by Z. Kamil Mohamed
A global cricketing icon once said “At Trinity; Rugby and Rugby players are special, and I… was only a cricketer”. Such is the pedestal upon which Rugby stands at Trinity that playing Rugby for the 1st XV becomes the ultimate dream for most young Trinitians. That is how it has always been. And this is the story of a dream shared by a group of young Trinitians and how it unfolded over the years, culminating in the Bradby Shield encounter against Royal College in 1984.
It was early in the Rugby season of 1974, Trinity led by C. Y Ching Snr were playing St Anthony’s at Nittawela. “Accompanied by two older brothers, a handful of Trinitians and a much larger contingent of Anthonian cousins and friends, I ventured to Nittawela to witness my first Rugby match” recalls 1984 Lock Kamil Mohamed. Trinity destroyed the Anthonians 64-3 in a scintillating display of open running Rugby. “I was enthralled and walked on air all the way home, hooked on Rugby for life” says Mohamed.
Playing fast flowing Rugby the sublime Trinity team of 1974 next destroyed St Thomas’ 70-8 and continued in the same vein for the rest of the season winning the Bradby and remaining unbeaten. Teams of 1975 under Rohan Sourjah and 1976 under S.V Ranasinghe lost the Bradby but produced excellent seasons winning most of the games, some by record margins. Then came Ravi Balasuriya’s exceptional Team of 1977 which won all their games and undertook the first ever overseas schools Rugby trip to Thailand.
In this backdrop, in May 1978, a few 12 year olds namely Dilakshan Ratwatte, Senaka Alawattegama, SG Ekanayake, Dushyantha Wijesinghe, Ravi Pillai, Arjuna De Silva, Roger Halangoda, Asela Pilapitiya and Kamil Mohamed turned up at training with fervent Rugby dreams at the Trinity junior school grounds at the foot of the Udawattekale Rainforest. This core group played together through all age groups and were still together at the end of season 1984.
Season 1984 was prefaced by a Rugby tour of Taiwan to participate in the Pan Pacific Youth Rugby Football Tournament by the victorious 1983 team. Many who played in that team benefitted from international exposure and brought that experience back with them as they continued to play in 1984. The season proper began with the customary OBA-sponsored training camp based at the Sports Ministry premises at Torrington Square. Dushyantha Wijesinghe had been Ashan Ratwatte’s 1st XV understudy in 1982 while the rest were playing in Alex Lazarus’s Under 17 team. As the Senior-most player Dushyantha Wijesinghe was appointed captain. Dilakshan Ratwatte was acknowledged as the Vice-Captain. Supported by Coloursmen Duraisamy Sivasubramaniam, Ravi Pillai, Arjuna De Silva, Jayanthasiri Perera and Manoj Jayatissa.
After ten days of intense training, Trinity faced Thurstan at Longdon Place. Centre Ravi Pillai who had Captained the Under 17 team two years earlier relates how the game unfolded thus: ‘Arjuna De Silva and I had been a centres combination since junior rugby in the Under 13’s, so had a pretty good understanding, however it was early in the season and were a bit rusty, yet managed to overcome Thurstan running in seven tries through the line with Ravi Pillai, MTLJ Perera, Arjuna De Silva, Upul Herath , SG Ekanayake’. Score 38-7.
Trinity travelled down to Longdon place again the following week to face St Joseph’s College. Duraisamy Sivasubramaniam remembers, ‘they held us to 3-4 in the first half, we were losing the ball in the scrums, hooker Manoj Jayatissa complained that the Josephian prop Frank Bopearachchi was trying to gouge out his eyes. So, at the next scrum I took matters into my own hands or should I say teeth! Bopearachchi retaliated with a flurry of punches, only to be shown the red card by referee Jagath Fernando. That opened the floodgates, and we ran in several tries, our line clicking with Upul Herath scoring a hat-trick defeating the Josephians 32-04. I was later cited by Referee Fernando and was censured and directed to wear a mouthguard in future games. We lost centre Arjuna De Silva to injury in this game”
Regrouping in Kandy, legendary Coach Colonel Bertie Dias tried different combinations. However unable to find a suitable replacement for Arjuna De Silva, Coach Dias decided to promote an Under 17 player. In consultation with Under 17 coach Alex Lazarus and Masters in Charge Ariasingham and Madugalle, Senani Gunaratna was chosen over Shah Doole as the grounded Gunaratna was seen as the more suitable captaincy option in future years than the playful Doole whose later exploits are legendary.
Travelling down to Colombo for the third week in a row Trinity faced the formidable Isipatana team led by Shabeen Sideek comprising several future national players including Nizam Jamaldeen. Dilakshan Ratwatte the scion of a Trinity Rugby dynasty with two older brothers who won Lions in previous years recounts: ‘Trinity’s combinations were coming together, and the season was looking promising. Playing at Havelock Park, home advantage saw Isipatana race to an 8-0 lead. However, we fought back and scored and with two minutes to go were down 6-8. Ensconced deep in Isipatana territory we won the ball off a maul and worked the line outnumbering them four to one with the line staring at us, but unfortunately, over-eagerness got the better of us and we dropped the ball. Our first loss 6-8. This game also exacerbated our injury woes. In addition to De Silva, we lost Captain Wijesinghe to injury ruling him out for several weeks.
The next three games were scrappy affairs at Bogambara with an unsettled team trying to find its feet. Next Trinity beat St Anthony’s 4-0. St Anthony’s Captain Priyantha Ekanayake was in the hospital with a bout of meningitis at the beginning of the week, but nevertheless fronted up for the game at the weekend playing at an unaccustomed full-back held Trinity to just one try. He was to go on and Captain the national team for ten long years. Ratwatte who led the team in Wijesinghe’s absence also succumbed to injury. In their absence, Coloursman Duraisamy Sivasubramaniam was anointed as Acting Captain, which he did for most of the season leading from the front. Trinity also beat Anil Jayasinghe’s Vidyartha 28-0 and Nirmal Dharmaratne’s Dharmaraja 6-0.
Asanga Seneviratne’s St Thomas’s travelled up to Kandy the following week. Ikram Odayar, a third generation Trinity Rugby player recollects ‘it had been raining in Kandy for several weeks making conditions underfoot less than ideal for running rugby and we were struggling to get some flow with injuries hampering our efforts. We scored quickly in the first half and led 6-0. It was a dour forwards battle in the mud and we defended resolutely, at one stage pushing the Thomian pack 70 metres, to win the Canon R. S De Saram Trophy at 6-4.’
In failing health, the legendary Col. Dias’s storied Trinity Rugby career was coming to an end. This was to be his final year as Trinity coach. With three straight Bradby victories in previous years, he wanted to retire with another Bradby. Coach Dias was a student of the game preferring to focus on strategy and did not pay much attention to method or structure. Recognising this shortcoming, at this stage he brought in former Trinity and Sri Lanka players Chandra Seneviratne, to work with the forwards and Irwin Howie, to train the backs.
Wijesinghe and Ratwatte were brought back into the team after recovering from injuries for the First Bradby at Longdon Place. Sampath Agalawatte’s Royalists were by then unbeaten and favourites to win the game. Full back Jayanthasiri Perera recounts ‘it was a hot and humid day in Colombo, after weeks of training and playing in cool and wet conditions up in Kandy, we were surprised by how quickly the heat sapped our energy. Both teams probed and prodded but could not breach the other’s line. In the end, all that separated the teams was Royal’s Two penalties against Trinity’s One penalty. 6-3’
The following week at training Coach Col. Dias changed direction again. With the wet conditions continuing he wanted mobility around the park and an ability to scrap for the ball in the loose. Tyrone David who had anchored the second row all season was assured of his colours and advised that in his place debutant Ravi Ranasinghe would be brought in to the team.
Prop Senaka Alawattegama reminisces ‘we were smarting from the narrow loss to Royal, with two regular games to go and the Bradby within reach, training intensity went up another notch. At one stage Coaches Dias, Lazarus, Seneviratne and Howie had the forward Eight playing against a full Under 17 team. I remember running endlessly and keeping them at bay for a full 30 minutes, we had reached our fitness peak during training this week. We had practiced a forwards ploy over several weeks, with me taking short tap, swivel and pass to Ratwatte, then Dissanayake, then Ranasinghe, then at the end Sivasubramaniam and Mohamed all in close quarters out of opponent’s view and we did attempt it at the first Bradby but did not come off. St Peters coached by Frank Hubert had lost to Trinity for 42 years running and had thus far had an excellent season. Playing at muddy Bogambara they shocked us with an early try, then kept attacking throughout the first half. Midway through the second half the team realised losing was not an option. The tide turned with a penalty conversion but were still down 3-4. We set up camp in Peterite territory for the rest of the game but couldn’t quite break through. It was late in the game, Referee Tony Amith was glancing at his watch with his refereeing rival Hubert reportedly lying spreadeagled on his back in ecstasy anticipating victory. It was time for our practiced move. We won a free kick in front of the posts and set in motion the ploy that we had practiced hundreds of times and it worked exactly as planned and we finally broke through for a fabulous team try on the stroke of full time. Peterite hearts were broken 9-4. “
Two days later, back at training at Asgiriya, Col. Dias said in admiration “the way you played in the last twenty minutes, why can’t you play like that for the length of the game?”. A Master of strategy, he had a surprise in store for the second leg of the Bradby. Anticipating slippery conditions with continuing rain, his plan for the Bradby was to let Royal win the ball in the line-outs and the scrums, then attack them at the breakdown before the gain line thus advancing field position to launch attacks. Skipper Wijesinghe shifted to full back with Jayanthasiri Perera shifting to Fly Half and Tony Wimaladasa continuing as scrum half. Winger S.G Ekanayake narrates ‘our plan worked wonders, Royal were winning the ball but struggled to gain traction with our players all over them in a flash. The score remained 0-0 at half time. In the second half, we continued the same strategy but we were now winning the ball back and set the line in motion. As one commentator articulated, – Trinity completely dominated the second half with wave after wave of attacks deep into Royal territory, the forwards winning the ball and working the ball right down the line. But the Royal dam was unbreachable, led by the crack Royal third row of Weeratunga, Lenaduwa and Ex Trinitian Navaratnam they held on for dear life to protect their unbeaten season for a Nil all draw. Thus Royal won the Bradby on aggregate.”
On the following Monday, as he signed Bradby souvenirs for the team Coach Dias declared ‘this was the best game played all season”. The team travelled up to Radella midweek bringing Arjuna De Silva back into the team for a ‘friendly’ game against a combined Dimbulla Dickoya team, winning comfortably.
At the end of the week, Trinity comprising Duraisamy Sivasubramaniam, Manoj Jayatissa, Kamil Mohamed, Tony Wimaladasa, Jayanthasiri Perera, Ravi Pillai, Arjuna De Silva, S.G Ekanayake and Upul Herath played in the annual schools’ rugby sevens tournament reaching the semi-finals. This was also where Alex Lazarus blooded what was eventually his champion 1987 outfit as Under 17’ers playing against 1st XV teams reaching the quarter finals.
Eight members of this team represented the Outstation schools’ team namely Duraisamy Sivasubramaniam, Manoj Jayatissa, Senaka Alawattegama, Ikram Odayar, Dilakshan Ratwatte, Jayanthasiri Perera, Ravi Pillai, Arjuna De Silva and Upul Herath.
At the end of the season, for his dominant performance, Duraisamy Sivasubramanian was awarded the coveted Lion while Senaka Alawattegama, Tyrone David, Manik Weerasinghe, Kamil Mohamed, Ikram Odayar, Anjana Dissanayake, Tony Wimaladasa, Senani Gunaratna, SG Ekanayake, Upul Herath and Roger Halangoda won their Rugby Colours. Ikram Odayar and Senani Gunaratna won their Lions in subsequent years.
Post school Duraisamy Sivasubramaniam, Ikram Odayar, Ravi Ranasinghe, Arjuna De Silva, Roger Halangoda and Kamil Mohamed went on to play for Kandy, Halangoda also played for CH and Anjana Dissanayake played for the Navy, while Senaka Alawattegama, Manik Weerasinghe, Dilakshan Ratwatte, Tony Wimaladasa, Ravi Pillai, Upul Herath, Sanjaya Dorenagama and Asela Pilapitiya went on to play in the up country competition. Notably, Ikram Odayar captained the National Under 20 Youth team in 1986 and proceeded to play for the National team in 1990.
Tragically Arjuna De Silva died young in a traffic accident in the USA and Anjana Dissanayake, a star Navy Cadet was Killed in Action during the civil war. In recent years both Captains Dushyantha Wijesinghe and his Royal counterpart Sampath Agalawatte passed on after protracted illnesses.
While much has been written about the celebrated unbeaten Royal team of 1984, the corresponding Trinity outfit also came very close to being unbeaten, losing just two games by razor-thin margins.
Over the next two weeks, both Trinity and Royal teams of 1984 will meet again after four decades at the Bradby 2023 in Kandy and Colombo and will be felicitated on the sidelines of the Bradby. In the absence of the two captains, 1983 Trinity Captain Ashan Ratwatte, who missed his own opportunity due to the pandemic, has been invited to be the Chief Guest at Kandy, and Royalist Feroze Suhayb will stand in for his Late Captain at the 2nd leg in Colombo. Long may this tradition of Bradby fellowship and camaraderie between the two teams continue!