BY Ken de Joodt
As a mere introduction to this write-up, Trinity College, Kandy, was always known as the Cradle of Rugby in schools – since this great game of rugby had its beginnings at Trinity in 1906, when Rev. A.G. Fraser was the Principal.
In fact, the first match Trinity played was against Kingswood College, Kandy, in 1906, the teams comprising past and present boys of both schools. Ever since then, rugby at Trinity has progressed in leaps and bounds, beyond one’s wildest dreams, making one wonder how a game of this nature (more suited to the bigger British physiques and Western countries in the colder climes), could grow so popular in this tropical island. Of course, the island may be small in comparison but the beauty of the country with varying elevations and weather patterns, attracted the British to introduce rugby in the coolness and suitability of the up-country hills. Rugby has its roots firmly established in the land of Sri Lanka, and it will never be shaken off!
In the 1950s, the most talked of Trinity rugby team of the era that had produced quality rugby and been most consistent in their performances was the 1956 side. It was a part of the six-year period in which the Trinity Lions really roared and romped ferociously on the field of many a match, played from 1952 to ’57.
Records show the Trinity goal line was crossed only twice in the six years, and this proves beyond any doubt the might and the ability of the teams. Moreover, during this same period 1952 to ’57, Trinity registered a record number of Bradby Shield victories in succession, winning all their games against Royal, in these six years. The captains in the unbeaten years were Mervyn Panditharatne (1952), Dharmasiri Madugalle (1953), L.L.Vitharne (1954), Mahinda Ratwatte (1955), David Frank (1956) and Ken de Joodt (1957). With David Frank as an exemplary captain, playing in the pivotal position of No. 8, the 1956 outfit had superior all-round ability, with the team playing with consistency and good understanding.
Many attractive ploys and improved forms of play were seen for the first time in schools rugby in 1956, with new adaptations such as the “scissor pass”, effective and well-judged cross-kicking, apart from the usual sidestepping and “dummies”.
Trinity’s excellent ball handling, passing and sudden changes of direction, gave
them an invincible aura that had their rivals struggling to combat. Their play was made more fruitful and beautiful to watch, as the ball was passed down the three-quarter line from left to right or vice versa. When space was a constraint, there were always the forwards or line overlap to try the scissor pass and back up to swing the ball the other way, thus working the ball again down the three-quarters and forwards with very few breakdowns or phases.
As seen in the 1956 team, Trinity’s variation in their patterns of play, both in attack and in defence, made the game more exciting and attractive, which
perhaps helped other schools to discover new methods in developing their own styles, using new tactics and productive play, to counter the stronger opposition. Hard training and emphasis on the basics were inculcated in every player, with new tactics on the field being implemented from time to time.
Success in the game came through good disciplines and obeying the commands; and how well they performed their roles. To substantiate that claim, 1956 was the first year when Trinity awarded five “Lions” on the recommendation of coach Bertie Dias. Never before has more than one outstanding player or two, been given the “Lion” in the same year for the same sport. Despite the “oohs” and “ahhs” the awards were justifiably made to David Frank, Wilhelm Balthazaar, Raji de Sylva, Gamini Weerasinghe and Franklin Jacob. Others of “Lion” material, Ken de Joodt, Mike de Alwis and Sena de Sylva, were bypassed’ in 1956, with only Ken de Joodt being awarded the “Lion”, when he captained a second year in 1958. All the other players had the joy of proudly sporting the “unbeaten tag” at the end of the season. Reminiscing on Trinity rugby is always refreshing, the great times of the classy game played with a heavy, slippery leather-covered rugby ball to rules that catered to rough and rugged rugby.
Trinity, made it a remarkable year of school rugby in 1956, when they won all their matches, with their goal-line uncrossed, and even registering a couple of good wins in “friendly” games against Up-Country and Low-Country clubs.
1956 was the first year when Trinity awarded five “Lions” on the recommendation of coach Bertie Dias. Never before has more than one outstanding player or two, been given the “Lion” in the same year for the same sport.
This team is considered to be one of the best rugby sides Trinity has ever produced in that period of time -1940s to early 1970s. Besides No.8 forward and captain David Frank, there were other outstanding forwards such as the
flying’ flankers Franklyn Jacob and Wilhelm Balthazaar, second-rowers Gamini Weerasinghe and Rodney Frank, props Jinnah Dias de Singhe and Raji de Sylva, mercurial Mike de Alwis as hooker. In the back division was “Safe-Hands” Nimal Maralande (fly-half) who paired off with nippy Ranjith de Alwis (scrum-half) and two versatile, weaving centres, Ken de Joodt and Sena de Sylva, while Public School athletes 400m record holder Vernon Boteju and hurdler Sene Ettipola manned the wings. As the last line of defence, a bold and courageous M. U. Odayar manned the full-back position.
In 1956, the Sri Lanka Rugby Union saw the schoolboy talent available that year and decided to pick a Combined Colleges XV and pit them against a strong rugby team of local club players and expatriate players of mixed nationalities, which included a South African John Arenhold. Nine players from Trinity were selected to represent the Combined Schools XV, and they in the following years were selected for the national team and turned out to be superb club rugby players. While some players such as David and Rodney Frank, Vernon Boteju and a few others left the country to seek greener pastures, Nimal Maralande and Mike de Alwis revelled in the rugby scenes of Sri Lanka, to captain Sri Lanka in 1964 and 1966 respectively.