Probably the oldest rugby tournament in Asia the Clifford Cup which is also considered the most prestigious club rugby tournament in Sri Lanka began 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.
That was way back in 1911. Arrangements were made to play the match on August 26, but it was not to be as the venue the Race Course was not available on that particular day.
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.
Then the tournament was converted into a quadrangular with four teams, Low Country, Up Country, the Ceylonese and United Services fighting for supremacy.
In the first outing Kandy United Services beat All Ceylon by 25 points to 0. Once again competition was disturbed in 1938 due to the Second World War. In the year 1950 a new strategy was planned and worked out in the Island and this one and only rugby tournament was the blue ribbon of the country’s rugby and was introduced to clubs, for the first ever inter club championship in 1950. Thereafter year after year it created a tremendous enthusiasm among the spectators, drawing big crowds to watch the action thus creating friendly rivalry among the top contenders. The first winners were Havelock SC, led by Ian Labrooy. Similarly the Dimbulla C &AC comprising some of the top players in the country, maintained an unbeaten record at their home grounds Radella,
The teams that took part were Kandy Dimbulla , Dickoya, Uva Gymkhana Club, Kelani Valley Havelocks, CR & FC, and CH & FC.
In 1961 five ‘affiliated’ rugby clubs, Police, Army, University, Air Force and Navy from ‘B’ Division were invited to join the tournament and play against the ‘constituent clubs’, forming a thirteen team competition.
The format of the competition was also changed, whereby all 13 clubs had to play each other once on a home and away basis in alternate years and at the end of the league season the best eight teams competed in a knock-out tournament for the Clifford Cup.
In 1985 the rugby league competition was renamed the John Player “Gold Leaf” Rugby
championships and the SLRFU decided to award the Clifford Cup to the winners of a separate knock-out tournament, conducted among the ‘A’ Division Clubs, held at the end of the regular season.
In 1992 the Clifford Cup final was played in Kandy at Nittawella , It was after 45 years the cup final was played out of Colombo since 1957 and for the first time Kandy won the cup defeating Police by 22-9. That year both CR & FC and CH & FC boycotted the competition in protest. The Cup final, since 1992, has been held in Kandy with the exception in 2006 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 disturbance, in the following year the tournament was held once again.
Since 2006 the cup final was held continuously in Kandy until 2011.
Total wins - Kandy has won the Clifford Cup a record 19 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 SC due to dispute over the allocation of the ground and Navy SC as their members were called up for national service duty), the Cup was won by the CR & FC, and they have won it 14 times, including a tie with Dimbulla, Havelock 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 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.
This time the tournament is expected to he kicked off on 17th, 18th and 19th of February Quarterfinals and semifinals on 22nd 23rd and the final on 26th all in the month of February.