By Shamseer Jaleel
Club rugby league champions and defending Clifford Cup champions, Kandy will be firmly favoured to retain the Clifford Cup for the third consecutive year, having won the tournament on 19 previous occasions.
The oldest rugby tournament, the Clifford Cup was first presented in 1911 by Lady Elizabeth Clifford, wife of the then British Governor of Ceylon, Sir Hugh Clifford, on her birthday on 26 August to be awarded to the winners of the game between the Kandy United Services and All Ceylon teams.
The match was to be played on 26 August, but was not played on the said date due to the non-availability of grounds and later on took place on 2 September. Due to the outbreak of World War I, the competition was suspended until 1926. Then the tournament was converted into a quadrangular with four teams: Low Country, Up Country, the Ceylonese and United Services.
In the first outing, the Kandy United Services team beat the All Ceylon unit. Then once again the competition was disrupted in 1938 due to the Second World War.
In 1950, a new system was planned and the cup was introduced to a club tournament, where clubs such as Kandy Sports Club, Dimbulla A&CC, Dickoya MCC, Uva Gymkhana Club, Kelani Valley Club, Havelock Sports Club, CR&FC and CH&FC took part and Havelocks became the first champions.
In 1961, five ‘affiliated’ rugby clubs, Police, Army, University, Air Force and Navy from Division ‘B’ were invited to join the tournament and play against the ‘constituent clubs’, forming a 13-team competition. The format of the competition was also changed, whereby all 13 clubs had to play each other on a home-and-away basis in alternate years and at the end of the league season the best eight teams competed in a knockout tournament for the Clifford Cup.
In 1985, the rugby league competition was renamed the John Player ‘Gold Leaf’ Rugby Championships and the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union decided to award the Clifford Cup to the winners of a separate knockout tournament conducted among the ‘A’ Division Clubs, held at the end of the regular season.
Kandy Sports Club has won the Clifford Cup a record 19 times, including a consecutive period of 10 years between 1995 and 2005 (the competition was not held in 1998) and six consecutive years between 2007 and 2012.
In 2006, Kandy and Navy both withdrew from the tournament (Kandy due to dispute over the ground allocation and Navy as their members were called up for national service duty). CR&FC have won the competition 14 times, including a tie with Dimbulla ACC, Havelocks have won it 13 times, including a tie with Police, Police eight times with ties against Havelock and Army, CH&FC seven times, Dimbulla A&CC twice including a tie with CR&FC, Army twice with one tie with Police, while Air Force and Navy have only won the cup once.
Kandy vs. CH&FC in Nittawela
CR&FC vs. Air Force at the Racecourse grounds
Havelocks vs. Police at the Racecourse grounds
Navy vs. Army at Racecourse grounds
22 February in Nittawela
23 February at Racecourse grounds
Kandy become Dialog Rugby League 2016/17 champions
Kandy skipper Roshan Weerarathne received the Dialog Rugby League trophy from Minister of Sports Dayasiri Jayasekera and Dialog Axiata Plc Group Chief Executive Supun Weerasinghe.Dialog Axiata Plc Group Chief Marketing Officer Amali Nanayakkara and Sri Lanka Rugby Vice President Lasitha Gunaratne were also present - Pix by Indraratne Balasuriya.