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THE ERA OF FRIENDLY RUGBY

By Courtesy of

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka)

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"Rugby 'Test'. Ceylon vs. England. At Longden Place on October 6 and 7 1971. Tickets: Rs. 5 (reserved seats under cover), Rs. 3 (reserved seats), Re.1/ (standing)." The response for the above advertisement published by the Ceylon RFU was so high, even before the arrival of the England team on October 5, 1971, it is said, almost all the reserved-seat tickets were soldout. The visit of the England Rugby team to Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) was an extension of their Far East tour. To celebrate its Centenary year, and also to fulfil the wishes of RFU President in getting all rugby playing nations involved in the Centenary Celebrations, the Rugby Football Union of England arranged a tour of the Far East in 1971 covering Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Ceylon. Who recalls our rugby Centenary was just eight years behind?

Upon their arrival at 10.35 a.m. on October 5, the Englishmen were accompanied to a hotel in Mt. Lavinia, where they held a press conference in the afternoon. Late in the evening they attended a Cocktail party at Westminister House, hosted by the High Commissioner for the U.K.. During the press conference Bob Weighill, manager of the England team explained the purpose of the tour and said "that the main idea of the Far East tour was to spread the gospel of rugby to all rugby playing countries" in the region.

Budge Rogers, a record cap holder for England was the skipper of the visiting team which had a good number of rugby internationals who were to become household names here in Sri Lanka. "Not since the British Lions played a game in Colombo in 1951 on their return home from New Zealand. Ceylon had the opportunity of witnessing such skilled exponents of the game" stated in a match preview, and added that "the Ceylon crowd can expect to see attractive attacking rugby as skilful and explosive runners like Rodney Webb and Jeremy Janion, the most feared wingers in England will turn out for today's match." Famous rugby correspondent Austin Daniel wrote: "This English XV seems to be the strongest yet to step onto Ceylon soil. With thumbs twitching and pulses racing, the Ceylonese people prepare to watch them in action."

For the first 'Test' the Ceylon team had Hadji Omar, Bumpy Jayasekera, Tyronne Holdenbottle, Kamal Ratnapala, Anton Benedict, Tony de Sylva, Gamini Udugama and E. 'Viper' Guneratne, Glen VanLangenberg and Randy Pietersz, M.A. Majeed, Jeff Rutnam (Capt.), Omar Sheriff, Reggie Bartholomeusz and Ronnie Schokman.

England 40 - Ceylon 11. That was the result of the first rugby 'Test' refereed by Major Chris Tyler, one of the nine referees on RFU referee A1 list. A rugby reporter wrote: "Ceylon fared much better than against the Bosuns way back in 1969 and they had the honour of leading against the English side early in the game. (Penalty by VanLangenberg.) They even scored a try against the powerful British side.(try by Majeed, converted by VanLangenberg)."

After the match the visitors attended an informal party at the CH & FC. On the day of the second 'Test' the Ceylon RFU hosted a farewell dinner party and also arranged a day-trip to Kandy on the following day, for the visitors.

As usual, the Ceylon RFU's official programme souvenir published to mark the occasion was a collector's delight. The compilation of the souvenir, as stated thereon "is the result of good hooking, much shoving and a great deal of rucking" by its editorial. It had messages from the Governor-General, Presidents of the CRFU and RFU, profiles of the tour party and the local team, action photographs of the visitors, tour itinerary, articles and advertisements etc. According to one of the advertisements, double room occupancy at a leading hotel in Hikkaduwa costs Rs.60; single occupancy Rs.40 with 'all rooms have baths attached.'

The publication also carried an important statement issued by the Ceylon RFU which drew attention on criticism levelled against them on ticket price. Titled "The cost of watching Rugby" it read: "On the 6th and 8th October, rugby fans will be able to watch an England XV including some of the best exponents of the game for very modest admission rates ranging from Rs.2/- to 5/- per person. It has been said that these rates are too high and the CRFU should be content with the lower rates applicable when, say, the Havelock SC and CR & FC play each other. For those who consider the rates too high we reproduce below the current cost of a seat ticket at Twickenham, England for an international rugby match:- A seat in the stands Rs.30, Standing on the terraces Rs.15, Car Park Rs.2, Souvenir programme Rs.2. The F.E.E.C. rate of exchange has been adopted in arriving at the above figures. The seats are hard, wooden and cold, whereas in Ceylon a cane bottomed chair is provided. Also, of course, you can park your car free in Ceylon! The Oxford and Cambridge XV is in Brazil at the time of these notes are being drafted and for one match 25,000 Brazilians have paid 35,000 pounds to watch them. This averages out at roughly Rs.28 per person. Therefore, rugby fans in Ceylon are extremely fortunate. It costs comparatively nothing to watch some of the finest exponents of the game of rugby football to play in Colombo and the writer does not know what all the fuss is over the Ceylon RFU’s admission rates!”

Even during the Bosuns tour in 1969, there were number of complaints appeared in the 'Letters to the Editor' columns and on sports pages criticizing 'high price of admission rates.' The ticket prices at the Bosuns' tour were Rs. 3 (reserved seat) & Re.1 (standing)!

For the second 'Test' there were four changes in the Ceylon team with D.M. Balasuriya, Daya Jayasundera, Bandula Wijesinghe and Darrel Wimalaratne replacing Jayasekera, Gunaratne, Majeed and Schokman respectively. During the match Holdenbottle was injured and was replaced by Jeyer Rodriguesz. The outcome of the match: "After an uncertain start England cut loose in relentless fashion to defeat Ceylon by 34 points to 6." Ceylon's tally was put up by Glen VanLangenberg who fired across two penalties signalled by referee Malcolm Wright.

Just a few days after the departure of the English ruggerites in came a rugby team from Zambia, Nchanga Rugby Football Club. Led by the scrum half Dick Astbury the team comprised entirely of Europeans employed in Zambia. Their first match on Sri Lanka soil against the SLRFU President's team (Led by Jeff Rutnam) was "Ceylon's third clash against an overseas side in the space of ten days". Nchanga's team manager Bill Pearce, who had a press interview on the Mount Lavinia beach, said: 'open rugby on hard grounds; that's the type to which we are accustomed."

Since the visit of the Bosuns in August 1969 up to the time of Nchanga Rugby club's match in Colombo (CRFU President's XV 18 - Nchanga RC 11) in October 1971, a total number of 23 matches against various foreign teams were played in Sri Lanka. Apart from Bo-suns and Nchanga RC, Joint Services XV - Singapore, Blackheath, Indian RFU, Singapore RFU and Paris Universite Club also visited Sri Lanka during that period. It was all arranged by the Ceylon Rugby Football Union!

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