Scotland to Sri Lanka: the spread of Sevens

1999 Singer Sri Lankan Sevens
2011 Carlton Super Sevens

The list may be subject to change if more rugby union sevens tournaments are discovered.

Sri Lanka and the British empire

It should come as no surprise that Sri Lanka’s links to rugby union date back to the days of the British Empire, when the country was instead known as Ceylon before its independence.

A Scotsman from Kincardineshire, James Taylor (born 29th of May 1835 – died 2 May 1892), arrived in Sri Lanka in 1852. At this time the economy of the country was more geared to coffee. Taylor began the country’s first tea estate in 1867. This was the 19 acre Loolecondera Estate at Kandy. When a fungus damaged Sri Lanka’s coffee crops in 1869, Taylor was in prime position to benefit with his tea estate. This attracted other Scots to take up as tea planters there, later notably Thomas Lipton from Glasgow (Taylor and Lipton met in the 1890s and discussed the export of tea), and Sri Lanka became the largest exporter of tea in the world. The planters of these estates formed a rugby club Upcountry to play against the Colombo Football Club.

There are a huge amount of names now in Sri Lanka which derive from Scottish place names, as the Scottish tea planters named their estates from their home towns in Scotland. There are also a number of places in Colombo also named after Scottish places, due to the influence of the 2nd Governor of Ceylon, Thomas Maitland. Maitland was the son of the Earl of Lauderdale.

The Sri Lanka government nationalised the tea industry in 1971.

History or rugby union in Sri Lanka

The first rugby union side in Sri Lanka was the Colombo Football Club which was founded in 1879 and they played a ‘world’ team on 30 June that year. The Upcountry rugby club was formed that same year. Two other sports club set up rugby union branches the following year (1880): these were the Dickoya Maskeliya Cricket Club [originally formed 1868] and the Dimbula Athletic and Cricket Club [originally formed 1856].

Twentieth century impressions of Ceylon.

In 1879, the Colombo side played its first match with their rivals, the Upcountry side, and they played that match at Kandy on 27 September. The Field newspaper called the Scottish planters that formed the Upcountry rugby side to play against Colombo rugby club a ‘gathering of the clans’; and noted that after the match they sang ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

From the Field newspaper of 25 October 1879:

Football in Ceylon — Yes. my English reader, you may look astonished, but it is an undoubted fact that they play football in Ceylon. Rugby Union rules with the thermometer ranging from 80 degrees Fahrenheit to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Colombo Football Club was started early this year, and numbers about thirty members, and once or twice a week in the evenings, all of Colombo turns out to witness the games which are contested with a spirit which would be more than creditable in the Old Country.
In Ceylon there is always a spirit of friendly rivalry between the Upcountry planters and Colombo, and no sooner was it noised abroad that the latter had a football club than there was a gathering of the clans in the different planting districts and a team was raised and sent down to play Colombo on their own ground.
The match resulted in the favour of Colombo by a goal and three tries. Not content with this, Upcountry challenged Colombo to play them in a return match in the more than beautiful little town of Kandy, which was eagerly accepted, and accordingly on the morning of Saturday, the 27th of September, the Colombo team left that city, and after a run by rail through seventy-two miles of perhaps the most perfect scenery of its sort in the world, up the celebrated incline, reached Kandy at eleven a.m.
Driving to the Queen’s Hotel, they received a welcome which you must come to Ceylon to see, and then a hearty breakfast was enjoyed together.
The match was played in the evening on the military parade ground which was kindly placed at the disposal of the clubs by our popular regiment, the 2nd Royal Madras Fusiliers; and there, at five p. m., were assembled all the elite of Kandy, and a large concourse of natives and soldiers, whose respective yells and cheers throughout the game testified to the interest they took in it.
Preliminaries were quickly settled, the Upcountry team having choice of goal, and Colombo kick off. At a few minutes past five the ball was launched into mid-air by Vandespar; it however was immediately brought into neutral ground, and for some five minutes scrimmage succeeded scrimmage.
It wan soon evident that the Upcountry had far the heavier lot and, notwithstanding the persistent efforts of the Colombo forwards, they were forced back into close proximity to their goal. Ogvilie for Upcountry, then got hold of the ball and running in, made a touch down for them. The goal was entrusted to Lewis, of Cambridge fame, to kick; but it was very hard one, and failed.
Vandespar now made a grand run for Colombo, and was collared close to the opposition goal. Eastly then got hold of it, and brought it right down again into Colombo’s quarters; and soon after another touch down was obtained for Upcountry by Bailey, but again failed to score.
Colombo, who had more practice than their heavier opponents and were working well together, now drove the bell into neutral ground, where some very fast play took place until half time was called. On changing goals, the game became very fast and furious, the backs on both sides working splendidly, but without result, until, within five minutes of time, Fasson dropped a goal for Upcountry in splendid style.
Nothing eventful occurred till time was called. Upcountry thus winning the game by one goal and two tries to nothing, after a most exciting and well fought game.
The two teams then retired to the pretty little Kandy Club, where brandy and sodas, iced bass and Heidseick Dry Monopole disappeared in an alarming manner. At eight o’clock they dined together at the town hall, where a sumptuous repast was indulged in, and the health of the Colombo and Upcountry teams, coupled with the names of their popular captains—Messrs Tatham and Macartney— were proposed and responded to in a manner which baffles description.
Songs were the order of the evening. and it was not till long after the “witching hour of night” that the party broke up to the ringing strains of “Auld Lang Syne” and thus ended a day will long be remembered in the annals of football in Ceylon.
Colombo – Bourchier (full back), Vandespar, Bradhurst (three-quarter backs), Liesching, Dean (quarter backs), Tatham, Davies, Plaxton, Townsend, Vane, Robins, Turner, Robertson, Weston, Galton (forwards).
Upcountry – Gaye (full back), Lewis, Farquharson (half backs), Verelst, Fasson (quarter backs), Marshall, Menzies, Macartney, Bailey, Spence, Ogilvie, Reims, Metcalfe, Dyer, Eastly (forwards).

The Ceylon Rugby Union was founded in 1908.

Singer Sir Lankan Sevens

This was an tournament for international teams. It was originally planned as a 125th anniversary event for the Kandy Sports Club. It had various sponsors, notably Singer.

Carlton Super Sevens

In 2011, this tournament featured 10 Sri Lankan sides: 9 provinces of Sri Lanka plus the Jaffna region.


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