The Clifford Cup-club rugby’s richest prize | Daily News

The Clifford Cup-club rugby’s richest prize

The Clifford Cup is the most prestigious club rugby tournament in Sri Lanka, and arguably the oldest rugby tournament in Asia. The Clifford Cup commenced in 1911 when the ‘Cup’, was donated by Lady Elizabeth Clifford, the wife of the then British Governor of Ceylon Sir Hugh Clifford on her birthday which fell on August 26 to be awarded to the winners of the game between All Ceylon and Kandy United Services.

In the following year 1912 on September 2nd All Ceylon beat Kandy United Services by 8 points to nil. In 1913 Kandy United Services again beat All Ceylon 3-0.In 1914 the Army regiment from which many of the Kandy United Services players were drawn was transferred from Ceylon following the outbreak of World War I and the competition was suspended until 1926. The tournament was converted into a quadrangular with four teams, Low Country,Up Country, the Ceylonese and Kandy United Services fighting for supremacy. In the first outing Kandy United Services beat All Ceylon by 25 points to nil

The Clifford Cup game was suspended during the 1st World War and not restarted until 1926, when the Ceylonese first came into it. In 1926 Low Country beat Kandy United Services 14-3, 1927 Up-Country beat Ceylonese 11-8, 1928 Up-Country beat Ceylonese 15-1, 1929 Low Country beat United Services 23-3,1930 Low Country beat Ceylonese 14-3, 1931 Low Country beat Ceylonese 27-6,1932 Up-Country beat United Services 14-10, '1933 Up-Country beat Kandy United Services 20-3, 1934 Low Country beat Ceylonese 17-0, 1935 Up-Country beat Kandy United services 11-0, 1936 Low Country beat Kandy United Services 9-3, 1937 Up-Country beat Kandy United Services 25-0, 1938 Up-Country beat Ceylonese10-0, 1939 match was cancelled with the start of the 2nd World War, from 1939to 1950.

A new strategy was planned and worked out in the Island's one and only rugby tournament, the Clifford Cup Rugby tournament, which was the Blue Riband of the country's rugby and was introduced to clubs, for the first ever inter club championship in1950. Thereafter year after year it created a tremendous enthusiasm among the spectators, bringing surging crowds to watch the action and also thus creating healthy rivalry among the top contenders. In the inaugural year the tournament kicked off as a league competition. The first game was played on April 29 and the competition ended on July 29.

The curtain raiser was between CR & FC and Dickoya MCC. This game was kicked off at Darawella grounds. Dickoya MCC led by D.A. Cook beat CR & FC led by Archibald Perera, which game was refereed by J.M. Stewart. In the inaugural year, CH & FC had the honour of making the highest score of the season when they beat Dimbulla A & CC by 41 points to nil in Colombo.

The honour of being the first to win the Clifford Cup goes to those gallant set of ruggerites from Havelock town, Havelock SC, led by Ian Labrooy. They went through the tournament without having their try line crossed, similarly the Dimbulla A& CC comprising some of the top players in the country, maintained an unbeaten record on their home grounds, Radella, until the game against HavelockSC.

It is said that it was the best match ever to be witnessed at Radella. By virtue of their 13 points, two goals and a try to nil victory over the Dimbulla A & CC Havelock SC became the first inter club league champions and lifted the Clifford Cup. The teams that took part were Kandy SC, Dimbulla A & CC, Dickoya MCC, Uva Gymkhana Club, Kelani Valley, Havelock SC, CR & FC, and CH & FC. At the end of the tournament Havelock SC had gained 14 points – Played seven and won all. 2nd – CH & FC out of the seven games won six and lost one,3rd CR & FC , 4) Dimbulla A &CC, 5th Kandy SC, 6th Uva, 7th Dickoya MCC and 8th Uva Ghkhana Club and 9th KV. Some of the players who played in the inaugural year were – Havelock SC Ian Labrooy (Capt), B.S. Henricus, H. Aldons, F. Aldons, H.E.V. Metzelling, E.Aldons, S.B Pilapitiya, V. Kelly, A. Drieberg, R. Sourjah E. Mathaysz, I.Bartholomeusz, L.Ephraums, D. Ernest, D.K. Goonawardene.

The first Up-Country club to win the Clifford Cup was Dimbulla A & CC in 1953; they defeated the previous year’s cup holders, CR and FC 6-0. in 1959 Dimbulla A & CC shared the cup for the first time with CR & FC, the match ended in an 11-all draw. Kandy Sports Club made their first appearance in a Clifford Cup final in 1954, where they lost 21-5 to CR & FC and it took 42 years for Kandy to win, they won in 1992, that is the year for the first time Clifford Cup final was held in Kandy at Nittawela, and the first time the cup final was played outside Colombo since 1957, at which Kandy SC defeated Police SC, by 22-9. On that occasion both C R & FC and C H and FC boycotted the competition.

The Cup final, since 1992, has been held in Kandy with the exception being in 2006 when it was switched back to Colombo, resulting in Kandy SC withdrawing from that year's competition in protest. On that occasion the cup was won by C R & FC who defeated Havelock SC, 37-5. In 1998 the SLRFU decided to suspend the competition due to security concerns relating to the civil conflict However they resolved to restore the tournament in the following year.

Since 2006 the cup final was held continuously in Kandy until 2011 and today Kandy SC has won the Clifford Cup a record 21 times, including a consecutive period of ten years between 1995 and 2005 (the competition was not held in 1998) and six consecutive years between 2007 and 2012. In 2006 the Kandy Sports Club and Navy SC both withdrew from the tournament (Kandy due to dispute over the ground allocation and Navy as their members were called up for national duty), the Cup was won by the CR& FC, they have won it 14 times,including a tie with Dimbula A and CC, Havelock SC have also won 14 times including a draw with Police SC, Police SC eight times with draws against Havelock SC and Army SC, Colombo H & FC seven times, Dimbula A & CC twice including a draw with Ceylonese R & FC, Army SC twice with one draw with Police SC,whilst Air Force SC and Navy SC have only won the cup once.

Almost a little over four decades since that initiative in 1950 is history now, and what kind of changes we have seen in the tournament. Air Force team led by Jeff Ratnam stormed into the final in 1965, the Army team entered the final in 1962, the Police team's dramatic entry in1967 and Navy SCs sensational entry in 1976, after being promoted to the big league only in the previous year.