The team that made history for Royal
by T. Varagunam (Chancellor, Eastern University), Daya Perera (Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Canada) Tony Anghie (Retired Army Officer), Daya Samarasinghe (Retired Physician), Ashy Cader (Retired Executive), Geoff Weinman (Retired Executive), Desmond van Twest (Retired Physician), Trevor Anghie (Retired Physician)
It was in the year 1948 when Royal had a general feeling of despair caused by the fact that for the four previous years it had lost to Trinity and was yet to win the Bradby Shield; the shield awarded in the name of its own principal. This four year drought combined with the fact that since the year 1920, it had won only three matches compared to Trinity’s 19 had sent Royal to the doldrums.
The prevailing gloom was compounded by the fact that in 1948 only one second year player was left in the team from the previous year - Ashroff Cader.
Royal faced the formidable task of having to train and pick another 14 new players for its forthcoming matches against Trinity. Moreover, Royal’s coach - C. O. Foenander, a past captain of the Royal team, was unwilling to continue. A new coach had to be found. This task fell on M. T. Thambapillai, the Master in Charge of Rugby, and our Principal J. C. A. Corea.
The new coach had to be an outstanding player; a man who not only knew the game and would teach it well to youngsters, but also provide that extra zest which was so vital for playing the game well by a team, whose predecessors had such a dismal record. They picked Sydney de Zoysa – a rigorous and disciplined coach with masterly tactics and strategies acquired from his experience in the Police Force.
At first practice, we gathered round the old tamarind tree in the school’s rugby grounds. Thambapillai, the most understanding of masters, rather than attempting a coaching session suggested we play a ‘chuckers’ match until our newly appointed coach arrived. Rugby boots were at that time a commodity in great demand. So, those with boots became forwards and those without hung around behind as backs who relieved themselves of the ball immediately they received it, purely as a measure of self preservation. After coach Sydney de Zoysa arrived there was no such laissez faire. It was blood and sweat. He constantly kept reminding us, in his loud stentorian voice, that rugby is a game of guts and he transferred the theme of our school motto- "Learn or Depart," to our training – "If you can’t get it right, B….. off." And there was Thambapillai encouraging us in his mellifluous monotonous voice with, "don’t worry boys, with more practice you will soon get it right." Though mild in his manners Thambapillai’s capacity to motivate the players was the key factor in building our team.
Compared to the scientific training methods of today, with video analyses and constructive feedback, our training tilted towards the brutal. Jumping individually to grab the ball in the lineouts (the practice of towering was non-existent in those years), pushing and turning in scrums, dribbling, falling on the ball, passing the ball in all its forms, including the dummies, place and drop kicking, tackling, running with the ball, catching the high ball and ’marking’; were all drilled to points of exhaustion. This rigorous training went on for about six months and it first paid off when we beat St. Peter’s under the glowering and threatening eyes of our coach and later drew with Zahira; these two being the other Colombo schools which played serious rugby at that time.
More intensive practice followed and a few days before the dreaded day of playing Trinity, Sydney de Zoysa announced the squad (see photograph) which was going to make history for Royal. After making the announcement, he mellowed down and promised us a "show and dinner" if we won the Bradby Shield.
Props:(1) A. E. Bartholomeuz* and (2) Bala Seevaratnam*
Hooker (3) T. Varagunam
Second Row: (4) Eustace Fonseka* and (5) G. Perinpanayagam*
Flankers (6) Geoff Weinman and (7) Daya Samarasinghe
No 8: (8) Ashroff Cader (Captain)
Scrum half (9) Daya Perera
Fly half (10) S. D. N. Hapugalle*
Centres (11) Tony Anghie and (12) D. Raymond*
Wingers (13) Desmond van Twest and (14) A. Gunawardene*
Full Back (15) Trevor Anghie *-unfortunately no longer with us; and also M. T.Thambapillai, Sidney de Zoysa and J. C. A. Corea.
We are writing this 60 years after these matches were played. We have tried faithfully to recollect the significant events. But as everyone knows, the passage of time does influence one’s perceptions. Hence, what we have written may not accurately depict the reality that had prevailed. However, we managed to dig out, from Tony Anghie’s archives, an article written by Thambapillai in a local newspaper in June 1993 and have used it as a reference. In it, he refers to the 1948 season as a "milestone in the history of Royal Rugger."
The first match was played at the Police grounds on Havelock Road with an old Trinitian - Harold van Royen of the Police refereeing. Our school mates, envisaging yet another defeat turned up in fewer numbers than in previous years. A handful of staunch old boys and some past players, a few parents, together with some interested members of the public with some press reporters, constituted a total of about 300 spectators. There were no cheer leaders; the majority consisting of ageing old boys who were a poor substitute for the perky young things that populate the matches of today.
The Trinity team, truly magnificent in their tri-coloured jerseys and led by Ajward Mohammed strutted confidently into the field under the watchful eyes of their coach Philip Buultjens.
Their confidence was so overwhelming that, had they been given the chance, they might have done the ‘Haka’ Maori war dance of the All Blacks team. We jogged into the field led by Ashroff Cader, cowed under the burden of previous defeats.
The match itself must have been one of the hardest fought schoolboy games played in Colombo that year and according to Thambpillai it was a "ding dong battle." Some aspects of the battle are etched in our minds.
In the first half of the game, the teams were evenly matched, play occurring equally in both halves of the grounds. Ashy Cader’s jumping prowess got the ball out for us from the line outs nine times out of 10. Desmond van Twest, our winger, who often ‘threw in’ the ball in the line outs has this to say of him; "Ashy was an all time line out forward par excellence and at a pinch, could even be relied to pot the ball between the uprights from all parts of the field." But somehow, in spite of Ashy’s performance, the ball rarely progressed beyond the mid three quarters.
The same was true with the scrums. We got the ball out many times more frequently than Trinity did. The aggregate weights of the forwards were roughly equal on both teams, but Daya Perera put in the ball at just the right shoving time and Varagunam, supported by Bala Seevaratnam and Arthur Bartholomeuz hooked the ball to our advantage much to the amazement of the Trinity team.
The few times Trinity got the ball out from the scrums, our wingers - the non stop tackling machine Daya Samarasinghe and the attacking/harassing and spoiling Geoff Weinman saw to it that it never got to the Trinity three quarter line. And if it did, our mid three quarter, David Raymond’s venomous tackling stopped it from reaching the wingers. We were close to Trinity’s five yard line on many occasions. On one such occasions, Geoff Weinman tried a drop kick and failed. On another, Daya Samarasinge coming out of the scrum, elegantly poached a ball being passed between Trinitythree quarters but was brought down by a heavy Trinity forward.
A few minutes before the half time whistle, and close to the corner flag, we had a scrum down for some minor infringement of the rules. When the ball came out on our side a desperate Trinity flanker in his earnestness fell foul of the rules and we were given a penalty. There was Philip Buultjens on the line cursing away probably at the referee but a glimmer of a smile must have appeared on his face when he noticed that the angle was impossibly close to the touch line. In the pin drop silence, Trevor Anghie with his tree trunk thighs and with a concentration never seen before, accurately sent the ball between the posts, clearing the cross bar by more than six feet. This was the turning moment in our morale which the 14 fresher’s and their captain needed so badly.
Our successes at pushing and keeping the ball in the scrum and waiting for the correct time to get it out was fantastic team work with Eustace Fonseka and Gnani Perinpanayagam giving the necessary shove from the second row bound by Ashy Cader functioning as lock. As play continued, Daya Perera did a splendid job, as only he could, of rallying and harnessing our forwards. He at the same time, undermined the confidence of the opposition pack in a good humored way by talking down their efforts and thus deflating their spirits. In the second half we continued to maintain our superior play.
In an attempt to overcome this situation, Mike Schokman from Trinity started his booming kicks to the touch line and Philip Buultjens from the touch lines kept shouting "Schockman for god’s sake keep the ball in play." Fortunately for Trinity, Mike did not hear him or ignored him and continued this practice, until close of play. Towards the end of the game, at a five yard scrum from our touchline, Tinity’s scrum half Senanayake managed to sneak through and score a try which they failed to convert. Trevor Anghie converted another penalty almost in front of the posts, but from almost the half line. The match ended to our advantage with scores at 6-3.
A fortnight later, we set out for Kandy to play the second leg in an old decrepit bus. On route, some of the team were planning to throw the rugger ball out of the bus at Pasyala to make a stop in the vicinity of the ‘cadju girls’. With a horrified expression on his face Thambapillai foiled the effort. On arrival in Kandy, we were first taken to the Bogambara grounds which to us looked like a mini lake with little islands of earth protruding at intervals.
To our horror, we were told, that was where the match was to be played. We were then taken to one of the Trinity College hostels and after a brief period of rest, were instructed to get into our rugby kits and walk down as a group to Bogambara.
The intensity of the support for Trinity was apparent all over the town, most amongst the shop keepers and vendors. On route, down the streets we sensed a mixture of emotions directed at us who were considered ‘foreigners’ to Kandy. We noted some awe in the public at seeing the team that had broken the invincible Trinitians in the first match. A few passersby added remarks of ridicule and added a haughty demeanour in an effort to belittle us in the hope that we would be disheartened. David Raymond, who had been a boarder the previous year at Trinity, when asked whether he had come up to watch the match confessed that he was in the Royal team and they broke down with raucous laughter. We walked down almost in silence and probably watched over by some seniors and Thambapillai. If they were not there, some of us may have given a few choice repartees to the uncalled for remarks from the ogling public on the streets.
The second match to us was like wallowing in a mud field. But according to Thambapillai "it was a memorable match. One of the finest games in the series," and he goes on to say "the slight rarity of the atmosphere in Kandy and being their home grounds, Trinity had a slight edge over Royal. They came down on the Royalists like Assyrians on the fold."
The wetness made the ball difficult to handle and play mainly depended on the scrums and mauls combined with dribbling and kicking. A few ‘knock ons’ tended to be ignored by the referee. Having noted our superiority in the scrums during the first leg, Trinity had developed its own strategies. They had changed their pack to a heavier one and had equipped their hooker with leather shin guards.
The apparently unintended kicks during the scrums fell painfully on the Royal forward’s bare shins. Retaliation was fruitless. During the first half of the game, emboldened by their home ground they did all the attacking; their hefty three quarters drawing their men and passing out to their sturdy wingers, but to no avail, because of Tony Anghie and David Raymond who according to Thambapillai "tackled their hearts out." One of these encounters happened at our five yard line. Tony Anghie, with two Trinitians in pursuit, fell on Trevor Anghie, who was trying to clear the ball. In the melee that followed, the ball rolled into the Royal goal with the two Trinitians and the Anghie brothers practically on top of it.
To Thambapillai, who was watching from the pavilion, "Tony Anghie appeared to have touched the ball a split second earlier than the Trinitian." However, this was not the perception of the referee, who was none other than our coach Sydney de Zoysa, and he gave the try to Trinity.
Although the conversion of the try failed, Trinity’s courage surged and they continued their attacking game to the thrill of the Kandy spectators. Just before the half time whistle, one of their sturdy wingers, practically transporting our light weight winger Desmond van Twest on his shoulders, went over the line; but that try was also not converted.
The second half started with Trinity leading 6-0 and a vision of the shining Bradby Shield continuing to remain in their Principal’s Office. We kicked off with Sydney de Zoysa’s ‘do or die’ exhortation, burning a hole in our minds. Oh boy, we went hell-bent in our tactics as we had never done before. We will let Thambapillai describe what happened; "Royal seemed to get their second wind and Trinity seemed a spent force. Royal won the line outs, thanks to Cader and the scrums and mauls due to Varagunam’s slick hooking. In one of the movements, Dennis Hapugalle, the fly half, receiving a neat snappy pass from scrum half Daya Perera and taking the ball on the run, sold a peach of dummy to vis-a-vis Schokman, drew the first inside and sent the ball to Raymond who passed it to Tony Anghie. Tony, drawing the opposing winger passed to Desmond van Twest who touched down." Desmond van Twest’s perception of this try is that just before the ball was passed to him he had received a bone crunching, muscle crippling tackle from a Trinity forward and was gingerly climbing on to his feet when he saw the ball flying towards him. In his words he suddenly "got a boost of adrenalin and the pain in his body miraculously vanished."
He managed to evade and outsprint Trinity’s would be tacklers and scampered clear down the right wing to the touch line. A huge sigh, not a cheer, arose from the Kandy supporters in the crowd. Trevor Anghie had his first missed conversion and we were behind 6-3 but equal on the grand total. However, tension arose and there was still a possibility of Trinity hanging on to the shield. Then we dealt the coup de grace starting in a scrum within Trinity’s 25 yard line. We, as usual, got the ball and worked our three quarter line with the ball reaching right winger Ana Gunawardena. Trevor Anghie suddenly appeared from his full back position and backed him and received a tricky pass which he carried over the line along with two Trinitians hanging on his back. A cheer rose up from the few Royalist supporters and some of the more mature Trinitians.
Trevor Anghie converted and we led 8-6 comfortably in line for the Bradby Shield. The few minutes, that was left of play, were taken up by Daya Perera, having decided he had had enough and much to the relief of the rest of the team, kept kicking to touch the ball that was constantly coming out to our advantage from the scrums and line outs.
During the post mortem of the match, Sydney de Zoysa had a confession to make about that controversial try by Trinity. He said; "I know chaps the first try I awarded to Trinity should have been a five yard scrum. My heart was breaking, but I had to award Trinity that try." We who had sweated our hearts out on that mud field were not too impressed. But Thambapillai, the thorough gentleman that he was, reacted with; "it was characteristic of Sydney and the Royalists of his generation."
We cannot recall the post match celebrations nor the award of the Bradby Shield that was accepted by our captain Ashy Cader, but what we remember was that Sydney de Zoysa, on return to Colombo, did honour his debt to us with a magnificent dinner. He picked us up in a Police truck, cutting a roundabout or two on the way home just to add a frill and possibly a thrill to our victory.
We apologise for having written this account in a self-congratulatory tone. However, we maintain that our team was unique in several aspects. We were the first team to win the Bradby Shield for Royal. We were the first and possibly the only team to win the Bradby with 14 ‘first season fledglings’. A member of our team - Geoff Weinman, was the first and possibly the only schoolboy who played for All Ceylon while still in school. And ending on a lighter note, if you look at our group photo, you will notice that we are in blazers embellished with our College Colours emblem. Our previous teams and probably all of our subsequent teams were all photographed in their rugby jerseys!