In the 1970’s we witnessed some of the best schoolboy Rugby games in Sri Lanka. Royal, Trinity, S. Thomas’ Mt Lavinia, St. Peter’s, Isipathana, St. Anthony’s produced many great teams and players, who played the game with much passion in their School colours and produced a fine brand of Rugby, still remembered and glowingly referred [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Who: 15 School Boys in Blue, Gold & Blue – When; 1976


In the 1970’s we witnessed some of the best schoolboy Rugby games in Sri Lanka. Royal, Trinity, S. Thomas’ Mt Lavinia, St. Peter’s, Isipathana, St. Anthony’s produced many great teams and players, who played the game with much passion in their School colours and produced a fine brand of Rugby, still remembered and glowingly referred to by many who witnessed these games.

The official photograph of the ‘76 champion Royal outfit

The Royal College, Colombo teams from 1970-79 would consider that their tenure was the golden decade of Rugby at Royal, as the results of their matches and the style of Rugby they played gave ample credence, to them being bestowed with this honour. They produced many great players and teams under the tutelage of two of the greatest Royal coaches Mahes Rodrigo (1970-72) and Summa Navaratnam (1973-79); winning the Blue Riband of Schools Rugby, the Bradby Shield in six of these years and also establishing the series record for the highest score in 1976 that stood for more than 25 years. These teams would say, “The ultimate was always winning the Bradby Shield. That’s the holy-grail and that’s what gives you real accomplishment”.

Of these great teams, the 1976 team led by Manik Veerakumar was unbeaten during the season and would be considered the leading team of the decade for Royal; also ranked by many as one of the best teams ever produced by Royal. In 2014, which is the 38th year since this team played together, they have been honoured by the College, inviting their skipper Manik Veerakumar to be the Chief Guest at the 1st leg of the Bradby on May 10 to be played at the Royal College Sports Complex. Incidentally Veerakumar’s opposing Trinity skipper S.V. Ranasinghe will be the Chief Guest at the 2nd leg played in Kandy on May 24. The two teams will have a great meeting after decades; re-igniting the great camaraderie they have had as players in their respective colours.

Veerakumar was the youngest of six brothers who played Rugby for Royal; the other associated record is that they all played in the same position, as hookers. They are all currently domiciled in the Northern Hemisphere and am sure they do have much difficulty in explaining to colleagues and friends that the position they played, was one of the tougher manly positions in the team to get selected, rather than being the regular ‘pick-up’ as referred to, in that geography. From 1961 – 1976 the Kumar hookers donned the hallowed Blue, Gold and Blue jersey with the eldest Jayakumar and youngest Veerakumar captaining their respective teams in 1963 and 1976.

Veerakumar always had some of the toughest props to bind with in the front row from 1974-76. In 1976 Chari Wijewardene and Liakath Ali were like two mobile large boulders and tough as nails. Off the field this front row were smiling beacons whose placement in the food chain was right at the top (considered their meditative relaxation), with consumption records matching their team’s scoring records on the field. Fast and slick in his hooking, Veerakumar led from the front rallying the best in his team in every position. His hooking in the set pieces gave enough ball to the backs and his pin point throwing in the line outs gave an easy catch of the ball to his six footer second rowers Seyyed Hassim; Anudatta (AAA) Dias and Mayanth Kanagasunderam and to No.8 Saman Jayasinghe. In most instances their opposing jumpers either ‘clapped in mid air’ in vain or in their frustration had to settle down to handling the similar sounding appendages of the Royal jumpers, who had to contain some additional ‘roughing up’ in the name of the game.

Royal in the 1970’s was a production line of some of the best 3rd row forwards seen in the school boy circuit and in 1976 they had that ‘hunting trio’ of Ajit Gunewardene, Saman Jayasinghe and Asoka Siriwardene who were omnipresent in attack or defence with their mantra being ball retention at every break down with their cue words being tackle and drive, up hard, drop and cover, be aggressive and back up in attack. The writer was with two of them at Royal’s most successful coach Summa Navaratnam’s 80th birthday celebration when legendary Thomian Rugby Coach and Trinity Rugby player/coach Quintin Israel was passing our table; stopped and pointed at Ajit Gunewardene and said ‘Gunewardene, Jayasinghe. Siriwardene – the best 3rd row in Sri Lankan schools I have ever seen; even better than the trio that your father Norman played with”. Ajit in reverence bowed like a Japanese and shook hands with

At another gathering of the same team after leaving school

the great opponent coach who was humble in his recognition of great players from opposing schools; such was their character.

These eight forwards used progressive muscular relaxation (aka as PMR which refers to the process of tensing and relaxing your muscles) by continually tensing the opponents’ muscles whilst clinically relaxing their own. They were mentally tough by taking control or responsibility for the situation at hand, committed by always giving their maximum effort to the game and team, challenging themselves always in enhancing the score and winning the game well and confident with a strong belief and insatiable desire to succeed. They were a dream “8” any coach would have loved to have; six (6) of them were selected to represent the Sri Lanka Schools Rugby team that year, together with 3 from the backs with no Royalists in the selection committee. The Colombo Schools Team that year had 14 Royalists in the team for their annual Gratien Cup match against the Outstation Schools; here too no Royalist was a member of the selection committee.

The half-backs were Chingo “Cheena” Ching and the never stressed out Skandha Fernando. Chingo established a record in try scoring in the Bradby when he scored four (4) tries in the 2nd leg in Kandy when Royal won the game 25-6; a series record that remains unbroken. He was a nippy and agile scrum half who was in the thick of every move and was always smiling and the only time his eyes and lips were in an opposing physical makeup was when a leading referee blew him almost a dozen times for the crooked throw-in to the scrum, in another key game, which make us wonder what outside mischief “Cheena” had played on the referee. Skandha got much clean ball that he fed his three’s well to do the scoring whilst dummying at times to get a score for himself and drop kicking at the most un-expected moments (the occasional shocks he gave his team mates, “to spur their adrenaline” he would later say).

The rest of the three’s were “dummy dancing” Sukumar, ‘toe kicking’ Hosni Cader and the two babies in the team on the wings; fast running and tackle slipping Rohantha Peiris and Senadhi Abeysuriya with Errol Thambinayagam and Shehan Perera. These guys had enough good ball to keep the scorers busy on the RC side with the numerous crossings of the try line, booting the ball over the cross bar and defending well when the occasion arose.

The No.15 jersey was donned by Sien “Eeek” Shiek, who was the most complete ‘model’ full back in any school during the 70’s. He was agile in his surprise attack and absolutely sound in defence. He has a rare honour, as he wore the TCK jersey in 1974 and the RC jersey in 1975 & 76 and was always in a Champion winning team that carried the Bradby home.

This team recorded some record-breaking scores against most of the teams they played. The coveted Bradby Shield was won 36-nil and 25-6 (these scores included the highest match score which stood till 1998 when Shanaka Perera’s Royal team won 42-11 and highest aggregate score which was broken by Zulki Hamid’s Royal team 44-nil and 39-nil in 2002). A significant feature of the 1976 Bradby Shield matches was, the Colombo leg hosted by Royal was refereed by old Royalist, Group Captain (later Air Marshal) Harry Gunetilleke and the Kandy leg was refereed by old Trinitian Major (later Lt General) Denzil Kobbekaduwa. The game was greater than anything else for men of this caliber and both schools respected their referring decisions with grace.

They won 54-nil vs Wesley College, 40-nil vs Ananda College, 40-3 vs Isipathana College (record score to date), 106-nil vs Carey College, 100-6 vs Vidyartha College, 27-nil vs St. Anthony’s College, 22-3 vs Thurstan College 36-nil vs Trinity College (1st leg) and 25-6 vs Trinity College (2nd leg).

The much-awaited game with S. Thomas’ College captained by Stefan D’ Silva played between the two Bradby’s ended in a 6-all draw with both teams playing their hearts out scoring a goal each. Saman Jayasinghe scored for Royal and Wilhem Bogstra for STC.
This Champion Royal team was coached by former Royal and All Ceylon Rugby and Athletic Captain Summa Navaratnam; known to be the fastest man in Asia during his day in Track and Field. His player coach relationship was legendary and so were his coaching drills, tactics, ploys which I am sure this team would describe the relationship as a trusted partnership which was effective and successful which had much closeness, co-orientation (shared views), complementary and committed. He gave his players choice within reason, provided rationale, gave players to use their initiative, provided feed back (the dreaded red book) and avoided ego oriented behaviour. No wonder this team had success written all over their style of play.

Veerakumar had integrity, flexibility, loyalty, confidence, accountability, candor and patience in his leadership, which he did from the front row literally and metaphorically. His team responded with peak performance in Rugby where they demonstrated speed, agility, being able to handle pressure, mental toughness, power play and explosive strength, managing aggression and fit to last the full period of the game.

Veerakumar and his team brought the Bradby Shield to Reid Avenue in style and we sincerely hope their recognition and presence will enable the 2014 Royal team also to bring the Shield to Reid Avenue when presented by the 1976 Trinity skipper S.V. Ranasinghe in Kandy just as much as he and his team handed it over to the Royal 1976 team after the 2nd leg in Kandy.
Royal Rugby No 8

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