The name ‘Omanthage Wisudda Rohan Perera’ may not strike as lightening but in the local field of rugby ‘OWR’ Perera is quite well known among the seniors. ‘OWR’ was conferred with the nickname ‘Oda’ by renowned coach Kamal Jayawardena, but still it may fail to strike many, particularly the younger generation. For the record ‘Oda’ [...]


‘Oda’, the humble coach who helped shape up the Green Machine


The unbeaten Isipathana Rugby team of 1985, with 'Oda' seated on extreme right

The name ‘Omanthage Wisudda Rohan Perera’ may not strike as lightening but in the local field of rugby ‘OWR’ Perera is quite well known among the seniors. ‘OWR’ was conferred with the nickname ‘Oda’ by renowned coach Kamal Jayawardena, but still it may fail to strike many, particularly the younger generation.

For the record ‘Oda’ left Sri Lanka in 1988 for good and settled down in Melbourne, Australia but after initiating wonders, way back then. He earned the reputation as a highly acclaimed rugby coach, in an era where certifications were not available. He was instrumental in cementing the culture of Isipathana College rugby, which is one of the strongest among local schools. Above all he is the role model for many, including celebrated coach Sanath Martis, reputed referee Dilroy Fernando and the icon Hisham Abdeen.

Members of teams of Isipathana, who represented in the 1980s greeted ‘Oda’ at an informal reception last week at Havelocks Sports Club, but it would have been the hardest of tasks to spot out who is who, for an outsider. The camaraderie among them was such, that it was when almost all, apart from one significant individual, was seen using the word ‘Sir’. The one who was not ‘Sir’ing others was ‘Oda’.

“I never expected or demanded any gratitude or honour but I’m happy and feel fulfilled. Today, I’m back in Sri Lanka after five years and it’s the friendship and respect that give me more happiness. That’s what makes me proud of my work,” ‘Oda’ Perera said, with a humble and genuine smile on his calm face.

'Oda' (on left) and Martis, the not-so- famous master-pupil combination in rugby

The workload Perera, now 63, had done through his career as Head Coach of Isipathana, spanning over a decade since 1978, is immense. Not only did he help Isipathana, shape up its current rugby culture with a more respectable approach, but he also improved as a coach, giving the players the fullest of freedom, of course after identifying their talent, potential and capability separately.

Perera has never undergone rugby training courses or obtained coaching certificates in his life. But his theory, which validates even for today, is all about being open — in both teaching and also learning.

“I watched great coaches like Archibald Perera and Quinton Israel and observed how they conducted. Archibald is a great teacher, he knew that I was listening, we never had personal discussions, but he will relate you with something new.”

On December 31, 1988, Perera left Sri Lanka after making Isipathana champions many a times, including triple crowns and a few unbeaten seasons. His leave was meant to be temporary, but with the then country’s situation, raised quite a few alarms on his desire to return.

“There were no coaching certificates then, but I coached rugby for different reasons. At Isipathana there’s a totally different characteristic, despite differences in status and background, we were equal inside. We were treated as virtual outlaws or pariahs and at times even was treated unfairly by referees, sometimes knowingly. I wanted to fight and defeat critics by showing that Isipathana could stand up to any challenge. I never went for verbal engagements, but did everything by teaching my kids how to play clean and perfect. End of the day I have a battalion of good friends,” explaining the simplest way, Perera said.

One of Perera’s ardent students is Sanath Martis, well known to be a shrewd tactician among local coaches. He is one of the most respected and successful coaches in the island and for Martis, Perera is the role model.

“Earlier I was an adamant character, I had no democracy as a coach then but he changed my way of thinking completely. He straightforwardly told me that I was doing all wrong. I listened to him and today he has proved many things right. Today I’m one the few coaches accredited by World Rugby in Sri Lanka who can Train the Trainer, and when I go through all teaching and training modules, I’m simply surprised to see that they are the same methods my coach ‘O.W.R.’ implemented 30 years ago. It was a time when there was no certification was available. Moreover he taught me to become a listener, to accept defeat, respect the opponent and to learn from mistakes. Not only did he developed me as a player and coach after the 1988 season, but he taught me much more in life, it was a privilege to have him as my coach and mentor and a God’s gift to build up my life and career as a coach, father and friend,” a somewhat unusually emotional Martis said.

According to what his students in rugby say, Perera was more a learner himself than a teacher. He would teach the players all the basics, and touch upon all the aspects of the 80-minute contact game before letting them take the field, play and enjoy the game. There had never been an incident or any report that Perera lost his cool, even when Isipathana lost a game.

“I smoked a lot, I don’t think it was a good thing, but then there were no restrictions. Though I was nervous, I never showed it off to my players or interfered. I always had the faith on them. If I train them well they’ll have the ability to win. Even if they lose, it’s just a game, you win and you lose and you learn from the mistakes,” Perera, with a grin on his face went on to say while Martis related an incident.

“When Royal College whacked Isipathana 24-0 in 1988, Suresh Abeysinghe captained Isipathana and Lasitha Gunaratne led Royal, ‘Oda’ was the Head Coach and I was his assistant. I was so angry of the loss, but he was cool as ever. I was so furious but what he said was – Royal played better than us, so they deserve the win, learn to take the defeat. From that day onward, I took his word as a mantra, that’s why he’s is my role model.”

Records reveal that 22 of Perera’s rugby students over the period of ten years have represented Sri Lanka. Among them were Hisham Abdeen, Pradeep Lakshantha, Anurudha Bowela, Leslie de Silva, Dilroy Fernando, Aruna Uduwelagedara, Roger Rodrigo, Hector Gunatilake, Chandana Deepthi, Nizam Jamaldeen, Hemantha Lakshmewewa, Shantha Rohana, Chanka Jayaweera, Bimal Perera, Viraj Prashantha, Champika Nishantha, Sudesh Abeysinghe, Shyam Sideek, Sudath Sampath, Ananda Fernando, Aruna de Silva and the Late Nilantha Lakshmiwewa. Most of them today are well respected in the society and in the rugby field.

“I was refereeing when I got to know him, he is a thorough gentleman, very nice, humble and silent. Silently he produced many rugby players to Sri Lanka, which clearly shows what a fantastic and productive coach he is. I’m glad that I was able to associate with him and longing to see a coach in his calibre,” S.W. Chang, former Trinity and Sri Lanka cap recalled.

One of his students, former IRB referee Dilroy Fernando, related Perera’s long term vision to uplift Isipathana and of an incident where his coach disagreed on selections and declined the Head Coach appointment of the Sri Lanka Under-19 team for a tour to England.

“I was his captain in 1982, where Isipathana ended with an unbeaten record and a triple crown. Oda was more involved with the players and their families, he had a very good reputation with all the players, who respected him in return immensely. His commitment and passion was unmatchable compared to today’s coaches. When Isipathana had issues we had to fight for our rights. Oda was instrumental in forming the Rugby Committee, the first for any school, and others followed. He said that he will be going to Australia in a couple of years and there should be team to take the game forward and it proved to be a successful move since 1988,” Fernando recalled.

Perera, still at 63, works as a Computer Analyst in Melbourne, Australia and lives with his wife and three young daughters. On and off he makes himself free to watch a game of rugby but he is very much in the loop of what is taking place in Sri Lanka, mainly in politics and rugby. But since moving to Australia, Perera had never thought of moving on into the field of rugby coaching and has been off the sight. But his heart lives on with the band of friends he earned through the sport and the brand of rugby he helped Isipathana to adopt and shape up.

“For us he is a legend and he created a rugby legacy in Isipathana that still moves on heftily with a professional layout. We all must thank Oda for what he did for Isipathana and for us,” voiced out Martis and Fernando.

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