Although some unofficial rugby games had been played by S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia, under the team name of Thomian “Tigers” in the early 1950s, the first official inter-school rugby match between Trinity College, Kandy, and the Thomians was played on June 25, 1955, at Longdon Place, Colombo 7. What S. Thomas’ College achieved in 1955, now shows the wholesome fruit that has been produced from the seed that was planted at Longdon Place, in that first encounter with Trinity. Likewise, Trinity’s first school rugby match was played against Kingswood College, Kandy, in 1906. When judging the current strengths of both schools, Trinity and STC rugby has grown in leaps and bounds and have risen to the top rungs of schools in Sri Lanka.
In retrospect, “History and Tradition” have proved to be great mentors for these
great educational institutions. As it has been wisely said before: “History assures us of who we are, and if we are brave enough, it can also teach us where we have failed or triumphed, behaved honourably or been disgraced.” Similarly, “tradition for it to be useful, must be wisely chosen and morally crafted because it is the conduit through which history’s best lessons flow down the ages. Great traditions are not always old, but the best ones are usually those that stand the test of time and like good wine, enhanced by age – to treat ourselves and others with dignity!”
Sixty significant years have gone by since Trinity’s first match against S. Thomas’ was played on a very warm sunny Saturday afternoon on June 25, 1955. In this year of 2015, going back 60 years in time is a joyful, sentimental journey to reminisce and recapture the exciting preparations for such a historic event. Like many of us who have “trotted on” past the “deadline” of three score and ten years in age – we face the fear of recalling with accuracy, the vital details and statistics of a match played so many years ago. Moreover, a lot happens on a rugby field, 100m in length and 50m long, spanning approximately one and a half hours of ground time which the natural eye can see within limits! In these modern times, the advanced technology of high quality television captures more than the vision of a multitude of human eyes!
To re-cap and rewind my personal part in this inaugural game, 1955 was my first year to have the honour of playing for Trinity at a young age which left me with four more years to reach school-leaving age of 19 years. In this same year, I was doubly honoured to be selected to play against STC. Many players were in their first year as “freshers” but some years older than me.
On the great dawn of a memorable Saturday, the 25th of June, we experienced the cold shivers of the early morning up-country dew and moist climate in Kandy. As we had no college bus, we walked from the college hall through the quiet, desolate streets in Kandy (with just a few barking dogs to disturb the peace). It took just about 15 to 20 minutes to reach the railway station and the team of 20 Trinity players soon settled into one reserved compartment, to travel down on the Kandy-Colombo train at about 5.45am. Not long after there was a prolonged silence as the team tucked into a small breakfast of bread, buns and tea! It was not a comfortable journey by any means on hard wooden seats, in a noisy, windy, shaky train, which reached Colombo Fort Station after about four hours. After the “spills” came the thrills to see the city sights of tall buildings, tramways, red double-decker buses, and the sea in the distance on the western shore. A much-looked forward to Chinese fried rice lunch was had by all in a Fort Restaurant, and after lunch, we boarded a hired bus to take us to the famous CR&FC Club grounds at Longdon Place.
Later on, we changed into our rugby kits and at around 3.30pm we had to warm up and be ready for the match at 4pm. Many old Trinitian supporters were present to greet us and wish us well before the match ….as well as to cool our nerves and settle the “butterflies in our stomach”.
Trinity’s team was made up from Mahinda Ratwatte (Captain), Ken de Joodt, Ranjit N. De Alwis, A. S. B. Ellepola, G. Aludeniya, M.U. Odayar, Eshin C. Fernando, Raji T. de Sylva, R. B. Abeyakoon, Ananda Pilimatalawa, Vernon Boteju, Franklin Jacob, David Frank, Neil De Soysa, Farouk Omar, and A. J. W. Balthazaar. This team was coached by Major H.A. Hardy.
As the big day had dawned for the Thomians to match their skills with the experienced Trinity team for the first time, unfortunately the appointed captain K.S. Ananathan was ill and the vice-captain S.B.L.Perera had the distinction of leading the first Thomian team to play against Trinity. Some of the other key players who were in the first team were Gamini Weerakoon, P.B. Jayasekara, Ifthikar Cader, Rodney Ingleton (Ifthicar and Rodney were the first Thomians to be selected in 1956, to represent the Ceylon Combined Colleges), Michael Tissera (STC’s brilliant cricket captain), Sudath Weerasuriya, Patchy Bulankulame, Rohantha de Silva, Lester Schockman, Tissa Molligoda, Errol Jacotine, Phan Dias and Dan Piachaud (another international cricketer) plus a few others. Mahes Rodrigo the Ceylon rugby captain was the first Thomian coach.
The Trinitians, smartly attired in their attractive red, gold and blue rugby jerseys, set the game in motion by taking the kick-off. The Thomians in their blue, black and blue jerseys looked formidable but both teams took time to find their feet during the first half of play and in the process messed up their movements with dropped passes and poor handling.
The daily newspaper reported the next day with the headline “Trinity win, but S. Thomas’ make great debut” and the article went on to say: “Facing a far more experienced side, S. Thomas’ College, playing their first inter-school match, fought back with gallant determination to keep Trinity at bay for over 40 minutes before losing by 13 points (2 goals and a drop goal) at Longdon Place, yesterday. It was a courageous display that shook the Trinitians and for S. Thomas’ to win the honours of the day.”
The newspaper continued: “Nevertheless, the Trinitians were thoroughly dissatisfied with their performance. With the exception of M.G. Ratwatte, whose kicking to touch gained his side a lot of valuable ground, the rest of the side disappointed their efforts by carelessness of play. From the beginning, S. Thomas’ did splendidly, running straight and hard, cutting through the Trinity defence. Yet, Trinity were able to use their chances of using the ball and it was not long before Trinity’s fly-half Ken de Joodt opened scoring late in the second half, positioning himself well to drop a peach of a goal through an awestruck Thomian defence. This clever surprise move shook the Thomians and then Trinity scored twice in quick succession. First, the pack pushed the ball over the line and fell on it to score a well-earned try. Then the front row forward Raji T. de Sylva scored the second try. Both tries were converted by Ken de Joodt.”
STC tried ever so hard to break through the stout defence of the Trinitians but their last efforts proved futile. As a team the Thomians rallied round and each player gave off his best for their school. This game had its exciting moments and some balmy times too. However, the match ended without any disputes or disagreements and was well handled by the appointed match Referee H. Numan, of the CR&FC.
Information gathered from the past, relates to STC’s transformation from soccer to rugby in the early 1950s. It was mainly through the insistence of former Chief Justice E. F. N. Gratiaen, a distinguished old Thomian, who was instrumental in influencing Warden R. S. de Saram to make the change. His reason was that “Football was just a working-class game and no boy at STC would get into the prestigious British-built planting sector, unless he played rugger”.
This was apparently so, as many school-leavers who played rugger for Trinity received favour to be employed on company estates. This helped the up-country planters’ rugby clubs to add strength and form reasonably good rugby teams mixed with the foreign British company planters. In Colombo, the rugby clubs had a surplus of excellent players from the schools, the Mercantile sector and foreign expatriates.
Like most schools have, Trinity and STC are considered ‘brother schools’ – and over the years and many generations, we have learnt to give respect and have great admiration for each other. Since their beginnings, STC in February 1851 and Trinity 1835, both schools have accrued outstanding achievements in sports and education, surpassing many others.
Today, STC and Trinity stand proud, as two of the most prestigious schools in the country. STC is the first school to produce four Prime Ministers of Sri Lanka, from their former students – Rt. Hon. Don Stephen Senanayake (first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka), Hon. Dudley Senanayake, Hon. Solomon Bandaranaike, and Hon. Wijeyananda Dahanayake. Trinity too have produced many brilliant scholars who have served the nation and been in important leadership roles over a vast period of time.
Likewise, in almost every sporting activity, STC and Trinity have performed excellently and offered splendid leadership in the country’s main sporting activities. Trinity lays claim to the first Sri Lankan athlete Duncan White who won the first Olympic Silver Medal in 1948, and currently Kumar Sangakkara, who is a former Trinity cricket captain (“Lion”), past captain of Sri Lanka, and an ICC “Cricketer of the Year”.
There are innumerable active players, who have been and still are a great encouragement, and give that required boost to all sporting activities in the country over the years and in the years to come.
When Tiger cubs came of age
Thomas’ College, Mt Lavinia, began its illustrious rugby journey thanks to a small group of its students whose passion for the sport paved the way for the first team to be formed in 1955. Here, one of the members of the inaugural team, Ifthikar Cader, shares his memories.
It all began in 1954.
We didn’t have rugger at S. Thomas’. Some of us, Thomians, who were interested in rugby got together and formed a team under the name of Thomian Tigers. We played a match against a similar side, Josephian Hornets at CR & FC grounds.
Those days, CR & FC rugby players were our heroes such as Mahesh Rodrigo, Summa Navaratnam and H. Nueman. We would watch them at practice and we also would play by the side of the ground. They trained us and taught us.
When the Thomian Tigers played against the Josephian Hornets, then Chief Justice Noel Gratiaen was watching the match from the pavilion at CR & FC. After the game, he came up to us and asked, “Young chaps, are you seriously interested in playing rugger?” We replied: “Yes sir!” Mr Gratiaen said he would speak to the Warden next week about this. After about a week, we learnt that the Warden had decided to introduce rugby at S. Thomas’.
We started training by early 1955, with legendary Royalist Mahesh Rodrigo putting us through our paces as coach. Only I, Rohantha and Bradman (S.B.L Perera) were the ones who had some knowledge of the game because we were student members at CR & FC. Others who came for practices were college cricketers, swimmers and athletes. I can recall P. B. Jayasekera, Sugath, Hewawasam, Asoka Wickremanayake and fleet-footed Errol Jacotine all were athletes, as were Lester Schokman and Rodney Ingleton, and they were our jumpers (2nd row); Dan Piachaud and Michael Tissera were top cricketers, and K. S Ananthan was a swimmer.
It was not easy to train a team of novices but coach Mahesh did really well to prepare us. He was a smart tactician. We knew we were taking on the best team in that season, Trinity College, in our first-ever encounter. But we were not overly concerned as we had not seen them playing nor had we played as a team before on a field. What Mahesh told us was: “Go out and just enjoy the game; it is the essence of rugger. Play it hard and don’t forget your basics.” So we thought to ourselves that we should play well and prove that Thomians can play good rugby.
The game started in front of a small crowd at CR & FC. Trinitians walked out on to the field wearing their red, blue and gold kit and only then did we realise how big they were but we were not fazed. It was a first for us too. We played like terriers running around spoiling their moves and their kicks. We could see the anxiety of Trinitians on the field as nothing worked for them. The small crowd present was sensing that there could be an upset.
The first half ended with no scoring on the board. We were thrilled and Mahesh motivated us and wanted us to just play our natural game. The scores were held 0-0 until the final stage of the second half and Trinity hadn’t crossed our line. By then we were worn down too. Then, out of nowhere, fresher Ken de Joodt kicked a peach of a drop goal for Trinity. We were shocked and disappointed. It was against the run of play and I think it was something new for us as we didn’t know that one could score points through a drop kick.
We were just demoralised. Trinity capitalised on this and piled on points on their way to a 13-0 win. However, we had won recognition from the media and among Thomians. We were really happy. During that season we went on to beat St Peter’s and St Joseph’s, and soon rugby became a popular sport at college.
The following year, from our family two of my brothers played for S. Thomas’ 1st XV. They were Huzair and Hussain while Ashley played for Royal College. Looking back, it was a wonderful memory and we really enjoyed playing for college.