Pavilion Parade by M V Muhsin
May 13th, 2012 by Admin

Archibald Perera, the Small Giant of Peterite Rugby

RUGBY COACHES: They called him the “Small Giant” of Peterite Rugby. In those fabled rugby days when bigger giants bestrode the rugby scene, Archibald Perera took them on, head on and squarely. No wonder then that one of the bigger giants, Queen’s Counsel Noel Gratiaen, the CR & FC captain, decided that if you can’t beat ’em, recruit ’em! Such was the genesis of Archie being inducted into the winning CR side of the late 1930’s.

Archie was truly the mythical Hermes of Ceylon rugby, as it was then known. As one of the finest fly-halves in the country and being one of the first Ceylonese to play in what was an exclusive preserve of the British, he would trick opposing sides with his dexterity.

He receives the ball from the base of the scrum from Mahes Rodrigo, who was another incarnation of Hermes himself. Unpredictable! As the opposing forwards and three’s approach him, Archie would transform himself and sell that dummy. Not the type of ‘dummy’ that you and I know of now. But here was Archie looking one way, feinting and leaning one way and instantly accelerating another way; and pretending to pass rightwards but doing so leftwards. Yes, eyes, body, legs and arms were all in play at trickery! His sense of timing was stunning, even to the Swiss watchmakers.

Eustace Rulach, the rugby correspondent of this newspaper once penned: “Gosh! When Archie gets the ball you never can tell the surprises he pulls off.”

Archie ‘stolen’ to CR

And so when he completed his stint with the Army, deployed in Malaya, and returned to play Club rugby and then to coach, he was much sought after. When he captained St. Peter’s, the school won all their rugby matches and beat even the clubs they played against. At his side were such stars as Stanley Livera, Percy Perera, Fred Keller, Roy Reimers and Ray de Zilwa. That was when Noel Gratiaen spotted him and stole him to CR! And such a star he was that he was one of the few Ceylonese to play in the Capper Cup along with William Molegoda and Ohlums.

Parents would take their sons to watch Archie play, as was the case, I recall, with Maurice de Silva of Havelocks and Kandy fame. Watching Uncle Archie at play was demonstrably the best lesson that prospective Peterite rugger stars would be put through. Archie made his sophisticated moves look so natural.

And after matches he would, in an unassuming way, explain without any hint of one-upmanship, the manner in which he fashioned the try or the move, always giving credit to the way the forwards played to plan, the scrum half delivered his remit, and how the ‘threes’ combined with him. It paid dividends for the young ‘uns. And that was how the Maurice de Silva’s, and Ago Paiva’s, Hadji Omars and scores of others were inducted-many to the Hall of Fame.

Legend of Coaches

But it was as a coach of St. Peters that Archie became the legend and institution that he has remains to this day. The fabled Ago Paiva was one of Archie’s prize players. So were Darrel Wimalaratne, the Patternot brothers, Frank Hubert and Hadji Omar. What players learnt from him was not only the basic techniques but refinements and craft that can only come from proven experience.

But here was the distinctive feature of his coaching : drilling in a sense of anticipation, springing surprises and tactical play. It was all bundled into his strategy. A strategy that was not one template but one that changed with each game. A strategy informed by a study of the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent. Undoubtedly every coach will claim that he does this. But the reality in that time and age was that the Hermes of our time spiced his plan with hot spice! As a rugby reporter for the Times of Ceylon, one recalls a famous Trinity vs St. Peters match in the mid 70’s when a more fancied, and until then unbeaten Trinity side, was pipped at the post by the sheer power of Archie’s tactical ploys that were ingrained in his side. That an old Trinitian, that Archie was, could have inflicted this on his Alma Mater made the cheer squads sulk and smart all the way back to Kandy on their bus ride!

1972 Peterites dominant

It was in 1972 that St. Peter’s, coached by Archie, was so dominant in the skyline of school rugby that teams feared the encounters. They emerged school champions under Frank Hubert, and such were their accomplishments that a special celebration was arranged at the school. A life-sized cartoon sketched by the famous Times of Ceylon cartoonist James Bullner was commissioned. It depicted a small guy, thin legs and carrying a massive Rugby Ball with the caption. “To Sir with Love!” He was Hero, Friend, Teacher and Coach. Yes, he was truly loved.

When Archie, who had crossed countless goal lines, was called upon by his Creator to cross the Great Divide, he did so only after a rugby coaching session where in the evening of that day he succumbed to an attack of asthma. As his wife, Audrey Perera (nee de Silva) a Netballer herself of St. Paul’s Milagiriya would tell us, such was Archie’s passion for the game and sad as his passing was, he would not have asked for a more fitting ending.