The festive season has barely come to an end and the general public is still half-hearted in the midst of the procedure of getting back to normalcy but for a set of gentlemen, the last thing on their mind could have been the New Year celebrations. While others stacked up their bellies with Kavum and Kokis, schools’ rugby coaches could have been busy finalizing tactics and working out strategies tirelessly for the School Rugby season is up on us.
If the importance of gently exerting into the thick of things with a marquee performance in the first week is a given, what can raise the bar even high is a St.Peter’s College vs St.Joseph’s College encounter for the 42nd Fr. Basil Wiratunga Memorial Shield. Familiar foes will meet in the curtain raiser of the Singer Inter-school under 20 Division I-Group A league 2012 today at St.Peter’s College grounds in Bambalapitiya.
St.Peter’s who finished 4th last year is skippered by Sri Lanka youth player Dhanushka Ranjan. Ranjan’s darting runs was a common business last year and in Dulaj Perera their place kicking is safe hands. On their day, St. Peter’s backline could cut open any forward line such is the velocity and creativity but as with last year, the lack of a strong front bulldozers compared to other packs can be their Achilles heel.
St.Peter’s Coach, Colin Denish who is the honeymoon period of his appointment as the head coach after functioning under Sanath Martis in previous years believes their forwards are much better off for the experience they gained last year. “Our strength is the backline. But the forwards know what is at stake and they are very eager to impress. We don’t want tto put unnecessary pressure on ourselves, we go match by match and we would like to consider ourselves as the underdogs during the season.”
“It’s our big match. St.Joseph’s is our archrivals. They want to take revenge from us and we know that. That’s why we are not taking them lightly.” Denish confirms they won’t resort to second gears.
Sunanda Fernando, St.Joseph’s coach outwardly seconds Denish’s fears. “We have high hopes. It won’t be easy-it never is against St.Peter’s. But we are really confident that we can win this year.” And that confidence is enhanced by a more balanced squad than last year. “Our gameplan last year was heavily centered towards our forwards. But our backs have come a long way and they have matured.”
St.Joseph’s is captained by the man-mountain Yohan Keyser and they are supposed to have a pack that weight in more than 700kgs. Ironically Keyser was the victim of injustice last year when referee atrociously sent him off which resulted in Peterites edging a thrilling match 23-17. Josephians are packed with sons of some renowned sportsmen of yesteryear. Shehan Bopearachchi, Tariq Salih, Yohan Keyser, Vishmitha Pieris, Chirath Peiris and Shamilka Kurumbulapitiya all witnesses of the heritage.
The inception of the series dates back to 1955 when the first encounter was held at Bambalapitiya which was won by the Peterites in an apparent sign of things to come. Joes finally ended the wait in 1958 but the shield that is in existence now came to life in 1968. It was initiated by the St.Peter’s old boys considering the services rendered by the Rector. Basil Wiratunga and to date Peterites have had the number of their counterparts in unerring precision.
They lead the tally by 29-8 with four draws in the intermittent periods (1969, 1980, 1992 and 2004). Josephians captained by Shiraz Fernando won the first match thanks to a splendid solo performance by Brian Obeysekara who scored three tries.
Peterites have been unconquerable for 13 years and in the unbeaten streak they have also acquired milestones as Ranuka Jayasinghe led 2007 side annihilated the opponents 101-5, the biggest margin of victory in the series.
If they have any layout to stop St.Peter’s in their tracks, the least St. Joseph’s could do is include a note of Laksitha Gunaratne’s 1999 side (who triumphed the 1999 match 27-3 and incidentally it was the highest victory margin in Josephian side of things) as they were the final musketeers to leave Peterites glum-faced.
St.Peter’s College- Dhanushka Ranjan (Captain), Chathuranga Mendis, Shenal Abeysekara, Niraj Gunasinghe, Saranga Dulan, Malith Magage, Ravindu Indrakumar, Anuradha Herath, Priyanath Perera, Ruchira Perera, Dulaj Perera, Dilanka Perera, Banuka Peiris, Krishan Anthony, Kevin Dixon.
Reserves- Hasindu Fernando, Udara Anjana, Imal Perera, Kavin Fernando, Royston Jansen, Shehan Fernando, Jeremy Canute, Praveen De Silva, Shaleen Direckze, Shenal Aponso, Colin Denish (Coach).
St.Joseph’s College- Yohan Keyser (Captain), Goshen Jackson, Taariq Salih, Reyan Fernando, Suchintha Udamalagedara, Jason Melder, Shehan Bopearachchi, Chirath Peiris, Shamilka Kurumbulapitiya, Rehan Thiyagaraja, Vishmitha Pieris, Kasun Mendis, Hasuru Gunawardena, Dinesh Lakshan, Janith Shanaka.
Reserves- Vishwa Fernando, Sheggonne De Soyza, Pasindu Manilka, Shasheen Sudharaka, Akitha Hendalage, Ishane Peitersz, Shivanka Thangiah, Shehan De Silva, Lahiru Randeniya, Shenal Algama, Steffan Gregory, Sunanda Fernando (Coach).