By LAWRENCE HEYN
There is a saying: an apple does not fall far from the tree. In this instance, three “apples” fell close to the tree – the Paternott family tree that is. In very much a case of like father, like sons, Norman Paternott, and his three boys Aubrey, Rodney and Hamish left a rich legacy as outstanding sportsmen at St Peter’s College, Bambalapitiya.
This sporting heritage spans more than four decades, from dad Norman in 1929 to the youngest son Hamish in 1970. Each left an indelible mark on the sporting field but this story, in particular, is about Rodney – triple coloursman, cricketer, ruggerite, athletics record holder, coach and international rugby referee, and all-round nice guy.
The saga, however, begins in 1929 when Norman’s name was written in the history books as the first Peterite cricket captain. As a precursor of what was to follow in the 1960s, Norman and his brother Vyvil played in the first team – Norman a fiery opening bowler and Vyvil an opening batsman. History was then repeated when Aubrey and Rodney came together in 1965 and were part of the team that pulled off a famous victory over St Joseph’s in the 32nd Battle of the Saints at Bambalapitiya.
Rodney, who had turned 15 the previous December 24th, played a crucial hand in that match when he partnered Tony Opatha to put on 53 runs for the ninth wicket, lifting St Peter’s from 8 for 148 to 201 and to a lead of 71 over the Josephians, who were bowled out for 130 in their first innings. Skipper Travice Fernando then ran through St Joseph’s batting with some fine left-arm bowling, dismissing the Maradana team for 164 and claiming a match-bag of 11 for 99. The Peterites began their victory chase of 94 runs at a gallop, with opener Darrel Wimalaratne smacking the first ball he faced into the upper tier of the pavilion; the ball landing at the feet of the invited guests. To me, it was a magical moment and 51 years later I still have the vision of the ultra-talented Wimalaratne hooking that ball for six – and chills of pleasure travel up my spine.
For Rodney too, the match was special. He had shared a moment of triumph with brother Aubrey (31 not out) who hit the winning run. He remembers that thrilling match fondly: “That was a great year for us, Travice was my first captain. You know, the funny thing is that I did not know it was a partnership with Tony (Opatha) until it was broken recently. I am glad I did not have to bat in the run chase, Aubrey was batting until the end.”
A poignant moment is captured for eternity in a photograph of a proud Norman with Aubrey and Rodney after the match.
Rodney tasted another big match triumph in 1967 when the Peterites, captained by Opatha, clinched a tense victory – the match being awarded to St Peter’s after spectators invaded the field when the scores were tied. It was an amazing turnaround by the Peterites who were bowled out for 81 in the first innings, handing the Joes a lead of 61. However, paceman Opatha and spinner Denham Juriansz combined to restrict the Joes to 102 in their second innings. Chasing 164, St Peter’s thrived on top-order contributions and were 8 for 163 when the match was halted because of the crowd disturbance.
In 1968, another page in the Joe-Pete history book was written when Rodney captained the First XI side and younger brother Hamish made his debut in the team. A rare instance when different combinations of brothers from the same family trod the same turf. This year, also saw the emergence of the classy Roy Dias, who was called up from the under-16 team.
Rodney looks on the emergence of Roy as a star international player with affection: “He was gutsy at that age; always very steady in his defence and very, very straight. People around the world know how technically correct he was. I think it was due to the good work of Ian Lappen and the coaches of that time. Roy came here with the national side and when he met Hamish he asked him ‘Where’s Rodney? I want to see him, he’s my guru’.”
Cricket played a big part in Rodney’s development as a sportsman. He says: “My grandfather, Herbert, my dad’s dad, was a great cricketer, and I suppose we got it all from him. He captained the Freudenberg cricket team and his sons, Norman and Vyvil played alongside him. We talk of brothers playing for St Peter’s and for St Joseph’s, but it was in the very first year of St Peter’s cricket that two brothers played, Norman as captain and Vyvil as an opening batsman.”
There is an article written by famed coach and master-in-charge Cyril Ekanayake, reproduced in a big match souvenir in 1991. Ekanayake relates the exploits of the senior Paternott: “Norman was a terror to all schools we played against those days. I recall an incident Norman himself told me about. We were playing Holy Cross College and one of their batsmen was not daunted by Norman’s fiery bowling. It looked as if he would rob us of victory when Mr L E Bertus (St Peter’s cricket master and former Josephian) who was umpiring, eaten up by frustration, whispered to Norman, ‘Why don’t you give him one on the nut?’ Norman didn’t but we still won.
“I remember our first inter-collegiate victory. It was against St Aloysius’, Galle. On a Monday morning our cricketers broke in to our classroom shouting ‘We won! We won!’ Dear Fr Nicholas Perera declared it a holiday. Those were the days,” Ekanayake concludes.
Thanks to their grandfather, father Norman and uncle Vyvil, the Paternott trio of Aubrey, Rodney and Hamish have a cricketing bloodline second to none enshrined in the annals of St Peter’s College.
And, then there is rugby football. The Paternott star shone as bright, with Aubrey, Rodney and Hamish playing with distinction for St Peter’s.
Rodney can lay claim to being one of the youngest to captain the First XV team, at the age of 17. It was an exciting period for Peterite rugby – the college had picked up titles of unofficial champions in 1965 and ’66, so there were great hopes for Rodney’s team in 1967. The side was packed with some outstanding schoolboy ruggerites, including Hamish, legendary coach Archibald Perera’s son, Sunil, C Nirmalendran and Ronnie Guneratne, to name a few. St Peter’s had gone through the season undefeated and the forthcoming confrontation with the mighty Trinity Lions would decide the “championship”.
But, heartbreak was lurking round the corner.
Trinity too had a powerful side led by Ajith Abeyratne and had the most lethal backrow in schools of skipper Abeyratne, Gogi Tillekeratne and P.S Sundaralingam, and the sublime place kicker Shafie Jainudeen. The Lions were considered unbeatable but the Peterites had a good shot of sending them packing. Rodney recounts the game: “We were leading 6-0 at halftime, Sunil Perera having kicked two penalties. Trinity then kicked a penalty and followed with a try and conversion.”
Trinity took an 8-6 lead, but Rodney rues the missed chances that followed. The Peterite winger was over the try line unmarked and dropped the ball, and a certain penalty goal taken by him was fluffed. “If we were playing soccer, we would have won – the ball went under the crossbar,” Rodney ruefully recalls.
It was the match of the season, also hailed by Abeyratne as one of the best he has played in. In truth, the history of St Peter’s-Trinity rugby matches is one of close results, and missed opportunities. The encounters up in the hill country and at Bambalapitiya always left the crowd well entertained.
Rodney played one more year of cricket in 1968, as captain, and could have represented St Peter’s the following year if he had not left to pursue new goals outside the school walls at the age of 18. His record in cricket and rugby was impeccable but he has one more little-known record he is immensely proud of. He is still the reigning Sri Lanka under-16 javelin record holder.
“I threw 164 feet 2 inches, breaking the record of Wilhelm Koch of Royal College who held it at 162 feet 4 inches. When I threw it was under-16 and the next day they changed it to under-17. There is no under-16 anywhere and my record is still there,” he proudly says.
As Rodney entered the club sporting scene, cricket played second fiddle as he shaped a stellar rugby career that opened doors for international selection. Rodney recalls the path that led to him playing first for the Havelocks and then the CH & FC. “I played for Havelocks for one season – Aubrey was already playing there. We were the champion side that year; we never lost a match in the Clifford Cup tournament.”
That Havelocks team of 1968 was one of the all-time best, with many players gaining representative honours. Rodney was rotated as centre and winger as the Havies had the pairing of Jeff and Dan Ratnam as centres. The team comprised such household names as Jeyer Rodriguesz, Tyrone Gauder and Tyrone Holdenbottle (front row); Gogi Tillekeratne and Royden de Silva (second row); Gamini Fernando, Noel Brohier and Sundaralingam (back row); Jupana Jayawardena and Glen Van Langenberg (halves) and the Ratnam brothers – forming a virtual national side.
In 1969, Rodney came to a fork in the road that took him in a new direction. He says: “I had a knee fracture playing against the Army. I was told my career was over and to forget playing rugby. I then joined the Colombo Cricket Club along with Darrel (Wimalaratne), Aubrey, Noel Brohier and YC Chang. We all came across – they to play rugby and I joined to play cricket.”
The Colombo Cricket Club (CCC) had just won the Donovan Andree Trophy and was promoted to play in the first division Sara Trophy Tournament. Rodney sees playing alongside Dr H .I. K. Fernando, his senior coach, as one of his greatest pleasures. That CCC team also is remembered for a record that perhaps will never be bettered – it comprised five former Peterite captains: H. I. K. Fernando, Travice Fernando, Tony Opatha, Darrel Wimalaratne and Rodney.
“It felt like being back at school, ’’ Rodney says: “There were a lot comments that there were too many Peterites in the side, but they were all captains of their school.”
Cricket was to take a back seat again as fate played another interesting hand in the progression of Rodney Paternott’s career. He describes the events that followed: “I was playing cricket for CCC and Hamish captained the St Peter’s rugby team in 1970; we would always play a friendly match against the CH & FC. I was talking to Archie because I had never played rugby since my injury. I asked Archie whether I could play against the boys. He said ‘Go, you are a past captain and they will be very happy to play against you.
“I got a pair of shorts and jersey and with only runners I went on. Tyrone Fryer was there at fly-half and I asked him if I could play fly-half and he as centre so I could just catch and pass the ball to him. I did that a couple of times and then I started seeing the gaps. I scored a couple of tries. I got tackled, I got hammered and I was thinking ‘I feel all right, my leg is quite good’. In the meantime, Maurice Marrinon (the Australian expatriate, CH No. 8 and captain) had come to watch the match. Maurice asked Archie ‘I did not know Rodney played rugby.’ Archie replied ‘What do you mean, did Rodney play rugby? That fellow captained St Peter’s.’
“After the match, Maurice came up to me and said, ‘You are not going into the pavilion. Come out here and practise with us. You are going to play for CH & FC.’ I played for CH as fly-half. Darrel was in the side already and he and Lorensz Pereira were trying out for the position. Darrel played centre and Lorensz was sent to the wing. That was how I came to play for CH & FC.”
It was thanks to the forward thinking of Marrinon that Rodney was able to reignite his rugby career. He went on to captain CH in 1976 and played for a Colombo XV against the London Welsh team – a great thrill for him was playing against his idol John Dawes. He also wore the SLFRU President’s XV jersey against the Australian side, the Emus, and English side Blackheath.
Rodney’s distinguished cricket and rugby careers ensured he rubbed shoulders with sportsmen in the top echelon. His greatest joy was to play with Peterites H. I. K. Fernando, Travice Fernando, Darrel Wimalaratne and Tony Opatha, while rugby players he admires are John Burrows, Maurice Marrinon, Mohan Sahayam, Sari de Sylva, Gamini Fernando and Noel Brohier. Then there is CH winger Mike Hawke, who represented England at the Empire Games. “He was the fastest man in Sri Lanka. I should know, because I used to run with Chandrishan Perera (CH and Sri Lanka winger) and Hawke. Chandrishan was certainly the fastest Sri Lankan, but Mike Hawke was faster,” he says.
Retirement did not stop Rodney as he continued to contribute to the game he loves. He started helping Archibald Perera in coaching St Peter’s and then stepped up as a coach in his own right. He took charge of CH & FC from 1978 to ’80, and he takes pride in the knowledge that he had a hand in shaping the skills of five players who represented Sri Lanka. He then guided S. Thomas’, Mt Lavinia, through three seasons – 1981-83. While strengthening his coaching skills he also became a fully accredited rugby referee and took the whistle at two Asian Rugby Championships (Asiads). “I started refereeing in ’78, and I used to referee at practice matches with Archie. And, I represented Sri Lanka as a referee, officiating in 1980 at the Asiad in Taiwan and in 1982 in Singapore.”
For the uninitiated, the Rugby Asiad dates back to 1969 when eight countries – Sri Lanka, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Chinese Taipei – formed the Asian Rugby Football Union. Japan was the inaugural winner of the then five-nation tournament in 1969. Japan has won 14 of the 19 Asiads held to date while South Korea has won the remaining five. Sri Lanka hosted two tournaments – in 1974 and 1990 – and the country’s best finish was runner-up, beaten by Japan in the ’74 final. The Asiad has now expanded to 12 teams.
Sadly, the continuation of the sporting prowess of the Paternott Dynasty was to be lost to St Peter’s as Aubrey, Rodney and Hamish migrated to Australia and are now resident in Melbourne with their families. Having worked in the family business since leaving school, Rodney left Sri Lanka with his family in 1984, and worked in the manufacturing industry before joining the bank and then the public sector. His sons, Ryan and Keith, were fine sportsmen in their own right, following dad into rugby and cricket. His daughter, Charnika, is in the beauty industry. Rodney and wife, Diana, are kept busy in the community and enjoy the company of grandchildren, aged from 17 years to one – Allan, Zach, Gregory, Marcus, Danae and Lennox. Ryan is married to Kristine, Keith to Catherina and Charnika to Sean Auwardt.
Rodney has taken his sporting versatility to music, and a pleasurable pastime is being part of the Keysborough church choir. He practises with fellow Peterites, rotating from guitar, harmonica and keyboards. Also in the choir is former Jetliners guitarist Felix Fernando, and among the congregation is legendary Peterite cricketer Tyrone Le Mercier and wife Jean at the monthly service when the choir is in full song.
Having played in the golden era of Sri Lanka rugby – 1960s to the ‘70s, Rodney is well credentialled to offer his thoughts on the development of the game in his home country. I asked him how he sees rugby developing in school, club and international rugby where the game has changed so much.
“School rugby has always been of a high standard,” he says. “At club level … if you go back, there is an article in which I mentioned that Sri Lanka should stick to Asia. Forget about going to play against England, All Blacks and Australia.
“If you don’t get the ball and you are only tackling (against much bigger players) you are going to break. Stick to Asia and sevens rugby; Sri Lanka should do well in sevens. At national level, develop the sevens teams. Go to the villages, go to the outstation teams, and put young players on a five-year development program to improve their skills.”
Wise words indeed from a man who left a lasting imprint of the Paternott name on the Sri Lankan sporting scene.