Pavilion Parade by M V Muhsin
July 1st, 2012 by Admin

Silver Jubilee of a brilliant schools’ rugby season

RUGBY: The sunshine that shone on the school rugby ecosystem in 1987 – 25 years ago to this very season – is worth recounting if anything to bring to the fore the quality and spirit of rugby that was, in schools such as Trinity, Royal, Isipathana St. Peter’s and Kingswood in particular and other rugby playing schools in general.

In the crucial games it boiled down to rabid, and yet healthy, rivalry between the Bonza-Bijja combination of Royal, the Tikka-Shah tactical Combine of Trinity and the Sudesh-Rambo Combo of Issipathana – all stars that radiated their brilliance. More on this later.

The Royal ’87 side was an exceptional team although the record shows that they lost to Isipathana and to Trinity. What the record masks is the high quality players and a terrific fighting spirit that the Royalists possessed. That team was captained by the finest of wing three-quarters in schools at that time, and an even finer young man, Suren Madanayake.

He had in his team such well-known and feared players, I might add, in the Guneratne brothers ‘Bonza’ – 6 footer weighing 250 lbs-and ‘Bijja’, J.Thoradeniya, Lal Perera, S. Karunaratne, T. Balasuriya, I. Sahalan, Chanaka Seneviratne, Sukantha Kuruneru and Rajive Perera.

Isipathana – Star studded XV

Not to be outdone, the Isipathanians too were a much feared, if not revered, star studded XV. As many as six of them went on to play for Sri Lanka : Nilantha Lakshmiwewa the Centre who captained along with Mahes Abeysinghe, Sudesh Abeysinghe, the fly-half, Pradeep ‘Rambo’ Lakshantha, Shantha Rohana, and Daham Sampath.

No wonder then they beat Royal and gave Trinity a fight of their life in the three encounters that took place that year.

We regret that Skipper Lakshmiwewa who played for the Police and Sri Lanka died at the young age of 33.

But it was the Trinity Team, however, that stole the limelight when they won the Bradby as well as the League and Premadasa Trophy knock out tournament.

Their progression and display that season is an object lesson for any team that would aspire for glory. While it is inappropriate to judge a team by its scores only, the record nonetheless has it that of the 12 matches played, there were 291 points scored.

And the points against came from the one only try scored by Isipathana’s Pradeep Lakshatha; and 7 penalties. They were the first Trinity team to beat Isipathana in Colombo, and to break the defending champions’ – Isipathana’s – stranglehold on the Premadasa School’s knock-out trophy.

Alex Lazarus coaching brings results

Much of this credit goes to the astute coaching of Trinity’s Alex Lazarus and to the sterling leadership of Tyrell Rajapakse known to many as ‘Tikka’.

Trinity has had many great coaches in its time that include Bertie Dias, Percy Madugalle and Denzil Kobbekaduwa. Alex Lazarus stands out as a peer whose team building and tactical prowess was second to none as the reader will see from what follows.

Fitness was the Number One priority of Alex Lazarus and Tyrell. That was the first year in known Trinity rugby history that a regular and mandatory routine of weight training was introduced; mountain climbing was ordered including a team building expedition to the Knuckles Range and a custom built scrummaging machine was brought in.

But it was the war on tactical play that stood out most in that year’s Bradby matches. In the ‘first-leg’ of the Bradby played in Kandy, Royal’s coaches Uddake Tennekoon and Fred Perera, pulled off a coup that stunned not only the Trinity Team but referee Anton Benedict.

In the line-outs Royal began ‘lifting’ the second row forwards to gain possession which was not in the play books and arguably contravened the rules at that time-although it’s since allowed. Royal’s coaches were ahead of the times! Anton Benedict allowed it and it foxed the Trinitians.

Possession mostly went Royal’s way. Trinity however won the encounter 7/3. In the very last minute of the game, a bone crunching tackle by Dasarath Kiridena knocked Suren Madanayake out of the game as he was on a 30 yard run to score. It took him out of the return too and Bijja stood in as Captain.

‘Lifting’ ploy disallowed

In the return game, Referee Daya Jayasundera disallowed the ‘lifting’ ploy. But it was in that match the brilliance of Alex Lazarus came to the fore in dramatic fashion, especially as it was on display in Colombo at the new Sugathadasa Stadium. When line outs were called with a Trinity throw in, Dilshan would call for a two man line-out. That sent the Royal forwards scrambling to defend.

Here is how it went: a couple of seconds before the throw in by Trinity’s line-out feeder Dilshan Senanayake, would signal a two man or 3 man line out where Tyrell, Hettiarachchi and Lohan Ratwatte, would confuse Royal’s line out jumpers by interchanging their positions-one in front now and in a split second the other in front-and as the ball is thrown in.

This caused total confusion in the Royal side-and Wow’s in the stands! This tactic resulted in Trinity overcoming the superiority of the tall Royal second-rowers. In the scrums and mauls too, to the utter consternation of the Royal’s heavier pack, Trinity got the better of the two.

This again was the outcome of tactical planning: in the week before the return game Alex pitted his scrum against the weight and skills of a 12 man opposing scrum so as to build the right resistance and endurance, and wheeling ability. The 19/7 Trinity win was a victory for tactical play.

Trinity show true colours

To round up the story of that rugby season, the Knock-Out Tournament for the Premadasa Trophy had its share of drama with Royal skipper back in the side.

In the quarter-finals, the Trinity-Royal match was tied at 6 all at full time, and the match slipped into a nail-biting finish in overtime, especially as Royal anticipated and countered all of Trinity’s tactics and put up a fiery display.

In extra-time Trinity forced a scrum in Royal’s ’25’, off a Shah Dole kick into Royal territory; the ball came out and with blinding speed and Trinity’s Prasad Dissanayake pounced on the ball and barged his way through to score, carrying with him defender Anura Dhammika!

The Knock-Out Finals between Isipathana and Trinity was a blood curdling event with a dramatic drop goal by Isipathana’s Sudesh Abeysinghe and an even more startling try by Trinity’s Nilantha Ratnayake who made a run that only gazelles’ could perform, to score with Shah Dole converting it to give Trinity the Trophy.

The Trinity team comprised: Lohan Ratwatte (Lion), Janinda. Dunuwille, Dilshan Senanayake (Lion), Tyrell Rajapakse (Lion in ’86), Thaksala Hettiarachchi (Lion in ’88), Prasad Dissanyake, N. Abeysinghe, Dasarath Kiridena (Lion), Rohan Ranaraja (Lion in ’90) and Shah Dole (Lion), Upul Gunaratne, Senani Gunaratne (Lion in ’86), Rajiv Bandaranayake (Lion), Nilantha Ratnayake and Imthi Marikar (Lion).