The Sunday Leader

2013/14 League: Navy Wasn’t The Only Winner

ANY reluctance to acknowledge Navy’s emergence as worthy rugby league champions would be churlish.Throughout the three-and-half-month-long ten-teamtournament, the sailors remained invincible, a feat unquestionably deserving of the title. But, of course, there won’t be a lack of critics and rivals who will, as they frequently didduring the competition, grouch about partiality shown to the sailors by the administration and local referees, without which, they’ll claim, a different team might’ve been champions.
These claims however were never seriously pursued, and so will have be considered as more rhetorical than real. And in the case of Navy rugby, rhetoric does have a field day – not least because all of the Rajapakse siblings represent it, the youngest, Rohita, as team leader.So, it’s easy to tag a political identity to the team– and then accuse it of being beneficiaries of political influence. But it has to be said that political influence alone doesn’t win league titles.If it does, the Navy should’ve been league champions since 2009, the year two elder Rajapakse siblings, Namal and Yoshita, first slipped on the Navy jersey.
Inevitably, so, political connotations are attached to Navy’s every move.Sure, the Navy isn’t a services team quite like the Army is, a team made up entirely of its own personnel, bar the lawfully-permitted two overseas players. The Navy, on the other hand, is laden with purchasers from other clubs, a method of recruitment that won’t earn inclusion in any book of ethics, but is nevertheless incorporated in the SLRFU’s statute book and taken advantage of by other clubs as well.Poaching of talent thus is fair game.
So, on the playing field, what is it that Navy had and its rivals didn’t to win the 2013/14 league title?  In a word: hunger – born from not having ever won the league title before. History records that its chief rivals, Kandy SC has won the league more times than any other team whilst Havelock SC, winners of the 1950 inaugural tournament and defending champion this season, ruled the roost 1960s through to the 80s.
This is not to say that the rivals’ frequent successes of the past might’ve made them less desirous of the title – not by a long shot. Rather, their ambition’s desire burnt just as brightly as the new champion’s, as borne out by the fiercely-fought encounters between the Navy and Kandy SC and Havelock SC this league season: The sailors won three of theircollective four encounters against the chief rivals by a single try; the margins: 3, 7 (against Havelock SC and 7 ( Kandy SC).
It is thus fair to conclude that Navy’s determination was just that bit sharper than its chief challengers – a determination driven by about a four-decade-long hunger for rugby’s most sought-after prize. The sailors graduated to the A division ranks in the mid-70s, and, but for a solitary appearance in a Knockout final, in 1976, they pretty much made up only the numbers; mere also-rans, if you like.
Not surprisingly, in those long barren years rugby didn’t enjoy the sort of high priority status given it now by the naval high command – and probably was one among other reasons why the Navy opted out of tournaments for a significant number of years during the quarter-century war. For obvious reasons the Armywere compelled out of tournament rugby the longest during the war years, and Air Force’s absence, perhaps, the least.
It isn’t accidental that Navy’s ascendency in rugby coincided with Yoshita’s first year with the force in 2009, the sailors’ first season since returning to competitions after the war.
Andin 2010 it announced its championship ambitions by inflicting on the then invincible champions, Kandy SC, their first defeat in more seasons than once can recollect. In 2011, the sailors achieved their best finish in the league, second to Kandy SC – and so the league title in 2012 was a realistic goal. But alas, the Navyinstead fell to third in 2012, behind Kandy SC and the Asanga Seneviratne-funded Havelock SC.
The Navy obviously saw danger ahead in their descent to no.3 after just a season at second. In other words they feared the flames of their championship ambition might be reduced to ember. So, ahead of the 2013/14 season, new purchases were made,determination and commitment redoubled– and the Navy were ready to give chase to their first ever league title.
And how: not only did they eventually win the league, but to have achieved it without conceding a single defeat in a 14-match campaign is remarkable, a feat that not many clubs have accomplished in the 64-year history of inter-club rugby.
That Navy achieved the rare feat this season is a reflection of its unbending resolve to attain what it had set out on achieving. The depth of the sailors’ resolve was first revealed in the fourth week of the 14-week league; when, for the first time, it overcame Kandy SC at Nittawela, inflicting on the hill capital club its first home defeat since 1999.
That epochal success made Navy’s win in the return against Kandy SC at Welisera all the more easier, given the sailors unbeaten home record against Kandy SC since 2010. Navy won 34/18, thus, overcoming Kandy twice in the same league season for the first time. That triumph assured Navy the title a week before the league’s end, but the gilt-edgedassurance didn’t lower their resolve for the inconsequential final league game last week. This time the sailors set sights on finishing as undefeated champions, and knew the defending champions, whosetitle hopesalthough irredeemable, was not going to roll over and die, especially with their undefeated home record this season to preserve.
It provided a furious battle, albeit for lesser gain, and again it was Navy’s unbending resolve that won the day. Not that the sailors undefeated record was seriouslythreatened by the Havelock SC, but the home team somehow managed to stay in touch of Navy’s lead. With some seven minutes remaining, and the Navy 20-8 in front, the defending champions had reduced a 14-point deficit to 7, or one converted try. And for a full five minutes, Havelock SC laid siege on Navy’s goal line – which by far was the game’s most intense passage of play, a no quarter asked and none given battle. That Navy were able to endure such a fierce and prolonged assault on their goal line explains why its’ defence had been the sturdiest of all– conceding 205 points in the season, as opposed to Kandy SC’s 216 and the Havelock’s 261.
Apart from Navy’s greater hunger for the title, another advantage it had over its chief rivals was in the closer blending of its four Fijian signings with the local players. Clearly, the superior skills of the Fijians were deployed in a manner so as to enhance the performance of local players. In other words, the foreigners were less visible in the Navy team’s play, something you can’t say the same about most other teams. Havelock SC’s foreigners, for instance, seemed to be playing the lead roles – and the local players, well, the extras.
The defending champions’ overbearing reliance on foreigners isn’t surprising given the fact that the responsibilities of the team coach too was assigned to one of the foreign players. That though is a story that’s inappropriate to dwell on whilst paying tribute to the new champions.
As we were saying, Navy’s winning-virtue was the effective blending of the Fijians with the locals. But that blending would not have been half as tellinghad the fitness level of the sailors been less than it was. The Fijians are famous for their free-flowing brand of rugby. Of course, just two Fijians don’t make a Fiji XV, but when the Navy duo initiated moves or made breaks, there were times when Navy gave us glimpses of the Fijian brand – the sailors’ following in swarms the Fijian ball-carrier, thanks to their superior fitness.
The presence of the Fijians converted the Navy to quite another team – not the one we know: all fire and brimstone, and intent to pummel the poise and scatter the wits of the opposition. Said simply, tackling was chief weapon in their armoury. The Fijians added the attacking flair. The upshot: an unbeatable outfit.
But the Navy was not the only winner; rugby itself was. The season was the most competitive seen in many years, with the title decided only in the penultimate week of the 14-week competition.
And that it produced a brand new champion speaks of a better future. The crowds might not been in the multitudes of the 60s through 90s, but at least the count of spectators were not in the 100s of the past decade or so, but in thousands. A continuation in the future of the 2013/14 season fare, — and a return to local rugby’s halcyon days won’t be far-off.

3 Comments for “2013/14 League: Navy Wasn’t The Only Winner”

  1. Yakamahathaya

    yes yes..

    not only navy, but referees and administrators were also grand winners! not to forget some bootlicking media personnel

  2. Rugger Fan

    Bootlicking media personnel like Samat and of course local referees and administrators

  3. Rugger Fan

    Not Navy ; Rajapakses are winners all the time

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