BACK IN THE MANE GAME
Trinity College, Kandy, has been known as the cradle of Sri Lanka rugby for well over a century as the college from the hill capital produced many outstanding ruggerites and champion sides, including five unbeaten teams. However, since the Lions’ last all-conquering First XV side of 1987, under the inspiring captaincy of Tyrrell Rajapakse and legendary coach Alex Lazarus, there has not been another champion team. That is a 29-year gap, and Trinity will have to wait longer as the results this season have not measured up to expectations. It was a case of so near yet so far for Trinity on a few occasions since ’87, and the Trinitians will have to pull up their socks to ensure their championship hiatus does not extend beyond three painful decades. This is quite a startling and unenviable record for a proud institution that has a supreme legacy in rugby, having dominated on and off the field from the 1920s through to the ‘80s. In our SPECIAL REPORT, Lohit Ranasinghe, a historian and statistician on schools rugby and cricket, breaks down the numbers and discusses Trinity’s rugby’s success, while Sujith Silva interviews former captains and current custodians of the game in search of answers to why the Lions have lost their magic, and what challenges lie ahead.
Trinity’s best years
By Lohit Ranasinghe
Trinity College, Kandy, known as the cradle of rugby in Sri Lanka, played its first inter-school game in 1906 against Kingswood College, Kandy, and it ended in a 6-all draw. Trinity won the next two games in the subsequent years before Kingswood gave up rugby at the time.
Trinity continued their rugby, but there was no other school that played until Royal took to the game in 1916. Trinity played its first game against Royal on July 20, 1920, winning it comfortably 26-0, and continued their winning streak against Royal until 1941.
Zahira took to the game next and played their first game against Trinity in 1924. St Peter’s was next and played their first game against Royal, in 1932. St Peter’s first played against Trinity in 1933 and the Kandy school romped home with a massive 59-0 victory. It took Royal 21 years, Zahira eight years and St Peter’s three years since starting the game to beat Trinity for the first time.
Rugby had become very popular in the 1930s, with the club games dominated mostly by expatriate players, drawing very large crowds. During this period, as schools rugby had become very competitive, a league tournament was introduced in the 1930s as the “little league”. This league tournament was tightly contested by Trinity, Royal, Zahira and St Peter’s. Trinity had a near perfect rugby record until the 1932 season, having won all games except for the 1906 drawn game against Kingswood.
Trinity lost at rugby for the first time in 1932 when Zahira College, captained by A.H.A Samad shocked Trinity, on their way to be crowned unbeaten champions – winning all games played that season. Then, in 1933 and 1934, Trinity won all games to become invincible champions. Trinity lost for the first time to St Peter’s in 1935 but won against Royal and Zahira, and it resulted in Trinity and St Peter’s being declared joint champions. St. Peter’s went on to beat Trinity for the next five years and became champions for five years running. The 1936 Peterite side led by Archibald Perera, and the 1938 side skippered by Percy Perera, won all games to remain invincible. It was in 1941 that Trinity was beaten for the first time by Royal. Royal captained by Minoo Jilla after a number of closely contested games in the prior years, finally broke the 21 year hoodoo to beat Trinity. This side became Royal’s first invincible champion side, winning all games they played that year.
In 1942, with the start of World War II, Zahira and St Peter’s were deprived of their premises. This resulted in both teams having to abandon the game for the next several years and Trinity had only one game with Royal as their only opponents in 1942. In 1943, two games were introduced for the first time between Royal and Trinity to compensate for the absence of the other two teams. A game each was played in Colombo and in Kandy in 1943 and 1944. The Bradby Shield was introduced in 1945 by the Royal principal at the time, E.L Bradby to be given to the overall winner of the two games based on the points aggregate. The Bradby Shield became the blue ribbon of school rugby in Sri Lanka and was played for the 72nd time this year.
Royal and Trinity continued their annual encounters until 1948 when St Peter’s returned to rugby and rejoined their old rivals, but there was no tournament that was held. Zahira only returned to the game in the late 1950s at which time more schools had already started inter-school rugby. Trinity played against S. Thomas’ and St. Joseph’s for the first time in 1955; Wesley in 1957, and St. Anthony’s in 1962. Trinity’s first game against Isipathana was played in Kandy in 1966, with Trinity winning convincingly by 29-3. Shortly after the game crowd trouble was experienced including damage to the Trinity premises and as a result the traditional encounter against Isipathana was not played again until 1981.
A look back through the decades
The 1950s are regarded as the golden period of Trinity’s rugby when they remained unbeaten for six years, from 1952 to 1957 with just one drawn game – against Royal in 1955. This period produced the legendary all-conquering side led by David Frank in 1956, which is widely debated as one of the best sides ever produced by Trinity. Trinity also won all five matches played in 1957 under the captaincy of the late Ken De Joodt. After having lost both legs of the Bradby Shield in 1951, Trinity did not lose an inter-school game again until 1958, seven years later. The 1950s also produced Trinity’s best win-loss ratio against all traditional opponents.
There have been a number of other great sides produced by Trinity in the 1930s, ’60s and ’70s as well as the’80s such as the all-conquering sides of 1933, 1934, 1967, 1974, 1977 and 1987. However, since 1987 even though Trinity produced a number of good teams that won some trophies, they have not been able to produce a side similar to the ones mentioned above. It is interesting to take a look back at Trinity’s rugby record over the past 10 decades. Trinity’s record against their traditional opponents and titles they won and compare to the present-day rugby environment, which has changed significantly since the early years.
Looking back at the statistics of Trinity’s rugby over each of the decades, Trinity had a 100 per cent win record in the 1920s with games only against Royal and Zahira. In addition, the statistics in the table below show that Trinity’s record in the 1950s is one of the best decades for the school. Additionally, there have been some great teams produced in every decade in addition to some teams that underperformed.
Looking at Trinity’s champion sides over each of the decades, with at least four teams taking part, there are 13 champion sides that are evenly distributed in each of the decades between the periods 1930-1980. Of these 13 sides, there were eight teams that can be referred to as invincible, sweeping everything before them by winning every match and trophy on offer.
As the tables show, the 1980s produced two champion sides, the’70s produced three, the’60s produced two,’50s produced three and the’30s produced another three. Looking at each of the decades, the’20s and’40s also produced some excellent sides, but as less than four schools took part no teams from these two decades are included in the table below.
Since 1987, for nearly three decades there have been no unbeaten or league champion sides produced by Trinity. However, there have been some excellent teams during this time, such as the sides from 1993 and 2011 that were crowned knockout champions. In addition, there have been at least five sides that have missed the league championship by a whisker to end the season as runners-up.
Champion Trinity sides, through the decades, with a minimum of four teams taking part.
|1980s||1987||Unbeaten, won all matches including knockouts|
|1980s||1983||Won all but one game, to be unofficial champions|
|1970s||1977||Unbeaten, won all matches|
|1970s||1974||Unbeaten, won all matches including knockouts|
|1970s||1973||Won all but one game, to be unofficial champions (jointly)|
|1960s||1967||Unbeaten, won all matches|
|1960s||1960||Won all but one game, to be unofficial champions|
|1950s||1957||Unbeaten, won all matches|
|1950s||1956||Unbeaten, won all matches|
|1950s||1955||Unbeaten but drew one game|
|1930s||1935||Won all but one game, to be unofficial champions (jointly)|
|1930s||1934||Unbeaten, won all matches|
|1930s||1933||Unbeaten, won all matches|
Other notable Trinity sides
|1960s||1969||Unbeaten but drew one game; had second best record for season|
|1990s||1992||Unbeaten during the traditional encounters with 4 drawn games, but lost the unbeaten record in the knockouts|
League / unofficial champion sides produced each decade
|Decade||Champion sides||Unbeaten sides||All conquering sides|
Trinity’s head to head record against the traditional opponents within each decade
Looking through Trinity’s head to head statistics against their traditional opponents over each decade it is clear that Trinity has dominated a majority of the decades. Taking a closer look shows some interesting facts regards to each of the decades.
|Decade||Royal||St. Peter’s||S. Thomas’||Isipathana|
|1900||Not played||Not played||Not played||Not played|
|1910||Not played||Not played||Not played||Not played|
|1920||100%||Not played||Not played||Not played|
|1930||100%||29%||Not played||Not played|
|1940||60%||75%||Not played||Not played|
- A draw is considered as a 50 per cent win and 50 per cent loss for calculation of the win percentage in the tables and based on the number of games played and wins as a percentage.
- From 1920-1942, there was only one game per year with Royal, and two games were introduced from 1943. The win percentage versus Royal is based on the result of individual games and not the winner of the Bradby Shield based on aggregate.
As the table above shows, Trinity has dominated Royal in every decade other than the 1970s and 2000s. Other than in the 1920s and ’30s, when Trinity won all matches against Royal, the 1950s have been Trinity’s best decade against Royal, winning 70 percent of the games. The 2010 decade has been Trinity’s next most successful winning 67 percent of the games.
Against St Peter’s, Trinity dominated all decades other than the 1930s, 2000s and 2010 decades. In fact, the 1930s was Trinity’s worst against the Peterites winning only 29 per cent of the games. It is no surprise, that the Peterites had the best rugby record prior to World War II, dominating both Royal and Trinity during that era. Similar to Trinity’s record against Royal, the 1950s was Trinity’s most successful decade against the Peterites, with the 1960s and 70’s being the next best. The 2010 decade has been shared evenly thus far, with both Trinity and St Peter’s having a 50 per cent success rate.
Against the Thomians, Trinity dominated the 1950s, ’70s, ’80s and 2010 decades, with the ’60s and 2000s decades being shared with a 50 percent win rate. It is no surprise that the 1950s was Trinity’s best decade against the Thomians winning all five games that were played. The Thomians had the best record against Trinity in the ’60s from the traditional opponents. The 1990s was the worst decade for Trinity against the Thomians, with Trinity only winning 45 per cent of the games. Similar to their record against Royal, the 2010 decade has been very successful against the Thomians with a win percentage of 67%.
Against Isipathana, Trinity played only one game in the 1960s to have a 100% record. With no games played against Isipathana in the ’70s, the 1980s and 2000s were Trinity’s best period against Isipathana. The ’90s and 2010s was Trinity’s worst period against Isipathana winning only 28% and 33% of the games. The decade of the 1990s was dominated by Isipathana that resulted in Trinity’s worst decade against Isipathana. The 2010 decade has been another very disappointing period for Trinity against Isipathana as the win record was only 33 per cent up to the 2015 season. Additionally, at least twice during this period, Trinity was deprived of the league title by Isipathana.
When looking back, it is obvious the 1950s was Trinity’s most successful overall, with the’80s, and the ’60s being their next best. What is also interesting is that 2010 has been another successful decade for Trinity other than for their record against Isipathana.
Trinity’s overall head to head record against the traditional rivals
Looking through the decades of how Trinity performed against its traditional opponents, namely Royal, St Peter’s, S. Thomas’ and Isipathana, it is clear that there have been certain decades where Trinity dominated, while there are others where Trinity was dominated. However, the overall tally against all the traditional opponents shows Trinity leading the head to head against all schools other than against Isipathana for an overall win percentage of 60 per cent.
If you review the head to head tally from 1920s to the 1980s, it is clear that Trinity leads against all schools with an overall win percentage of 67 per cent. During this period, Trinity won greater than 60 per cent of its games against all traditional opponents including Isipathana.
The head to head tally from the 1990s to 2010s show that Trinity’s win percentage against its traditional opponents goes down to 49 per cent, with their record against Isipathana coming down to 40 percent and against Royal coming down to 47 per cent. Many of these losses were experienced in the decade of the 2000s.
|Trinity’s head to head record|
|Overall 1920-2015||Royal||St. Peter’s||S. Thomas’||Isipathana||Overall|
|Total games played||164||74||60||34||332|
|Seven decades 1920-1980s||1920-1989||1933-1989||1955-1989||1966-1989||Totals|
|Total games played||112||50||34||10||206|
|Three decades 1990-2010s||1990-2015||1990-2015||1990-2015||1990-2015||Totals|
|Total games played||52||24||26||24||126|
- A draw is considered as a 50% win and 50% loss for calculation of the win/loss % in the tables above
Trinity’s seasonal rugby record from 1980 – 2015, by individual season
Looking at Trinity’s record in the last 36 years, there have been two champion sides during the season. Additionally, Trinity was placed as runners-up at least five times of which three have come within the last five years. There have been three sides that won the knockout title and two sides that were runners-up of which one champion side and two runners-up sides were produced within the last five years.
When you look through the record of each of these seasons, Trinity has had successful seasons (criteria being champions or runners-up in the league or knockouts, and/or have a win percentage of 80 per cent or higher. There have been 16 sides out of 36 seasons, which is about 44 per cent of the time – an excellent record. When you compare these four decades, it shows these 16 teams have been distributed evenly over each of the decades with three or four sides per decade.
From all four decades, the 2000s (2000-2009) appear to be the weakest decade, with no league or knockout titles and a staggering 39 games lost. This ended up being a win percentage of only 53 per cent, which is much lower compared to each of the other decades that had a win percentage of more than 70 per cent. It should also be noted that Trinity did not take part in the SLRFU league competition introduced in 2001, and as a result Trinity had to start with the fourth division teams in 2004, and work their way up to the top tier in 2007. The 2008 season was the closest Trinity got to the league championship, ending the season as runners-up.
The 1980s and the 2010s decades have produced the most successful sides based on the win percentages during this period, with the 2010s producing four successful seasons in the six years so far and pocketing one knockout title. In addition, Trinity came close to winning the league at least three times, ending the season as runners-up. Trinity also ended as runners-up twice in the knockout tournament.
In the 2010s Trinity was placed in the top three positions five times in the six years. The inter-school competition has become much more competitive than ever before with so many teams playing very good rugby and it is tougher than ever before to win the championship title. Trinity has come very close recently and if not for some key mistakes in certain games and some luck the school would have come away with a league championship title.
All these statistics point to the fact that Trinity rugby has been on its way back up to the top in the 2010 decade, and appears in line to win another league title by the end of this decade. What is required is a team that can complete the finishing touches to the next successful season produced by Trinity to go all the way to remain unbeaten and grab the championship.
At the time of writing Trinity is already mid-way in their 2016 season and have experienced mixed fortunes in the games played so far. Having already lost four games, they have missed the chance to win the league again this year. In addition, they shared the Bradby Shield with Royal for only the second time in the series. The results of season so far include wins against Wesley 7-5, St. Joseph’s 40-4, D.S Senanayake 65-0, and Royal 18-13 in the second leg of the Bradby. The losses have come against S. Thomas’ 20-23, Isipathana 22-32, Science College 12-15 and Royal 17-22 in the first leg of the Bradby. The games against St. Anthony’s and St. Peter’s are yet to be played. Trinity still has an opportunity to win the knockout tournament that will commence after the league ends, but overall this has been another season with missed expectations.
In the above table,
- A drawn game is considered a 50 per cent win and 50 per cent loss within the win-loss percentage calculation shown on the tables.
- Bold – indicates a successful season by virtue of winning or being runners up in the league or knockouts, and/or having a win percentage greater or equal to 80 per cent and categorized under good (successful teams).
- Green – indicates a champion side (League or knockouts).
- Yellow – indicates a runners-up side (League or knockouts).
Ajith Abeyratne discusses evolution of Trinity rugby:
Champion skipper confident Lions will get their mojo back
Trinity Lion and Ryde Gold Medallist Ajith Abeyratne captained Trinity College First XV (1967 and 1968) and is the only surviving Trinitian to lead college in consecutive years. Trinity was the unbeaten unofficial schools rugby champion in 1967. This team is being regarded as one of the best rugby sides produced by the hill capital college, coached by Maj. Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa. Ajith also captained the combined colleges team in 1967 and represented CR & FC and Sri Lanka as a No.8 player. Ajith also excelled in cricket, athletics, basketball and tennis at Trinity. After hanging up his boots, he coached CR & FC and Sri Lanka rugby with distinction. He also served as a national rugby selector and served in various committee at national level. He also is a member of the Rugby Advisory at Trinity College and CR & FC. Here Ajith shares his views:
Schools rugby – how was it, back in the days (‘60s)?
“My first memories of Trinity rugby dates back to 1958, watching the Bradby leg at Bogambara, Dudley Fernando’s Royalists won the Bradby. Trinity was captained by Ken de Joodt. Though it was not a happy memory, I remember Lorenz Pereira and Maurice Angie playing a grand game for Royal. Then in the early ’60s quite a few matches were played on the Peradeniya University grounds and then moved back to Bogambara. However, I remember in ’67 we played one leg of Bradby at Peradeniya.
“Among the players, I can recall Mohan Shayam as a fly-half was a brilliant player and he thrilled the crowd. He played from 1962 to 1964 and captained college in ’64. Compared to the ’50s, the ’60s decade became more competitive as many teams (schools) took up rugby.”
Recalling how rugby found a firm footing at Trinity College: “We had a great culture for rugby at college. Cricket was not big back then among boys. It was all about rugby. Boys used to play rugger during the interval. This was among all standards of students and then our inter-house rugby tournament was a massive one. It was well competed and all houses put up very strong teams. There were so many turning up for inter-house rugby practices. I think the five houses (Garrett, Lemuel, Oorloff, Simithraaratchy and Napier, Alison, Ryde later combined as Central Boarding House) put up about 100 players in each level to compete. The talented players were spotted and picked for college teams from ‘house rugby’. Some of the top rugby players who represented Trinity in the ’60s, ’70s came through this system.”
On coaching and guidance received back in the days: “Coaching was not as technical as modern days. Those who coached us did by their intuition. For instance, Mr Hilary Abeyratne, who was a master at college, coached us at under-17 level and produced unbeaten sides for 12 consecutive years. This was a perfect foundation which helped us build strong First XV teams year after year.”
On the 1967 season, Ajith had this to say: “As I said, by mid-’60s the rugby fixtures became really competitive. In hindsight we wanted to remain unbeaten but it was not our target or an objective of playing rugby. Our toughest opponent was St Peter’s. They were unofficial champions (in 1965 under Darrel Wimalaratne and 1966 under Hamzi Hameed) and beating them in 1967 was the biggest achievement. It was a blockbuster game as the Peterites had a star-studded side. Compared to them we didn’t have many seniors. Some of the key players from St Peter’s were already picked for a combined schools side”. It was labelled as the match of the decade as two unbeaten sides met at Bambalapitiya, with the biggest crowd seen for a rugger match during those days. In 1965, the Peterites lost to Trinity 8-5 and in 1966 it was a 6-all draw up in Kandy. In 1967, the Peterites were led by Rodney Paternott and had the best team on paper with the likes of Chelliah Nirmalendran, Ronnie Gunaratne, Mintzy Gomes, Sunil Perera, Hamish Paternott, and Desmond Harridge. Trinity was led by Ajith Abeyratne and had in the ranks Mark Sundaralingam, Maldivian Afeef, Alex Lazarus, Gogi Tillekeratne and Errol Warne.
St Peter’s and Trinity fought a ding-dong battle and Petes led 6-3, but a last minute try by Gogi Tillekeratne and a conversion from a difficult corner angle by Alex Lazarus made sure Trinity won this encounter 8-6. Ajith continued, “That win was a memorable one as the game swung both ways. With that win we managed to remain unbeaten. We also won the Bradby which was a record aggregate back then –the first leg was 17-3 and the second leg was 16-3. Then we also had a good win against S. Thomas’ at Peradeniya.
“I recall in ’67 we didn’t have a full-time coach as we commenced the season. We had to do our own training. Then Maj. Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa came in as our coach. That was after our second game. He was a great inspirational leader, a motivator”.
“It was an experience to run it to the field wearing the Trinity jersey. Then it was a great privilege to lead the side, that too for two years. In the 1967 side we had four seniors and of them only Mark Sundaralingam was a Trinity Lion. Gogi Tillekeratne and Mark were the wing forwards with me at No.8; front row Gamini Udugama and Iswan Omar, with Mohan Balasuriya and Stephen Paul as hookers. I think we had the shortest second-row combination in schools in Alex Lazarus and John Furlong. I am not sure how we managed to secure the balls at the line-outs but we did it. Anil Siriwardena was scrum-half and Mahendra Talwatte fly-half; Shafi Jainudeen was full-back; (Maldivian) Afeef and Errol Warne were centres, and N.T.B. Dassanayake and Rajan Nadarajah were wingers. After the season, Gogi, Mohan and I were awarded Trinity Lions.”
From this team, six players went on to represent Sri Lanka – Gogi Tillekeratne, Iswan Omar, Ajith Abeyratne, Gamini Udugama, Shafi Jainudeen, and Mohan Balasuriya, who captained the Sri Lanka Sevens team and was later President of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union.
Any thoughts on why Trinity couldn’t produce a champion side in themodern era, especially since 1987?
“Trinity’s success was the rugby culture, the junior structure it had. The house competition was the key and it was the place to spot talent. In fact, many Trinitians who we thought would not play rugger were picked up from this. The college needs to revive this as it has not been held in that magnitude since of late. On the other hand, if you look back, the unbeaten side in 1987 and so too the in the ’70s (’74 and ’77) we were the dominant sides. We did not win by close margins. We had really good wins. Unfortunately this domination is not seen any more or we have not been able to produce dominant sides. Apart from the factors I spoke about earlier, the external factors such as other schools (teams) developing their game faster and strategising their approach to the game makes it even harder for Trinity. Also, if you look at the style of play, it does not encourage open rugby. Instead it’s about containment and controlling of the game. So that has an effect on the game. At the same time you need to build your teams from junior level. Many teams who have performed well have come through this system. The team led by Murad Ramzeen in 2011 was a champion outfit. They played together from early days and were champs in respective age levels. They were dominant in most of their games at First XV, and won the Bradby after losing the first leg. Then they came so close to winning the league but they just dropped one game and it cost them. However, I’m confident that Trinity will be able to produce a champion side soon”.
The challenges ahead?
“If you look at the game, it is now fully or almost professional. We used to play the game at more amateur level. Maybe Trinity took time in this transitional phase as there was a period we stayed out of competition too. We have a great culture and a tradition but we need to move with the time too. At the same time other teams progressed in leaps and bounds. However, now we are back and all teams, at least on paper are equal. I see there are some good junior sides at Trinity College. They are now in good hands. This is where the Rugby Scrummage is placing its emphasis on – spotting the talent, nurturing them and grooming them all the way up to First XV. You need to retain the best teams and results will come. You will always have the pressure coming from old boys and the challenge from other schools to sustain, to maintain or improve your standards. That’s part and parcel of the game. I’m confident about Trinity rugby’s future.”
Game has changed and Lions seek to fortify den
Former Trinity College First XV rugby captain B.N.R. Fernando shared his thoughts on Trinity rugby. Trinity College under B.N.R won the coveted Bradby Shield in 2005:
How was it, for you (and the team) to go through a transitional period between 2000 and 2006 where Trinity College First XV for the very first time in their long history could not compete in the top tier? Instead, teams had to work their way through lower ranks in the Schools League (play in lower division and earn promotion) and then come into the top division (Group A)?
The reason why the team played in the lower tier had no correlation to the team performance but merely the fact that we had not taken part in tournament matches in the early 2000s. It was the view of the SLSRA that the team played its way through the lower divisions. The biggest challenge, at that time, was to cope with the higher number of matches (tournament and other traditional matches), which was still a blessing in disguise. The team was better equipped with practice and experience, and we were able to give an opportunity to the entire squad for more match play as well.
The year 2005 saw some strategic changes in the way we played the game. The main focus was to move back to a “run and pass” game, which had always been the strength of Trinity rugby. With the new brand of rugby we played, and the common team vision, we were geared to do whatever it took to keep the flag flying high. We emerged victorious – winning the coveted Bradby, other shields and we were also the runners-up in the all-island 7s championship
How did you overcome this situation and also regain the Bradby Shield after a four-year wait?
It all began with the centenary rugby programme initiated by the college rugby governing body (Scrummage). This was a well-thought out process, which is still intact, that laid out a long-term strategy to attract suitable coaches, raise funds, and especially develop junior rugby.
During our year there was immense pressure from all corners of the world to win back the Bradby, other shields and move up to the A division. The credit goes to our coach, Mr Nigel Krone, from New Zealand who played a big part in the success that year by pushing us beyond what we thought was achievable. Also, another key factor was how we ensured we were not distracted by seniority divisions within the team, which resulted in some college traditions being changed for the greater good of the sport. This eventually guaranteed our success.
Since 1987, Trinity’s First XV sides couldn’t produce an unbeaten team. Same time, since 2005, few Trinity First XV teams came close in winning the league but missed out. Your thoughts?
It’s quite unfortunate how we have not been able to reach the top for many years, but it’s worth highlighting that the competition is far more and pretty intense nowadays. Though we have found it hard till now, I’m very optimistic that we will, very soon!
Rohan Abayakoon, former Trinity College, CH & FC and Sri Lanka rugby player, national selector, and president of Trinity College Rugby Scrummage shares his views on the game:
How it was, schools rugby, back in the days (‘80s)?
A. Schools rugby back in the 1980s was completely different to what it is today. Besides how the game is approached today in terms of preparation, the rules and regulations were in itself very different to how they have evolved since the game went pro in the mid ‘90s. Today’s rules have evolved to make the game faster and more attack-orientated, whereas the rules in the ’80s were not entirely orientated towards that premise of playing. So to compare the game from the ’80s to present is almost chalk and cheese comparatively. Just to touch on some basic changes that we take for granted today: Replacements in the ’80s could only happen through injury not tactical so in most games the starting XV would play the entire 60 minutes, which is another significant change as games are now played over 80 minutes. So, strength and conditioning and endurance have become a major factor in the modern game which was not so much a factor in the ’80s. Front five forwards today play like backs in the ’80s, with not just set play becoming vital for their contributions but so much more in open play, both in attack and defence and tactical areas of the game. Something as simple as the attacking side throwing into the line-out of a penalty today was not the case in the ’80s, where the defensive team got the throw in off penalties; so attacking advantage was non-existent to the attacking side back in the ’80s game.
Even during the ’80s rugby at Trinity had the same significance and passion it has today. Rugby at Trinity has been a brand through its history and that Trinity is the “cradle of rugby””, has the same significance no matter the era we are talking about. Every rugby player or non-rugby player at Trinity always dreamt , breathed and lived rugby in school and it was always every young Trinitians dream to one day earn the right to wear the red yellow and blue strip one day. To wear it and run out in a Bradby shield encounter was the ultimate dream, and whether it be in the ‘80s or today the significance of that moment has not changed to any player who has had the privilege of doing so.
In the ‘80s, we only played traditional fixtures so year in year out we would play the same schools in the same order each year, with the season ending with the Bradby second leg. No other school had the opportunity to play Trinity unless it happened in the knock-out tournament at the end of the season which Trinity did not participate in regularly during the early ‘80s.
Off these fixtures, the only teams who came into a game with an honest expectation to win on the day were Royal, S. Thomas’ and Isipathana. During the entirety of the early ‘80s, when we played no other school other than three opponents ever beat Trinity. That was the status quo and reality of the way the game had evolved within the schools system to that time, and Trinity were way up the pecking order where they really had to turn up for all the other fixtures and go away with an expected win.
The main challenges during the early ‘80s was as mentioned, overcoming three teams named earlier. Royal, S. Thomas’ and Isipathana. If any team playing up to the time we played and prior had beaten these three teams in any given season if was a foregone conclusion that any Trinity side of the time would have been an unbeaten side. In spite of that fact it is uncanny that prior to 1987 Trinity produced in my memory not more than four unbeaten teams after World War II, namely the teams of 1956, 1967, 1974 and 1977. The next came in 1987 and none since. Sometimes, this is a fact long lost on the generations of stakeholders at Trinity where in all those times, we have not been able to produce an unbeaten team given we needed to beat just three teams during the season to achieve this feat. Most Trinity teams would lose one game per season, at most two, to one of these three teams.
With the advent of the modern game and a league coming into the schools arena there has been a dynamic change in the approach by all schools contesting in this league. Welcome to the 1990s and 2000s school rugby status quo.
Q. Your thoughts on the success of Trinity rugby and how Rugby Scrummage is assisting the college.
With the game becoming more professional in the schools, Trinity too needed to evolve in order to maintain its status as the premier rugby playing school in the country, and with the increased competition now expanded to outside the big three opponents this need became more a necessity. The school per se needed help outside the restricted confines of its internal mechanism to support and run rugby with the demands of the new challenges coming. This was the birth of the Old Trinitians Rugby scrummage (OTRS)
The OTRS is the mandated body to oversee and run rugby at all levels in the school under the patronage of the principal. It is primarily an advisory body from its inception, which has consisted of ex-players and administrators who have used their experiences and corporate influences to manage the game in a professional manner within the school. The role of the OTRS has evolved over the years to place where financing, coaching strategy for the game in the school , and long-term and short-term goals are among the areas now coming under the purview of this body with the concurrence of the principal to whom the body reports.
Many former greats of the school, such as Ravi Balasuriya and Byron Fernando, to name a few, have chaired this body, or have been involved it. Each one of those has immensely contributed in sustaining and maintaining the status quo of Trinity being a primary rugby playing school on the island. The strategies of each of OTRS may have changed from time to time in keeping with the necessities of the time but, in its essence, it has been a body that had driven the development of the game to maintain the high standards of expectation from all stakeholders in the school.
Any thoughts on why Trinity couldn’t produce a champion side in themodern era, especially since 2000’s
To the million-dollar question as to why Trinity has not produced an unbeaten side since 1987 (29 years), there is no one answer. Many OTRS coaches, administrators, school officials and any direct stakeholders over this period have failed to deliver on this achievement. That other schools have achieved this from time to time during this period adds to the mystery: “Why not Trinity”? There is no tangible explanation for the 29 years this has not happened, but from the years that I have been involved with the OTRS (2011 to date) there maybe could have been three teams that had the ability to do this and maybe therein lies some explanation as to why these three teams fell short.
The seasons reviewed includes the knock-out tournaments in addition to the league:
The team of 2011, led by Murad Ismail, dropped three games that year, one being a shocking loss to Science in the league. The team of 2012, led by Kanil Seneviratne, dropped two games that year and the team of 2014, under Tarinda Ratwatte, also dropped two games that year.
In 2011, it is possible Trinity underestimated Science in its own backyard and paid the price for it. There was a lack of ownership in that game from some of the key decision makers and I recall a kickable penalty at the death was not taken due to lack of confidence which would have won the game for Trinity. Instead, as there were no takers for that kick the decision to run was opted for instead and it failed.
The team of 2011 lost the first leg of the Bradby due to poor execution of the game plan and individual players, on whom there was heavy reliance, failed to show up on the day at home to the unbeaten league champs Royal and annihilated them in the return away by more than 35 points. So that was how good this team was and they went on to beat another team they lost to in the league on their way to being knock-out champions after decades. So, how do you explain the losses? Is it down to lack of confidence in taking a match-winning kick, poor execution of game plans, or heavy reliance on individual players who have an off day?
The team of 2012, under Kanil Seneviratne, should have won the league in 2012 and was deprived on a technicality that was no fault of its own. Again, that team lost just the one game in the league to St Peter’s at home at the death-end of the tournament after beating all other teams in the league that year, including the eventual declared champions Isipathana. Again, in that game Trinity led for the entire game and lost it in the dying minutes to the individual brilliance of one player who covered half the field, slipping past three or four reliable defenders to deprive Trinity, not just of the league but also the status of unbeaten league champions. Again, how do you give a reason for that one moment of madness? Lack of focus? Concentration? Mental strength? The same year in the Isipathana game, Trinity won, scoring three tries and was deprived of a fourth try bonus point when a player went over the line and dropped the ball. If that try had been scored, Trinity would have won the league despite Vidyartha being disqualified, which deprived us of the league. So, it was a butter-fingered moment that deprived Trinity that year.
In 2014, Tarinda Ratwatte’s year, the only loss in the league was to Isipathana and for every conceivable reason that day Trinity should have won that game comfortably but poor execution in finishing after line breaks time and time again deprived it of at least three to four scoring chances. It seemed as if there was not an ounce of luck going Trinity’s way that day, but it was also down to poor finishing on the day.
So, if one was to evaluate those seasons where a champion side could have emerged it could be down to a combination of various things in certain moments – lack of confidence , poor game plan execution, over-reliance on star players turning up every day, mental strength, focus and concentration in key moments, poor finishing, and bad luck.
You add to this that any team now on any given day can beat any team adds to turning up day in day out, ensuring that none of the above creeps into your game which can cause one hiccup that destroys a perfect season. Players are under immense pressure at every game unlike in the ‘80s where any team in the league can win on the day barring a few odd teams and that has made the task harder for modern-day teams to remain unbeaten in the Trinity set-up. Trinity, also unlike other schools, depends entirely on its generic players and does not like most of the other top six teams look to players from outside to build championship winning teams. This could be also a disadvantage to Trinity rugby in outsourcing two-three players every year who are game changers and be the catalyst around which a team can work to win championships and remain unbeaten. That the strategy presently is to ensure all our talent is home-grown through the system has immense advantages as it enables better participation from within and does not demoralise kids and parents who come through the system that they will be deprived at First XV level, when players from outside come in and replace them after years and years of representation through the age groups.
There also is the issue of the rugby season now with pre-season training taking as much as nine months of the year for a cycle which has eroded the players’ ability to play multiple sports, which in a sense was the back bone of skills development at Trinity in the past generations. Basketball and athletics, being two of the main feeder sports to rugby in the 1980s and ‘90s, is now totally bereft of any players having time to participate in a meaningful way in these sports that enabled ball-handling skills and speed and running skills in the past when it came to rugby.
So all these could be reasons as to why Trinity is not producing unbeaten teams notwithstanding that other schools seem to be able to produce freakishly talented players more so than Trinity does.
The challenges ahead
Challenges ahead are the increase in the intensity of the competition and other schools following and keeping up with sustainable programs that will make it harder to win championships and produce unbeaten teams.
With every failure, attention is paid to these areas for sustainable improvement and attention. It is an ongoing process where when it will result in the macro expectation is a question that cannot be answered.
That Trinitians do not depend on the game to ensure they have livelihood expectations in their futures could also have a bearing on falling short. Many schoolboy players from other schools know that the game is their stepping stone to their livelihoods and they bring that additional passion and weight into their performances week in week out, needing to impress prospective clubs and employers. I have seen that difference at national schools training sessions in my work as a national selector. This is no fault of the Trinity players, but it is just that their privileged upbringing contributes to the lack of hunger in bringing that intensity on to the field against all comers knowing their futures may well depend on it and in some cases even their families’ futures .
Trinity will produce an all-conquering team one day sooner rather than later. But all these aspects have to fall in place seamlessly for that to happen more than once in 30 years or so.Tags: Ajith Abeyratne, Lohit Ranasinghe, Ravi Balasuriya, Schools Rugby, Sri Lanka Rugby, Trinity College, Trinity College Kandy, Trinity Rugby, Trinity Rugby 174, Trinity Rugby 1956, Trinity Rugby 1967, Trinity Rugby 1977, Trinity Rugby 1987, Tyrrel Rajapakse