From a special correspondent
Rugby at St Peter’s has been feared for the past decade or more as the school’s rugby team can produce winners and also cause surprises on the pitch.
They did just that last Friday (September 16) when they defeated giant killers and runners-up St Joseph’s in their traditional rugby clash against Rev Fr Basil Wiratunga Shield at Havelock Park in the League and President’s Trophy Knockout tournaments.
Victory for St Peter’s doesn’t seem particularly celebrating for outsiders who know little about rugby at the Bambalapitiya school this season. This team had only one win this season (Against Dharmaraja in the league) before beating Joes. The losses they suffered at the hands of many of their opponents made them “bleed” during the several months of training. where the boys were made to sweat and train in a professional coaching environment. Still, there was hope that they could keep their heads level all season without succumbing to the pressures building around them. Many believe this was possible because of the strong Christian background in which education and sports are practiced at this academic institute. Praying before a game and during the day has allowed the boys to keep the gray matter in the boys’ brains in a functioning mode; especially at a time when outsiders have given up hope on these rugby players.
As the league tournament drew to a close, the opportunity arose for the Peterites to book a spot among the quarterfinalists for the President’s Trophy knockout tournament as two top teams withdrew from the race. But then came the second blow for the team. This came in the form of trouble for fielding a player who was not eligible to represent the school in sports. There is speculation that Peterite’s rugby team is now at risk of being relegated to a lower segment of the tournament text season over whether this player, who has sparked some controversy, should be included in the side. However, the peterite authorities have dismissed all allegations made against this player.
The Peterite team was not weak and overcame most of their opponents during the league season, even drawing against Wesley and going down in the fight against S.Thomas’ College; The latter is a traditional friendly game. However, the team showed that they needed to work on the line-outs and even the players’ passing skills were not at the level of First XV rugby.
But in the game against the Joes there was a change in the team. The Peterites as a whole showed no mercy to their opponents when tackling and displayed the courage of a burglar when faced with obstacles. There were some casualties as a result, but the message was clear; The boys were in the mood for do or die.
The Peterites played good rugby at times but learned the hard way this season that other teams had made huge strides in the sport of rugby union (photos by Kamal Wanniarachchi).
It was their last chance to prove their existence in school rugby this season. They were surely on thin ice. A loss to the Joes meant circumstances swallowed them up. Coach Sanath Martis seemed to have worked on the defense. The Joes’ big man, this brute behemoth and regular match winner Navin Marasinghe found it hard to run at will. For him, it was like walking on a glue-streaked field. But still, the first half produced a brawl for the Peteries. The Josephians produced three attempts which came about through the efforts of Vihanga Randeepa, Vishika Fernando and Sachinthana Vidayanatha. The Peteriten responded with a penalty kick in the first half and, surprisingly, when both sides went into half-time, the mood in the Peteriten camp was not at all subdued.
The great martial artist and philosopher Bruce Lee once said that calm is a great weapon; especially during adversity. And Coach Martis had it and showed it. We don’t know what he said during the little chat with the guys from “Lemons”, but it definitely worked. Martis knows how important it is to make it through life after a struggle. He broadcasts the message that “nothing is easy until it is hard”. Except that it’s not all that easy for the players to please him even with the best performances. That performance from the boys probably brought tears to his eyes, but a keeper and coach of the caliber of Martis might not show it. He has both a soft and a hard side to his character, but when the soft side is shown in a flash-like moment of lightning, it’s beautiful. Only the vigilant could observe this.
The second half produced thunder. The game changed so dramatically and the Peterites came into play showing the attitude of a street smart. They scored their first try against the efforts of Pasindu Thakshila. The game was later stopped when the referee had to oversee the removal of an injured player and access to the substitutes’ field. Martis took the opportunity and was seen talking to the boys from the sidelines. He spelled out the boys “probably” to use a kick and chase tactic; probably felt the Joes would wither under the pressure of the high ball. Joes was never ready for that tactic. Sudesh Jayawickrema scored the first hit using this method after chasing a high kick that bounced into Joe’s ’22’. Next to score in a similar fashion was Yumeth Sihara. Petes took a 22-21 lead, but the Joes brought them back with a Ruchika Rodrigo penalty.
But Vindya De Mel struck a superb goal from 25 yards to seal the game just before the final whistle and hand the Peterites victory.
The Peteries desperately needed this win. Their rugby identity was on the line and the time leading up to next season would have been like a journey down a dark tunnel had they not won the Rev. Fr. Basil Wiratunga Shield and take it to where the other silverware is in the school’s trophy cabinet. They needed something to hold on to. The guys posed with the sign and indeed there were photos of smartphones for posterity with the sign in hand. But what really gave them something to hold on to was the self-esteem that came from a collective team effort and a memorable win.