As a tribute to the rich heritage of rugby at Zahira College and their return to the top schools league, the writer who is domiciled in the USA and is a fan of Zahira’s brand of rugby has put together this dossier.
Zahira commenced rugby in 1924 and initially played with Royal and Trinity and then with St. Peter’s when they commenced rugby in 1932.
Zahira was the first team to defeat Trinity in Rugby, when they won 6-3 in 1932 (after 8 years) under A.H.A. Samad. That same year Zahira also beat Royal and St. Peter’s to be crowned unbeaten champions, for the first time in their history. Samad went onto play for Sri Lanka, during a time where majority of the players were Europeans.
Zahira also beat Trinity in 1936 (9-6), 1938 (11-6) and 1940 (6-3), which was four times before the war. Only St. Peter’s had beaten Trinity more times than Zahira before the war. Zahira had to give up rugby in 1943 when they lost their premises during World War II. Rugby recommenced in 1958 after 15 years with their encounters with their traditional rivals. Within a few years they stamped their authority once again in the early sixty’s.
The 1960’s and the early 1970’s
Zahira had very good sides and was within the top 3 teams during 1962-1964. Zahira were declared the league champions in 1962 after topping the league points table.
1962 – Zahira won all games except the game against STC, which they lost. STC lead the points table most of the season as they won all games except against Royal and Trinity which were drawn. However at the end of the season, Zahira had a better points aggregate and were declared league champions under Ibrahim “Tanker” Hamid and this team was coached by A.H.A Samad who captained the previous champion Zahira side from 1932. STC / Zahira game was one of the best games that season that attracted a huge crowd.
1963 – STC & Zahira were the top teams in 1963, and the Zahira vs. STC game was game of the season with the Thomian’s treating the Zahira game as a grudge battle, as they lost the league to Zahira. Zahira with a very strong team were expected to beat the Thomians but it was the Thomians that came out on top again. This happened to be the only game Zahira lost that season as Zahira again went onto win the other games. The Thomian’s topped the table and was declared the unofficial champions with Zahira taking the runners-up spot.
1964 – By this time Zahira and STC had become arch rivals and again this game became the most looked forward game this season. In front of a massive crowd, Zahira ended the Thomian’s unbeaten record that season with a convincing win. However both Zahira and STC went onto lose a couple of more games during the season and as a result the championship was a tussle between Royal, Trinity and St. Peter’s with Royal coming out on top. However, if Zahira had won one of the two matches they lost by the narrowest margins, they would have had another chance at being the champions.
Zahira continued to have good teams up through 1974 when they were able to beat S. Thomas’ in 1971 and drew with Royal in 1970 and was one of the traditional fixtures for Royal, Trinity, St. Peter’s and S. Thomas’. In 1974 Zahira was suspended and only restarted in the late 70’s. Since then, Zahira did not receive an annual fixture from these schools, and only played them intermittently. However, the traditional fixture with St. Peter’s remained through the late 90’s.
The last two decades
Looking at the last two decades 1998 was Zahira’s best year when they won all their matches during the season except for one, which was a close loss to a very good Thurstan side by 5-8. This Thurstan side had lost only one game that season to a star studded Isipathana side by a very small margin of 5-9. Once the knockouts commenced Thurstan took revenge from arch rival Isipathana when they beat them in rugby for the first time since 1964, in their semi-final as they reached the President’s trophy final for the second year in a row. Thurstan had lost in the 1997 knockout final to the unbeaten triple champion Isipathana side.
Meanwhile, Zahira also qualified for the knockout final in 1998 based on their impressive record that season. They thrashed Vidyartha 27-17 in their quarter final and then scraped through 15-13 vs. Wesley in the semi-finals to reach a knockout final for the first time in Zahira’s history. Wesley had a strong team that year and was fresh after having won the Blaze trophy vs. Kingswood. The stage was set for Zahira with another chance to topple the only team that beat them that year, Thurstan. This was also a golden opportunity to win a major rugby title after many years.
In an excellent game of rugby worthy of a final, Zahira beat Thurstan 11-9 in the final (one try and two penalties to three penalties) at the Sugathadasa Stadium. The scores were deadlocked 3 all at lemons.
The celebrations were however short lived as this win was overturned when the under 19 President’s Trophy was subsequently awarded to Thurstan College and Zahira College was suspended for one year from January 1 to December 31, 1999. A protest had been made by Thurstan against Zahira before the final and sent to SLSRFA, claiming that “three players from Zahira, who played in the tournament, did not qualify for the Advance Level as they had failed the Ordinary Level exam twice. As a result of this statement, SLSRFA had an inquiry and found Zahira guilty of the offence. Therefore SLSRFA suspended Zahira team for one year and in the process awarded the President’s trophy to Thurstan.
Zahira was back from the suspension only in 2000, and they had a chance at the 2002 ‘A’ Division title in many years playing against top teams including Royal, S. Thomas’, and St. Peter’s again. Zahira also qualified for the president’s trophy knockout tournament again but lost in the pre-quarter finals to Kingswood College.
In recent years after doing well in the lower divisions in the inter-school rugby tournaments Zahira got their next opportunity in the president’s trophy knockout tournament in 2016 reaching the quarter finals before losing to S. Thomas’. They have now qualified to play against the top teams in the A division in 2017 and we hope they can remain in the top division and rise again as they have a passionate crowd that support them.
Editor’s note – Lohit’s efforts are appreciated by ThePapare and he has gone to many lengths to collect this information. If there is any information contrary to this kindly inform us.