Clifford Cup Rugby
By Shamseer Jaleel
Kandy Sports Club is
the only outstation club to play rugby in the country for more than 100 years
and took their very first win in 1992 when they beat Police SC at
The oldest rugby tournament in Asia, the Clifford Cup commenced way back in 1911 and has been played continuously since 1950, having completed 79 seasons. In 1911, Lady Elizabeth Clifford (the wife of the then Acting Governor of Ceylon Sir Hugh Clifford) was interested in the annual rugby football fixture, Colombo versus Up Country, and expressed her wish that a match take place in Colombo on her birthday, 26 August, between teams representing the United Services and All Ceylon. This is how the beginning of this knock-out event commenced more than 100 years ago.
The Clifford Cup was awarded to the winner of a quadrangular tournament between four teams, mainly Low Country, Up Country, Ceylonese, and United Services. The competition then continued until 1938, when it was disrupted by the Second World War.
From 1950 onwards, the Clifford Cup was handled by Central Province Rugby Football Union (CPRFU). In 1985, the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) decided to award the Clifford Cup to the winners of a separate knock-out tournament, conducted amongst the ‘A’ Division Clubs, held at the end of the regular season.
In 1992, the Clifford Cup final was held in Kandy at the Nittawela Rugby Stadium, the first time the cup final was played outside of Colombo since 1957, as Kandy SC defeated Police SC 22-9. Kandy outfit was led by Maurice Joachim. In previous years, after the 1950s, when CPRFU organised the event, quarter-final encounters were played in the Central Hills; and then the semi-finals and finals were moved back to Colombo.
The Cup final has been held in Kandy since 1992, 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. The same issue occurred in 2019 when Kandy was not allowed to host their games at Nittawela and pulled out of the tournament.
In 2014, the Clifford Cup tournament was played in February/March, shifting from its traditional dates in the September/October period, resulting in no competition being played in 2013. Further, two events were postponed due to COVID-19.
Kandy Sports Club has won the Clifford Cup a record 21 times, including for 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 and 2019, 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 service duty in 2006). The Cup was then won by the CR&FC.
CR&FC have won it 14 times in total, including a tie with Dimbulla ACC; Havelock SC have won 13 times, including a tie with Police SC; Police SC 8 times with ties against Havelock SC and Army SC; CH&FC 7 times; Dimbulla A and CC twice, including a tie with CR&FC; Army SC twice with one tie with Police SC; whilst Air Force SC and Navy SC have only won the cup once. Havies are the defending champions, having accounted for the trophy in 2019 when Kandy withdrew from the event.
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