Weekend Of Wonder As Havelocks Emerge New League Champs
HAVELOCK SC was not supposed to do this to the champions. Since heaven knows when,the Colombo club has been punch-bag to Kandy SC, pounded by hefty defeats season after season, twice by margins of hundred-plus points, in 1996 and 2000.
Ask when exactly did Havelock last betterKandy SC,and you get contradictory answers:the club’s recent newsletter recalls it as eleven years ago, in 2001, but vice president Roshan Deen and Thusitha Peiris, the club’s second coach, insist it was sixteen seasons ago, in 1995, (“when [Tongans] Waka and Taka played for us’’)– both dates being so far back in the pastanyway, exactness eludes memory.
Even in Havelock’s better seasons post-95/or (if you prefer to choose)2001, the margins were rarely close enough to suggest that Kandy SC were seriously challenged ever. Three weeks ago, though, in their first-round confrontation, just one try separated the two teams, but the popular view was that the game’s flow went so much the way of the technically-superior championsthat they didn’t look like finishing second best – and the slender margin separating the two was a distortion of truth.
“When a team is habitually beaten by another team as we have been by Kandy, a sense of inferiority gets entrenched, no matter how good a team you put out.It was that historical baggage that weighed us down (to defeat) in the first round game,” said Peiris
It was against that sort of backdrop Havelock approached their second-round confrontation against the champions, Saturday – clutching to such intangibles like home advantage, Colombo’s sweltering conditions and luck’s generosity, to nose out the champions. “We just wanted a win over Kandy – no matter by how much,” said Peiris. “But to score 50 points and win by a 31-point margin was, well, not something we expected even in our wildest dreams, nor, I am sure,was it a nightmare that Kandy believed would visit them. It was one of those inexplicable things that now and then happen in sport.”
Kandy SC benefactor Malik Samarawickrema’s explanation was more forthright. “Havelocksdeserved it; they beat us fair and square, something you can’t say the same about some other teams. The Havies had a bunch of virile young players, and it was the vibrancy they brought on to the field that made the difference,” said Samarawickrema. “What this defeat tells us is that it’s time we startrebuilding.”
Havelock’s collection of tries was twice more than Kandy SC’s tally of three on the day. It can’t, however, be claimed the home team’s level of perfection was twice as high as that of the champion’s. It was,after all, in only the last quarter thatthe game was irredeemably swept beyond the champions’ reach – this, after experiencing fruitful moments of their own– when they grabbed an early lead and then pulled back from a halftime deficit of 5/29 to 19/29 not long after resumption.
How the champions imploded and how the Havelock SC exploded in the final fifteen minutes defies description, much like trying to explain how fiction became fact.
That, however, wasn’t the only wonder of the week. On the next day, up in Nawalapitiya, another jaw-dropping spectacle unfolded asanother giant was hauled down to earth. A division debutante Upcountry Lions were supposed to enhance Navy’s aspirations for its first league title ever, meaning the sailors would bag a stack of tries against the newcomers and gather the points that would decisively put them ahead of rivals, Kandy SC and Havelock in the event the top three end up with an identical tally of wins – a very possible scenarioas at last week.
As things turned out, though, the Nawalapitiya club refused to bow before Navy’s reputation – or power. They showed remarkable bravery, spiritedness and adventurism to douse Navy’s fire and run out 46/38 winners. Apart from the Upcountry Lions’ admirable spunk, there’s another factorthat might’ve helped them play the role of giant-killers. The newcomers had frequently complained about sub-standard refereeing denying them their deserved rewards, and demanded competent referees be assigned for their games. Last Sunday, a foreign referee was assigned, and the debutantes flourished like never before – earning a win over a top-class opposition to lend credence to their instant promotion to A division competition,an out-of-nowhere elevation that many believed would not have been possible but for the help given by the Sport Minister, in whose electorate the club resides.
As well, the newcomers, notwithstanding the Sport Minister’s patronage, showed they weren’t the sort prepared to do any favours to the Rajapaksa-led team. Given the political connection between the two teams,it wasn’t impossible that friendly persuasion or otherwise might’ve been brought to bear on the debutantes to play soft against the sailors.This is conjecture, but not wild conjecture, given the many allegations made about the Navy using its political clout to get what they want.
But whatever suspicion harboured before the match, on the playing field the Upcountry Lions dispelled notions that it might do favours to the opposition. They played with an intensity of purpose that rather said, a win for them was just as desirable as it was for their opponents. And in the end, by turning the tables on the Navy, the Nawalapitiya team had unwittingly done Havelock SC a favour by presenting the league title a week in advance, rendering Havelock’s final second-round match, against Navy yesterday, inconsequential.
As if the conquest of the champions on Saturday wasn’t dizzying enough, to be proclaimed the next day the 2012 league champions, well, that drove Havelock insane with joy.
Then and there club officialsdecided they’re going to party, live band and all, Monday through Saturday, the day of their final league match, after which fireworks were to light up the night sky over Havelock Park. The celebrations won’t end there. On a day between the end of league and the beginning of the knockout competition, the team is to be driven round town in an open double-decker bus.
Havelock SC, the rugby community knows, don’t need any prompting to party, but partying for six straight nights, putting on a fireworks display and then parading the team in a double-decker is, well, has to be one for rugby’s record books.Those given to ways of conservatism might find the exuberant celebrations richer than rich cake, but then when the league prize has returned to the club house after 32 years, a bout of derangement is inescapable.
After all, Havelock’s league success is something the present generation of rugby followers has never known or seen – and those who last witnessed the feat, achieved by Angelo Wickremaratne’s all-conquering team of 1981, has passed from being 1/ young to old/ or 2/ middle-aged to approachingdotage or 3/ old age to eternity.
The Havelock’s return to glory, however, didn’t come with a wave of the wand. In 2010 it was eighth out eight in the league and a first-round casualty in the Plate knockout. Prolonging failure on the playing field wasn’t the only woe to contend with – the club was sealed by fiscal due to non-payment of municipality rates and taxes, and given the dire state of its finances, the club seemed a breath away from defunctness.
The part played by Asanga Seneviratne in taking Havelock SC from near-extinction to security has been dealt with in previous columns. Suffice it is to say that he wasn’t the sort of investor who put in the money and then sat back and waited and watched for the returns. “He was of course personallyinvolved in all of the infrastructure refurbishments.
Buthe knew that new structures would be mere ornaments without a team capable of winning the prizes,” said deputy coach, Peiris. “Hismain priority was to assemble a winning combination, and he personally scouted for our overseas signings and also had a say in the recruitment of local players – and is present at practices, time permitting. He is a hands-on investor ” – in other words, Havelock’s answer to Kandy SC’s Malik Samarawickrema, the moneybags rugby clubs need to bring home the trophies.
It is, so, not accidental that Havelock and Kandy SC should finish nos.1 and 2 in the league. The Navy wasn’t far behind – but with the Rajapaksa brand-name, the resources available to the sailors were never going to be wanting. Not surprising then that the 2012 league race was always between the three best-funded teams.
So where there was only one club in the race, now there are three. Havelock’s success can only spur the title ambitions of old enemy, CR, and the debutantes Upcountry Lions, having won qualification for the Cup competition can be expected to aim for bigger glory next season. The Police and the Army missed out the Cup event by a whisker. And only the Air Force and the CH never did make their presence felt. So, promise is high for the three-club race of the 2012 league expanding next season.
Things, it appears, are coming up roses for domestic rugby.