a good set-up which sees a quality team churned out year after year. This is great for the sport. It is this batch of boys that won the Under 18 championship a couple of years ago. So, they will no doubt expect to be amongst the front runners this year. Looks very much like their encounter with Isipathana will determine who tops the group. Another mouthwatering prospect.

Unfortunately, all the Kandy schools in group ‘B’ seem to be struggling. It looks to be coming down to a tossup between St. Anthony’s, Dharmarajah, and Kingswood, for the final berth to advance to the next round of the ‘Cup’ championship.

The schools league today is ultra-competitive, which is good to see from a spectator standpoint. However, sometimes I get the impression that the competitive nature in schools game oversteps the mark. We have to bear in mind, that these are young school boys on the field. Winning is not everything. Rugby is one of the best lessons that will prepare them for greater battles to come in their adult lives. It certainly has done that for me. I just wish sometimes, that parents and spectators view it in the same light.