Rugby union in Sri Lanka

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Rugby union in Sri Lanka
SLvAUS v2.jpg
CountrySri Lanka
Governing body Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union
National team(s) Sri Lanka
First played1879
Registered players121,938 (total)
Club competitions
International competitions

Rugby union in Sri Lanka is mainly played at a semi-professional and recreational level. It is a popular team sport with a history dating back to 1879. In 2012, according to International Rugby Board figures, there were over 103,000 registered rugby union players in Sri Lanka, making it the second largest rugby-playing nation in Asia, behind Japan. [1]


More references

Governing body

The Sri Lankan Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) is the governing body in the country. The Sri Lankan Football Union (as Ceylon Rugby Football Union) was founded in 1908, [2] the first Rugby Union in Asia. The SLRFU joined the IRB in 1988. [3] In March 2011 the IRB stripped the SLRFU of full member status after it failed to conduct board elections in accordance with the By-Laws, [4] the SLRFU's full membership however was subsequently re-instated follows the successful completion of the Union’s Annual General Meeting and Board elections.


Early years: 1879-1945

Sri Lanka discovered the game of rugby at the same time as India, [3] and the first rugby club, the Colombo Football Club, was founded in Sri Lanka in 1879 (in 1896 the Colombo Football Club amalgamated with the Colombo Hockey Club to become the Colombo Hockey and Football Club). The first rugby match played between two selected teams occurred on 30 June that year between Colombo and a 'World' Team.

The first ever club game to be played was on 7 September 1880 between Dickoya MCC and Dimbulla ACC at Darawella, with Dickoya winning the game by 9 points to 3.

In 1885 E. H. Joseph became the first Ceylonese to represent an English School in Cricket and Rugby.

In 1891 rugby was introduced to the country's high schools by L. E. Blaze, [5] the first principal of Kingswood College, Kandy. [6] Kingswood played the first high school rugby match in the country against their hometown rivals Trinity College in 1906. The match resulted in a draw, 6-all. [7]

The nation's first 'national' match involved an All Ceylon team playing against the professional All Blacks (the New Zealand rugby league team) under rugby union rules on their 1907–1908 New Zealand rugby tour of Australia and Great Britain on 12 September 1907. The professional all blacks [8] won the match 33-6. [9] [10] The professional All Blacks only played upon being guaranteed a fee of 50 pounds, this resulted in English Rugby Football Union banning its member countries from playing representative matches in Ceylon.

As a result, in 1908 the Australia national rugby union team passed through the Port of Colombo on their way to England via the Suez Canal, without playing a game in Ceylon. The only solution to ensure matches against foreign teams during their brief stopovers at the Colombo was the formation of a National Rugby Union, affiliated to the English Rugby Football Union. On 10 August 1908 an historic meeting of the Ceylon Rugby Football Union (Ceylon RFU) was held at the Grand Orient Hotel in Colombo, with the representatives from Colombo HC & FC, Uva Gymkhana Club, Kelani Valley Club, Kandy Rovers, Dickoya Maskeliya Cricket Club and Dimbula Athletic & Cricket Club. H. B. T. Bourcher (the representative from Uva) was elected as the first president of the Union with J. G. Cruickshank elected honorary secretary. Boucher held the chairman's position until 1914 but Cruickshank resigned from the post in 1910.

On 20 August 1910, an exhibition rugby match was held between a team from the 2nd Leicestershire Regiment and a combined Ceylon team.

In 1922 the first rugby club to include Ceylonese players, Ceylonese Rugby & Football Club, was formed.

The country's first involvement in a rugby tournament was in 1926 when Ceylon RFU sent an all-Ceylon team (composed entirely of Europeans) to compete in the All India Rugby tournament (originally known as the Madras Presidency Rugby tournament) held in Madras. It was also the maiden overseas tour by a rugby team from Sri Lanka. In 1928 the team tied for the championship and in 1929, under the captaincy of J. D. Farquharson, they won it outright defeating Madras by 11 points to 8. [11] In 1932 they won the cup for the second time defeating Calcutta. [12] At the 1938 tournament the Ceylon RFU fielded two teams one wholly comprising Europeans and the other Ceylonese. The Ceylonese team making history, when in their first match they defeated a combined Planters team by 16 points to nil. The Ceylon RFU ceased participating in the competition in the late 1960s.

During this time the game of rugby flourished in Ceylon mainly due to the plantations companies’ enthusiasm and commitment to promote rugby in the country.

The 1930 (which the British Lions won 45–0) and the 1950 British Lions tour to New Zealand and Australia (again a loss 44–6), also played unofficial matches in Ceylon on their way home from tours of New Zealand and Australia. [3] [13]

1945 onwards

In the post-WWII period, S. Muthiah campaigned for the sports introduction into the national police service.

In 1938 the Western Australia Rugby Union sent a representative side to tour Ceylon, playing five matches against Up Country, Low Country, All Ceylon, Ceylonese and All Colombo. [14] The side won three out of their four matches (Low-Country 11-9, Up-Country 24-3, Ceylonese 16-6) losing to All Ceylon 12-3.

In 1953 an Australian Colts side toured Ceylon defeating Colombo 35–11, All-Ceylon 39-nil, Up-Country 32-3, the Barbarians 30–3 and All-Ceylon 11-3.

1955 the New Zealand Colts team toured the island winning against a combined Colombo team 35–5, Up Country 24-3, All Ceylon 35–nil and against the Barbarians, 33-nil.

In 1957 the Australian Colts team returned for a second tour beating Low-Country 14-9, Up-Country 43–nil, All-Ceylon 21-nil, the Barbarians 22-nil and All-Ceylon 37–3.

In 1959 a combined Oxford and Cambridge team competed against Colombo 41-nil, All-Ceylon 37-3, Up-Country 52-nil, the Barbarians 55-nil and 45–nil against All-Ceylon.

A British Joint Services (Far East) team in 1964 defeated Ceylon Services 16–5 and against a President’s XV 14-6. The British Joint Services returned in 1966 and again defeated Ceylon Services 39-nil and the President's XV 6-3.

The British Joint Services toured for a third time in 1968 beating All-Ceylon 14-12. That year a combined All-India team lost to All-Ceylon 18-19.

In 1968 four clubs sides were invited to participate in the All India Rugby Tournament, Havelock SC, Police SC, CH & FC and CR & FC against four Indian teams, Calcutta, Madras, Armenians and Maharashtra Police. C.R & FC were the eventual winners defeating Havelock SC by 8 points to 6 in the final.

In December 1973 the Ceylon RFU was renamed the Sri Lankan Rugby Football Union (SLRFU). The SLRFU was admitted into the IRB in 1988, as a member of the Asian Rugby Football Union. [3]

Recent events

Sri Lanka is considered one of the rugby's success stories, despite a modest win record on the international stage. Crowds of forty or fifty thousand have attended club games. [3] Sri Lanka's problems have been threefold: firstly, a lack of finance, secondly, third world infrastructure, and thirdly, the country has been war-torn for a number of years. [3]

Carlton Super Sevens

The Carlton Super Sevens series, a domestic club competition comprising two tournaments hosted on consecutive weekends, began in 2011. The series was contested by ten teams, representing the nine provinces of the country and the Jaffna region. Tournament events were hosted at various locations, including Kandy, Galle and Koggola, and the final leg of the series for each season was held in Colombo. Prominent players from around the world were contracted to join each local franchise to raise the standard of competition. [15] With the return of the Sri Lanka Sevens international tournament for 2015, the Carlton Super Sevens series ceased after the 2014 season.

Serendib Cup

In 2013, Colombo hosted the Serendib International Cup, a tournament for emerging nations which involved Sri Lanka as hosts and the Malagasy and Polish national teams. The competition was backed by the International Rugby Board and played over three match days at Colombo Racecourse between 26 October and 1 November, coinciding with the 2013 end-of-year rugby union tests. [16] [17] [18] There were plans to expand the Serendib International Cup in future years to include 16-24 teams, [19] but the tournament did not survive beyond the inaugural event.

Notable players

Notable Sri Lankan players include Len Saverimutto, who is the father of scrum half Christian Saverimutto, who was capped three times for Ireland in the 1995–96 season. [3] Mahesh Rodrigo was a dual international and represented Sri Lanka in the national cricket team; he was a scrum half, and captained the Ceylon XV.

National teams

National team in 2014 Sri Lanka National Rugby Union Team (A5N 20140510).jpeg
National team in 2014


Sri Lanka has yet to qualify for the Rugby World Cup, however the national team has enjoyed success in recent years, rising to 37th on the world rankings in 2015. [20]

The team is currently ranked fourth in Asia and competes in Division One of the Asian Five Nations. [21]

Sri Lanka also has a national sevens team, [22] which is ranked fourth in Asia. [23]


Although Sri Lanka's women have not yet played test match rugby, they have been playing international sevens rugby since 2003, with the team debuting at Hong Kong and reaching ninth place in the tournament. In 2005 the Sri Lanka women’s team won the Bowl final at the Asian Sevens held in Singapore. In 2013 and again in 2014 the team won the Plate final at the Asian Championships in Thailand (defeating Singapore, 17-5) and in Hong Kong (defeating Thailand, 19-14), the best results the team has achieved to date. – See: Current playing record

International competitions hosted

Sri Lanka currently hosts the Sri Lanka Sevens tournament but has previously held other international events. – See: Serendib International Cup

Sri Lanka Sevens

The Sri Lanka Sevens is an annual international rugby sevens competition that is currently (since 2015) played in Colombo at the Racecourse Sports Complex. The tournament was originally sponsored as the Singer Sri Lankan Airlines Rugby 7s from 1999 to 2008 and hosted in Kandy. It was rebranded as the Carlton Sri Lanka Sevens and moved to Colombo for 2009 and 2010 when the Carlton Sports Club – Tharunyata Hetak's sports wing – took over the running of the tournament in partnership with the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union. [24] From 2011 to 2014 it was transformed into a local club competition, the Carlton Super 7s, comprising two tournaments held on consecutive weekends. The international team format was revived for 2015 when the Sri Lanka Sevens tournament, now called the Colombo Sevens, was re-established and included as part of the Asian Sevens Series.

Domestic club competitions

The two top-level competitions for rugby union teams in Sri Lanka are the Dialog Rugby League and the Clifford Cup. Previously there was also a series for rugby sevens teams; held from 2011 until 2014. – See: Carlton Super Sevens

Dialog Rugby League

The major club competition in Sri Lanka is the Dialog Rugby League. It is currently sponsored by national telecommunications company, Dialog Axiata. The 'A' Division features nine teams, which compete on a home and away basis. The League Competition was sponsored by Caltex between 2000 and 2010. In 2006 the Navy SC withdrew from the competition, due to their members military commitments. The club rejoined the competition in 2009 with the Old Zahirians Sporting Club being forced to leave. In 2012 the competition was expanded with the inclusion of a team from Nawalapitiya, the Upcountry Lions, the following year a further team from Hambantota, the Hambantota Sharks was included. Both clubs only played in two seasons of the 'A' Division.

Division 'A' clubs
Former teams

Clifford Cup

The most prestigious club knockout tournament in Sri Lanka is the Clifford Cup. It commenced in 1911, as a competition between the mercantile executives in Colombo and planters in the hill country. The Clifford Cup was awarded by Lady Elizabeth Clifford, wife of the then Governor Sir Hugh Clifford. The competition has been played amongst eight clubs with 79 seasons played over 100 years.

School competitions

Schools Rugby League

Currently known as the 'Singer Schools Rugby League' it is the most hotly contested rugby tournament in Sri Lanka.(For more on schools rugby please click the link)

Schoolboy Rugby was introduced to the country by Louis Edmund Blaze to Kingswood College, Kandy. The first match was played between Kingswood College, Kandy and Trinity College, Kandy in 1906. There are also other traditional friendly matches which have been played over the years. (Eg-:Royal College, Colombo vs. Isipathana College for the Major Milroy Fernando trophy, S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia vs. St. Joseph's College, Colombo for the Lady Jayathilake Shield etc..)

The 2017 league champions were Royal College, Colombo, who defeated Trinity College, Kandy in the season decider.

Other tournaments

The other prominent Schools rugby tournaments include the Milo knockouts Presidents trophy and the Schools rugby 7s tournament, of which the 2017 winners were St. Joseph's College, Colombo and S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia respectively.

Major Teams

Division 1A Teams 2018
Division 1B Teams 2018

Bradby Shield

The blue ribbon rugby encounter in Sri Lanka is undoubtedly the annual contest between Royal College, Colombo and Trinity College, Kandy played for the prestigious Bradby Shield. [25]

Related Research Articles

The Sri Lanka national rugby union team has yet to make their debut at the Rugby World Cup. They have the longest tradition of organised club rugby in Asia, dating back to 1879, which was just 8 years after the founding of the world's first rugby union in England. They regularly compete in the Asian Five Nations tournament and are currently in Division I. In the 2010 tournament, they made it to the finals beating Chinese Taipei 37 to 7.

Cricket was introduced to Sri Lanka in the first quarter of the 19th century, following colonisation of the island by the British. The earliest known match was recorded in 1832 and the earliest first-class one in 1926. The national team has played Test cricket from 1982. The national team has achieved international success by winning the 1996 Cricket World Cup and the 2014 ICC World Twenty20. Cricket is played nationwide with Test venues in Colombo, Galle, Kandy and Moratuwa. The country's most notable players includes Aravinda De Silva, Arjuna Ranathunga, Rangana Herath, Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene, Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara and Chaminda Vaas. Administration and governance are performed by Sri Lanka Cricket, which was founded in July 1922 as the Ceylon Cricket Association (CCA). The main domestic competition is the Premier Trophy which attained first-class status in 1988.

Sri Lanka Sevens

The Sri Lanka Sevens is an annual international rugby sevens tournament held in Sri Lanka. Originally developed as the Singer Sri Lankan Airlines Rugby 7s, the event was founded in 1999 and has featured as a part of the Asian Sevens Series in past seasons.

Cricket is the most popular sport in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is one of the twelve nations that take part in test cricket and one of the six nations that has won a cricket world cup. Cricket is played at professional, semi-professional and recreational levels in the country and international cricket matches are watched with interest by a large proportion of the population.

Sport in Sri Lanka

Sport in Sri Lanka is a significant part of Sri Lankan culture. Although the Sports Ministry named volleyball the national sport, the most popular sport is Cricket. Rugby union is also popular. Other popular sports are water sports, badminton, athletics, football, basketball and tennis. Sri Lanka's schools and colleges regularly organize sports and athletics teams, competing on provincial and national levels.

The Central Province Rugby Football Union (CPRFU) is the governing body for rugby union in Central Province, Sri Lanka.

Kandy Sports Club (rugby)

Kandy Sports Club is a Division 'A' rugby union team, based in Kandy, Sri Lanka, competing in the Dialog Rugby League. The club has been the most successful Sri Lankan club in the Sri Lanka Rugby Championship, winning 18 league titles in the last twenty years, which is the most wins by any club since the expanded competition commenced in 1950. The club has also won twenty Clifford Cups and in the period between 1995 and 2012 the club did not lose a Clifford Cup title, although in 1998 there was no tournament and in 2006 the club withdrew from the tournament. Kandy SC had won the league title for a record nine consecutive years between 2000 and 2009.

Colombo Hockey and Football Club is a Division 'A' rugby union team based in Colombo, Sri Lanka that competes in the Dialog Rugby League in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka Navy Sports Club is a Division 'A' rugby union team based in Sri Lanka. It is the rugby union team of the Sri Lanka Navy Sports Club. In 2014 they won the Clifford Cup, for the first time, defeating Havelock Sports Club, 27–22 in the final. Navy SC also completed the 'Grand Double' by winning the Dialog Rugby League Championship with an undefeated season that same year.

Sri Lanka Army Sports Club is a Division 'A' rugby union team based in Sri Lanka that plays in the Dialog Rugby League in Sri Lanka. It is the rugby union team of the Sri Lanka Army Sports Club and was founded in 1963.

Sri Lanka Police Sports Club is a Division 'A' rugby union team based in Sri Lanka, competing in the Dialog Rugby League. It is the rugby union team of the Sri Lanka Police Sports Club.

Serendib International Cup

The Serendib International Cup was an international rugby union competition for emerging nations held in Sri Lanka in 2013. The Serendib Cup was contested by the hosts Sri Lanka and the Malagasy and Polish national rugby teams. The tournament was backed by the International Rugby Board and was played over three match days in Colombo between 26 October and 1 November, coinciding with the 2013 end-of-year rugby union tests.

Sri Lanka Rugby Championship

The Sri Lanka Rugby Championship, known as the Dialog Rugby League due to its sponsorship by Dialog Axiata, is the major national rugby union club competition, held between the top Division 'A' rugby sides, in Sri Lanka. The annual home and away competition, featuring eight Division 'A' teams, has been held since 1950. The competition has been held between November and February for the last three seasons. The first round of the tournament runs for seven weekends with the final match of the first round in early January, no games are played over the Christmas holiday period. The second round also runs for seven weekends, with the final match in the beginning of March.

The Clifford Cup is the most prestigious club rugby knockout tournament in Sri Lanka, and arguably the oldest rugby tournament in Asia. The Clifford Cup commenced in 1911 and has been played continuously since 1950, having completed 79 seasons. The tournament began as a competition between the mercantile executives in Colombo and planters in the hill country.

Up Country Lions

Up Country Lions were a Division 'A' rugby union team based in Sri Lanka, competing in the Dialog Rugby League.

Fazil Marija is a former rugby union player of Sri Lanka. Marija is known as one of Sri Lanka's finest rugby union players and one of Asia's best. He was the former captain of the Sri Lanka national rugby union team. Marija comes from a sporting family background, with at least 17 members through two generations having represented various Clubs, Services Teams and National Rugby teams during the past four decades. Marija hails from the hill capital Kandy.

Chethiya Wadugodapitiya Rugby player

Chethiya Wadugodapitiya is a Sri Lankan international rugby union player whose favoured position is at Flanker.

Nigel Ratwatte is a Sri Lankan rugby union player who is the current captain of Kandy SC in Dialog Rugby League. He has represented Sri Lanka in both Rugby 7s and 15s. His usual position is Full-back but due to his versatility, he often covers Fly-Half and Inside Centre.

The Dimbula Athletic and Cricket Club is a sporting club formed by British tea planters and founded in 1856. It is the oldest sporting club in Sri Lanka outside of Colombo, with activities including rugby, cricket, squash, billiards, snooker, tennis and badminton.

The 83rd Clifford Cup tournament was held between the 16 and 25 February 2018. The 2018 Clifford Cup took place after the conclusion of the regular season, with teams seeded based on their performance in the 2017-18 Dialog Rugby League season.


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Further reading