Pavilion Parade by M V Muhsin
April 10th, 2012 by Admin

Maurice de Silva: Miracle and Mastery of Rugby

It was some fifty years ago. For ruggerite Maurice de Silva the evening started just as an ordinary day. Maurice warming up at Havelock Park. He was practicing throwing the javelin as a way of strengthening his arms. So he hurled the javelin a good distance and was happy with his throw.

His friend Carl Fernando was some distance away and Maurice called out and asked Carl to throw the Javelin back. Carl obliged! Maurice who was away from the line of sight stepped back into the arena and here was Carl with unintended geometrical precision making its way toward Maurice.

It took only a split second, and the javelin pierced—yes pierced-Maurice’s neck. Maurice fell down flat on the grass with the spear embedded in his neck. David Hoffman who was nearby ran towards Maurice and seeing the Javelin stuck in Maurice’s neck yanked the Javelin out.

Within minutes Dr. Larry Foenander who was at the club house was on site and was horrified with what had happened and even astonished that Maurice was still alive. Doc Larry castigated David for the hasty action of pulling the javelin out, stating that the action could well have been a fatal one.

Rushed to the hospital, Dr. Rustomjee determined that the javelin has missed the voice box and the jugular vein! If this was not a miracle, then I know of no other! That Maurice, now in his mid seventies, lives to tell this spine chilling event on his present visit to Colombo is a story that defies incredulity. The headline in the Daily News next day screamed: An Inch Away from Death!”

For those of us who were Rugby fans in Kandy, Maurice de Silva was a hero. EW Balasuriya drafted Maurice to coach the Kandy Lake Club which was regarded as an upstart by the Colombo clubs as well as the Kandy Sports club. How dare the Lake Club take on the establishment?! But Maurice turned the table on them.

He moulded a collection of unremarkable rugby players into a well coordinated pack of terriers who played excellent rugby. I recall how he told Gavin Stevens who was playing wing forward-hey, you are a born bloody prop and that’s where I want you to play. Maurice did not fit places with people; rather, he identified inherent talents and fitted people into places.

While Maurice was in Kandy, he was approached by St. Anthony’s to coach the school side. The outcome was startling. That year St. Anthony’s beat Trinity for the first time. Not long afterwards Maurice also coached Issipathana which team had the Savangham brothers and Saranapala to boot. And yes, Isipathana had a meteoric rise in the school rugby firmament.

As a rugby player himself and a Peterite and Ceylon cap, Maurice was a brilliant Centre. He modeled his play on the lessons he learnt from his uncle Archibald Perera the ace Peterite coach.

In playing for Ceylon, Maurice paired well with Nimal Maralande who was a role model. In those days the rugby greats we knew believed fervently that rugby was a “running game” and if you do not run, then it’s really not rugby that they played. Maurice was known for the art of chip kicking and punting.

At times he used even his knee to chip kick. I think it was that memorable match in 1963 against Calcutta when Neville Sheddon the Army sprinter who was playing wing three-quarter was injured. In those days substitutions were not allowed.

And so Nimal Maralande pulled Sari de Sylva who was playing forward to drop back and play wing , a position that Sari was not accustomed to nor desired. The story goes that Maurice sensed Sari’s discomfort, but urged him not to worry.

As the ball came down the line Maurice asked Sari to come inside and within a split second Maurice sold a dummy-scissor to Sari and crisscrossed his way to score, while Sari suffered the brunt of tackles as the Calcutta players heaped on him in the belief that the ball was with him. Larry Foenander who was refereeing said that this was a remarkable move, and that the dummy scissor even foxed the referee!

And so as Maurice de Silva makes his way to Kandy and to the Havelocks, many more stories will be recounted. But the main message that comes to mind is what fine players we had who treated the art of open rugby as their religion-as good lesson as the Rugby season opens.