For a platoon of young men, June 11, 2011 is best left forgotten. Up to that point, they had not known the name of defeat and past that inauspicious evening at their home ground, that was to be the only occurrence where they knew about it till the end of the season. The second leg of the Bradby stymied what could have been one of the most success laden seasons for Royal into being the unbeaten league champions.
En route to the League unconquered is a memorable chapter in itself but the surrendering of the shield in the most sought after Rugby tussle in the country would have at the aftermath instilled the doggedness to this year’s squad that there’s unfinished business to be take care of.
“Our main goal is to win the Bradby. Saying that, we are not going to do the mistake of focusing on that and lose sight of present. We’ll take every match as it comes. For example, whether it’s D.S, Science or Peter’s each game has its challenges. You have to treat every opponent with equal respect. To beat Trinity or any other team, you have to do the same things properly. Building up to the shield with winning momentum won’t do us any harm” says the new coach Bilal Yusuf.
Yusuf is no stranger to ‘invincible’ outfits as he was the assistant coach when Royal won the league in 2009 under Naren Dhason sweeping all and sundry infront of them. Posed whether they have everything to lose this year he’s determined to keep the foot on the ground.
“Even though you say that, i would say we have more to gain. We lost the most important game of the season-the second leg of Bradby. Probably for most of the Royalists that would have been the match that hurt the most because they value the shield very much. Talking about defending champions, it’s in the past now. This is a new season and you have to win it again. “
Royal is one of the first institutions in the country to try their luck in Rugby Union and unsurprisingly it was against Trinity their lineage of the sport began in 1920. It took 21 years for Royal to get the better of ‘Lions’ and from 1945 onwards the encounter was named ‘Bradby Shield’ in memory of Royal College principal E.L Bradby who put the idea on the table. The two-legged series has progressed uninterrupted since and is known to be one of the oldest matches of its kind in the world. Royal plays quite a number of annual fixtures for trophies with schools of old Rugby heritage.
They started the season with a relatively routine victory over D.S Senanayake and Yusuf’s notebook during the match has had some pages rolled it seems. ”There are lot of areas that need polishing. It was the first game of the season so it was bound to be a learning curve as to where we are. Our first half performance was decent but we faded a bit in the second half. That is something we need to focus on, getting consistent 80 minutes of Rugby to flourish.”
What set Royal apart from others last season was their will power as they edged matches and conjured miraculous comebacks. St. Joseph’s, Wesley and Isipathana games all went to wire and they had to foster a stirring comeback against St. Thomas to retain the Michael Gunaratne trophy before clinching the title in another action-packed match against Science in the last day.
The team is led by one of the players of the last season, Arshad Jamaldeen, whose place kicking was a thing of beauty. Bulky try hungry prop Eroshan De Alwis is his deputy and they will be ably supported by the likes of Lahiru Pavithra, Wasim Bawa, Ijaaz Bohoran, Damien Ratwatte, Rimze Jamaldeen, Malaka Ihalagedara and Azman Khan-all part of last year’s squad.
“We got a fairly experienced squad. Of course it’s minus last year’s captain Shehan Pathirana who was such an influential figure in the success of Royal Rugby. So the onus is on the other old hands to step up.” Yusuf says.
Who are the players to look out for? “I don’t like to do that because i want the same level of effort from every member of the squad. The danger is to over rely on a particular individual and if he goes down with an injury; the team is going to suffer. Potentially we are a very capable side and it’s a matter of expressing ourselves on the field.”
“Personally what I’m striving for is to bring the best out of the squad we got. The boys have worked hard in both the off and pre season. If we do that the results will take care of it selves.”
League is anybody’s game as it stands but a grounded Champion provides its own mystique.
Royal College Squad:
Arshad Jamaldeen (Captain), Eroshan De Alwis (Vice Captain), Kavin Perera, Lahiru Pavithra, Shuayb Muthalip, Ashan Perera, Andrew Siriwardena, Yasoon Weerasuriya, Madusha Kularathne, Ravishan Dassanayake, Devin De silva, Damien Ratwatte, Ijaaz Bohoran, Nimshan Jayawardena, Rimze Jamaldeen.
Malaka Ihalagedara, Azman Khan, Wasim Bawa, Nipun Weerasinghe, Sachin Vihanga, Sachin Unamboowa, Ashan Bandara, Anjana Hudahetty, Priyesh Perera, Nevaan Perera, Rukshan de Alwis, Shahid Bahudeen, Praveen Dambawinne, Jayasanka Hinduranwala, Dinesh Palitharatne, Dineth Karunarathne, Sahan Ferdinando, Pasindu Perera, Shuhaib Jabbar, Udesh Udawatte, Banuka Gamage.
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