The Sunday Leader

A Brief Overview Of Thomian Rugby

By Sharm de Alwis

The saga of Thomian rugby began with Justice Noel Gratiaen urging Warden de Saram to include rugby in the sports curriculum despite the warden’s reluctance as there had been a fatality in soccer after which soccer was banned. In 1955, together with St. Joseph’s, the Thomians joined Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s in the fray. Zahira which had her rugby antecedents as early as 1924, had given up the game to be revived in 1958.  STC was first coached by Mahes Rodrigo, assisted by Ashy Cader, whose younger brother Ifthikar captained STC in 1957.
The first Thomian rugger team was captained by K.S. Anandan and included Michael Tissera, ‘Patchy’ Bulankulame, Sudath Weerasuriya and Brad Perera who would captain in the following year when STC would draw 0-0 with Royal and beat experienced St. Peter’s. But in 1955 they were no match for Mahinda Ratwatte’s Trinitians and C.V. Gooneratne’s Royalists who trounced them severely, 13-0 and 18-0 respectively. But they would learn. Every school wishes to beat Trinity; that is the ultimate. In 1960, the Thomian team led by Nihal ‘Baila’ Samarasinghe beat Eric Roles’ star studded Trinity team 5-0 and in the next year Tony Sirimanne’s outfit beat Jayantha Samarasekera’s Royalists 8-0. At the end of the second year of Thomian rugby, Rodney Ingleton and Ifthikar Cader made it to the Combined Colleges team.
STC continued to win against Trinity in 1961 (Tony Sirimanne/Jayantha Jayawardena), ’63 (Mohan Samarasinghe/B.D.A. Piyasena), ’66 (L. Chelliah/Glen Vanlangenberg) and had the better of Royal also in 1963 (Mohan Samarasinghe/M. Jayakumar), ’64 (Juni Cader/Keith Paul), ’65 (Rodney Murray/U.P. Wickramasinghe) and ’66 (L. Chelliah/I.R. Thurairatnam).
STC beat TCK in 1970 (D.R.Weerasinghe/Seevali Samarasekera), ’72 (Rajpal Samarasinghe/Athula Unantenna), ’76 (Stefan d’ Silva/S.V. Ranasinghe) and ’79 (Christopher Jodash who went as Thambipillai then/Jan Tissera).
The Thomians had success against Royal in 1970, ’71, ’72, ’75 and ’77. The captains in the period were D.R. Weerasinghe/Jayantha Fernando; S.I. Rahim/Fred Perera; Rajpal Samarasinghe/G.D.S. Gunasekera; P.L. Munasinghe/I. Hassen; Pat Jacob/S.S. Hashim.
The first few years of the ’70s were characterized by Rajpal Samarasinghe who is considered the most skillful of the brothers. He first played one match against SJC as a 14 year-old in 1968 and was in 1969 captain of the U-17 team which had been started along with Trinity in 1957.
1970 was Rajpal’s first full year. Six boys from the U-17 team played in that 1st XV team.
STC broke the Nittawela hoodoo by beating TCK 13-11 as well as Royal 3-0. He was vice-captain to S.I. Rahim in 1971 and captained in 1972 to beat Trinity by the identical score of 13-11 as in 1970, despite a pendulum shift of honours thanks to a 45 yard bullet penalty kick by full-back Renganathan.
A spectacular sensation was the scoring of two tries in identical manner by P.L. Munasinghe in 1975 when he ‘paralysed’ the Royal stand-off and sliced through the entire defence to score under the posts.
In 1977 was the first ever schools tour for the Asian Schools Rugby Tournament in which Trinity and S. Thomas’ participated in Bangkok.
In 1978, STC captained by Shane Pinder, notched their highest score of 118 – 0 against a hapless Thurstan in two 30 minute halves; placing beyond his limits cricketer/ruggerite Dayalan Subramanium to make good 13 out of 23 conversions.
In the match against Isipatana, Pinder’s team had, apart from others, Diren Hallock, Kolitha Gunathileka, Shanaka de Livera, Athula Wickramanayake and W.L. Chang to counter M.P.S.Sallay, Bowela, Dilroy Fernando and Nanayakkara.
It was in this game that diminutive scrum-half, David Thambipillai broke off from the scrum and scored a try in the dying moments of the game.
In the semi-finals versus Royal, Christopher Thambipillai intercepted Asantha de Mel’s pass and scorched the grass for 60 yards to score a spectacular try and for Rienzie Wijeratne to declare in his column that it “was the try that tore the heat out of Royal.”
1978 was the year in which the Canon R.S. de Saram Trophy was awarded for the Thomian-Trinity games.  Trinity inflicted on the hitherto unbeaten Thomians, a staggering 26-7 defeat. Ravi Balasuriya stayed on to play under  Janaka Kiridena, STC by Shane Pinder. The many alterations made to the STC line is still the subject of discussions.
STC made amends in 1979 at the Havelock Park when, trailing 4-6 till almost the final gasp, a throw to Ravi Ratnayake was picked by Shanaka de Livera who peeled from the line-out and scored for Asanga Perera’s conversion and win. Canon R.S. de Saram was a witness to STC plucking back his trophy.
The ’70s also saw the flourishing of  the finest pair of Michael Jayasekera and P.L. Munasinghe who wove magical circles around their opponents as they flashed over the glory line. Despite their classical moves and the pack engineered by prop Stefan de Silva and number eight Peter Vaniasingham, they lost to Trinity in 1975 by a whisker thin 12-14.
As Theodore Thambipillai’s flight landed at Katunayake, he was whisked away to play at the Peradeniya University Grounds against Trinity in 1976. Kapila Waidyaratne scored the only try in the match for his team to win 4-0 despite the gritty tackling of the Trinitians, particularly Ravi Balasuriya, Kemal Deen and Janaka Kiridena. Thusitha Ranasinghe stopped a try being scored but was concussed in the process and got up only on Sunday.
When Dulwich College toured with their cricket, rugger and hockey teams, Trinity met them first in rugger and lost by a massive margin. When STC met Dulwich, who were adopting the ‘Tank’ for rolling over their opponents, prop Wazil Hafeel who valued his school more than his life threw himself against moving wedge but was lifted and discarded by the ‘Tank’ who changed to move in reverse. Shane Pinder shifted from his pet position of full-back to play as stand-off and Michael played with one hand heavily strapped. Asked by his coach, Quentin Israel, how could he play with his hand so bandaged, he replied nonchalantly, “I’ll play with the other.”
The teams in which Michael played as stand-off, P.L. as center, Kolitha as hooker and Pinder of double foot kicks and phenomenal bursts of speed must rank as the best of the Thomians.
1980 to ’87 was the worst period for STC against Trinity and Royal even though they held their own against all other schools. But they came back on to their own in 1988 under Shehan Panditaratne to win 13-4 after the previous year’s disastrous loss of 0-52 when Ravi Gunawardena opposed Tyrrel Rajapaksa’s crack team which had as many as six rugby Lions.
1989 signalled the Golden Era of Thomian rugby. Rizvi Suhaib had the services of a number of lads who had been properly drilled by Chrysantha Perera in the  champion U-13 team.
A feature of the 1984 team was that the captain Asanga Seneviratne as stand-off waged a single handed battle against all teams. It was Seneviratne versus the Rest.
In 1988, STC lost to Lasitha Gunarathna’s Royalists 9-10 only because two penalty kicks hit the cross-bar.
With seven players over six feet in 1990, Thomians were triple champs. They beat Trinity in 1988, ’89 and ’90 despite masterly coaching by Alex Lazarus. The six footers were the de Saram brothers Charya and Savantha, Suren de Chikera, Jeevantha Jayathileka, Stefan d’ Rozairo and Naren Pereira.
STC beat Isipatana twice in 1990 and the KO Finals saw the finest in open play.  In the 7s against Isipatana with seconds remaining for the long whistle, Naren Pereira grabbed the ball and barged through the entire Isipatana side to score. In 1991, STC were the unbeaten schools champs. In 1992 they needlessly lost to Royal thus ending their 43 wins on the trot. In 1994, M.N. Wijegunawardena’s Thomians beat A.M. Rally’s Trinitians 3-0 and also beat Malalasekera’s Royalists. From 1995 to date, STC has shared wins with eight a-piece with the Rajapaksa brothers captaining thrice to emulate the Samarasinghe brothers. The de Saram brothers and the Iddipillais are one captaincy less.
It is worthwhile mentioning that Gavin Jayasekera’s pack is reputed to be the heaviest that the Thomians ever have had. From 2001 to 2004, STC had a drought of wins against Trinity and Royal but won again in 2005 under Namal Rajapaksa’s captaincy.
The period 2006 to 2010 is memorable for Trinity’s Pushpakumar’s brilliance as a stand-off. Without him there would not have been a team. In 2009, Shavin Kapuwatte proved to be one of the finest that STC has produced and he is spoken of in the same breath as Michael Jayasekera and P.L. Munasinghe. In 2010, Rajinda Gunasekera’s Thomians inflicted in Kandy the second consecutive defeat on Trinity where Anuruddha Wilwara scored some spectacular tries which have become his signature moves.
With the Old Thomian Rugby Football Union having been formed in 1997 on the initiative of Nihal ‘Baila’ Samarasinghe, Arjun Dharmadasa and Shanaka de Livera who have seen to the establishment of the Rugby Carnival in 1988 with Gamini Weerasinghe muscling in, the future of Thomian rugby is assured.

2 Comments for “A Brief Overview Of Thomian Rugby”

  1. ajanatha

    STC did not win against Malalasekera’s Royalists in ’94 as claimed in your article,that year Royal were unbeaten

  2. royal best

    In 1990, STC did not beat Isipathana twice. Isipathana won the knockout final 11-4 against STC, though the trophy was awarded to STC. Also, in 1991 Isipathana did not play rugby, so your comment about beating Isipathana is incorrect similar to the comment about STC beating Royal in 1994.

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