Sunday, December 16, 2007

Those Rugby Days

Bring back the Clifford Cup!

Sunday Times Feb 21 1999

The Clifford Cup Rugby was the blue riband of our rugby in the past. Since 1950 the elite clubs of Sri Lanka such as CR & FC, CH & FC, Havelocks S.C. , Kandy S.C., Dimbulla C & A C, Dickoya & Maskeliya C.C., Uva Gymkhana Club and Kelani Valley which had the best blend of local rugby talent and foreign rugby players who were working as planters and commercial executives played in the Clifford Cup Tournament dishing out champagne rugby.

In 1961 the Police, Army, Navy, Air Force and University who were affiliated Clubs playing in the 'B' Division too were permitted to participate in the Clifford Cup tournament and the entry of these teams added more colour to the tournament with their rugged and robust approach to the game.

Havelocks S.C. was the first winners of Clifford Cup when they became the League Champions in 1950, led by Ian Labrooy and had some outstanding rugby players of the calibre of R.C. Henricus, Hugh Aldons, Eric Aldons, H.E.V. Metzerling, Fred Aldon, Sib Pilapitiya, V. Kelly, Alan Drieberg, E. Matheysz, R. Sourjah, Ivor Bartholomeusz, 'Letcho" Ephraums, D. Ernst and K. Gunawardane.

CR &FC, that year was captained by the great Archibald Perera who was famous for his "Dummies" and lost to Havelocks by 11 points to 3 points.

CH & FC which was an all expatriate side, captained by H.H. Campbell won all their matches but lost to Havelocks in their last league game.

Dimbulla, another strong team from the hill country skippered by Lyn Simpson was hard to beat in their home ground at Radella. But lost to Havelocks by 13 points to nil thanks to tries by Fred Aldons, Eric Aldons and Ivor Bartholomeusz.

At the end of the league tournament the club placings were: Havelocks won all the seven games beating CH &FC, CR&FC, Dimbulla, Kandy, Uva, Dickoya and Kelani Valley, for them to win the coveted Clifford Cup at its inaugural year.

In 1951 too Havelocks won the Clifford Cup captained by Ian Labrooy. Interestingly Havelocks played all their home matches at Police Park, Bambalapitiya.

In 1952 CR&FC won the Clifford Cup captained by that shrewd scrum half Mahes Rodrigo who went onto become a double international in rugger and cricket. His team had some great players in Malcolm Wright, Dr. Trevor Anghie, Summa Navaratnam, Kavan Rambukwella, S.S. Bambaradeniya, A. Gunawardane, U. Amarasinghe, Ago Paiva, A.K. Dorai, Miles Christofelsz, R. Shockman, Devaka Rodrigo, Eardly McHeyzer, Norman Gunawardane, Ashroff Cader, H. Neuman, Geof Weiman and E.L. Fernando.

The year 1953 saw Dimbulla emerge as the Clifford Cup champions captained by Lyn Simpson, with some outstanding planters playing for his team such as Peter Clark, Mike Warring, Ian Campbell, Stanley Unanboowa, Malcolm Wright, B.Clark, D, Ironside, McClune, David Parker, McKitterick, Walker, Mollison, Wadsworth, and Stewart.

In 1954 CR&FC won the Clifford Cup led, by that fastest human in Asia, Summa Navaratnam, beating Kandy S.C skippered By S.D. Pilapitiya. Again in 1955 Summa Navaratnam captained the CR&FC to win the Clifford Cup championship against Kandy S.C. captained by Ken McPherson.

In 1956 CR & FC won the Clifford Cup for the third successive year captained by Malcolm Wright beating the combined might of Dimbulla and Dickoya led by J.A. Partridge. In 1957 CH&FC won the Clifford Cup for the first time led by St. John Davies against the Dim-Dicks skippered by Malcolm Wright. In 1958 CR&FC again won the Clifford Cup captained by Ashy Cader beating Dickoya led by Barry Cameron.

In 1959 CR&FC captained by the ace fly half Ago Paiva shared the Clifford Cup with Dimbulla led by Ken McPherson. In 1960 CH&FC skippered by Jeremy Lloyd won the Clifford Cup by beating Dimbulla led by Mike Warring.

In 1961, with Police, Army, Navy, Air Force and University from the "B" Division being permitted to play alongside the "A" Division clubs, CR&FC,CH&FC, Havelocks, Kandy, Dimbulla, Dickoya, Uva and K.V. the format of the Clifford Cup was changed where all 13 clubs had to play each other once in a Home and Away basis in alternate years on a league basis and at the end of the league the best eight teams had to play in a knock-out tournament for the Clifford Cup. The Police, Army, Navy and Air Force made best use of this opportunity and began their accendency in rugby displacing the elite clubs with some breathtaking rugby and began to dominate the local rugby scene which will unfold in the coming weeks in my column.

But today the tragedy is the traditional Clifford Cup with such a glorious past has died a natural death thanks to our rugby administrators opting for new trophies such as John Players Cup, Premadasa Cup, President's Trophy and Carlsberg Trophy. Forgetting the fact that the value of a challenge trophy is enhanced with the passage of time like the "Bradby Shield" which is awarded to the winners of the Royal-Trinity rugby encounter since the 1940s. It will do our rugby good if the administrators bring back on offer the Clifford Cup for the league tournament immaterial who the sponsors are so that we could relive the glorious past of our rugby with it's rich traditions. - SS

Those were the days . . .

Kavan: rugby skills and mango seeds

Another prestigious post Kavan held was being a councillor for the

Sport Council of the Ministry

of Sports. Prior to that he held other key posts.

By M.H.M. Manasique – Sunday Times Jan 4, 1998

A local rugby wizard who is accredited to be one of the greatest strategists - within and outside the rugby field - is Kavan Rambukwella.

His skills as a player, coach, administrator, selector, councillor, consultant and promoter is legendary and has blended to maintain a high calibre profile in the sport.

When one sees some of the top rugby personalties bow down at the sight of him in sincere appreciation of the services he has rendered, one is left to wonder what sort of a magnificient player he has been. His concentration for the game began at Trinity College, Kandy where every student enjoys a bit of rugby in his schooling career. He started playing the game with the mango seed with colleagues during lunch breaks. Anchoring a berth in the College First XV side at the age of 14, his attachment to the game now spans 50 years. A glowing career, it still glitters with the hope of giving the best guidance to players who seek his advice.

Even today his expertise is sought by the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) where he is heading the Appeal Board of the Union as Chairman. Here the judgement of the Disciplinary Committee is scrutinized for a milder punishment when appealed by the defendant. A honorary job which could be typically handled by men of high regard and respect in the rugby society. Having witnessed varying rugby standards from many angles since the time Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon, he has practically analysed every scenario in the rise and the fall of the game.

Based on his findings he has engineered many meaningful remedies for the propagation and the upliftment of the sports in Sri Lanka. Dedicated to the core, he once resigned as the Chairman together with the entire Selection Committee of the SLRFU backing his decision in protest against Sports Ministry intervention in forcing to include a player of his choice. He further refused to accompany the same team as the manager during the 1979 tour of Malaysia for the Asiad. However the minister's nominee ended up with sore eyes. A stable decision maker he has led a no nonsense life though mingled freely with ruggerites and their administration staff. Helping the needy ruggerite when in troubled waters, he has successfully negotiated many fine jobs for budding young ruggerites for which he has been showered with high accolades. Hailed as 'Golden Boy of Ceylon' for his try scoring ability in international matches where he excelled as a centre three quarter he was able to play freely unlike in local matches being well marked by two to three players at a time. The publicity he received in the media had been very encouraging and still maintains most of his paper clippings neatly pasted in two thick drawing books.

Having lost his parents when young he was brought up by his uncles. Most of his young life had been at the school boarding and finally ending up at Alison House at Trinity. Organizing his life in such a way he established himself steadily and later became a Director at Bartleet Tea Brokers. He served there for 30 years after being an executive for five years. Thus he held one of the top most positions in the Company. His vision to promote the game and to standardize the quality of the sport was always broad-based. He is glad that most of his ideas are taking shape these days. One of which was to introduce the game into the provinces when he held office as SLRFU President in the 1978/79 term.

The inauguration of mini-rugby was another brain-child of his. Another major assignment he undertook was the successful campaign in conducting the Rugby Congress at Hilton for a day, where media reports of the past 15 years were reviewed by the entire rugby fraternity in the county seeking specialist instructions and guidance for the sheer sake of improvement. He was also privileged to be the first President of the Duncan White Sports Foundation mostly represented by the media personnel of the highest repute.

Another prestigious post he held was being a councillor for the Sport Council of the Ministry of Sports. Prior to that he held on to some key offices.

Kavan's ability to coach brought him unexpected fame specially after dominating the international scene. He guided CR&FC from 1963 to 1965, the club which ear-marked his success as a coach.

Later he went on to coach the Police team for six continuous years. He was there with the Police until they won their first ever Cup in 1971. At the same time he was running a school of junior rugby where 20 odd cub ruggerites successfully passed the 3 month course which taught them the basics.

Highly recognized he was able to run this school only for few years at the Depot Police. He has coached more than 2000 rugby players with some of them ending up at the highest rung.

He romped to sporting glory from athletics, winning a record run in the 100 with 11 seconds in the under 16 of the Public School Championship. He led the Trinity athletic team when he was 19, but could not pursue further as he was keen on rugby. He has also played a little cricket and was a medium pace opening bowler and has played a couple of matches during a schools season.

Given the right break he started playing rugby to his true potential. With only three to four years of schools rugby he excelled to such an extent that fans would travel long distances just to watch him play.

He acquired his basic skills from Philip Buultjens and Major Hardy. He was always liked by many.

The most memorable moment in school rugby is from the match against Royal in his third year. He scored three tries in rapid succession to give Trinity victory. This effort clearly marked him as an outstanding player and brought him the rugby colours from Trinity. Maintaining the same form the following year he was awarded the coveted 'Lion' in 1951 which was his last year in school. Whilst in school he was invited by the Club representatives at Longden Place. But after one year's play at CR, he joined the hill country club Dickoya, where he was employed with European planters.

After two years he reverted back to CR after negotiating a job with Bartleet where he was employed until he retired in 1993. Having enjoyed the game to the hilt especially pitting his skills against the Europeans, his rugby career ended abruptly when he was injured during club practices.

The matches which attracted the crowd those days was the CR-CH and the Capper Cup game between Colombo and Outstation Clubs.

He has toiled hard to be fit so as to be in par with the Europeans which gave him the edge to shine at every game.He represented the All Ceylon side in the All India tournaments in Madras and Calcutta, then against the New Zealand and Australian Colts. He could not do much when playing with local clubs where a minimum of three players marked his movements which stalled the use of his skills, but did exceptionally well when playing with foreigners. He has gone on scoring sprees winning match after match for Ceylon earning him his Golden Boy image where rousing spectator appeal gave him the will to play even better. Other ruggerites who have spent longer spells with him are Ashroff Cader, Geoff Wienmann, Ago Paiva, S.B. Pilapitiya, Malcom Wright and Mahesh Rodrigo to name a few. His marriage to Anne Hardy the daughter of his own coach has been very happy and understanding.

Anne had spent most of her time watching Kavandisplaying his excellent skills under the stewardship of her Dad. Known as 'love birds' in rugby circles at that time, they were always spotted together except when Kavan was playing rugby.

In time they were blessed with their daughter Rhuani, who is managing her own Advertising Company which is known as Kurio Ishon and son Ramesh who is a regular visitor to the United States. After all the hard work with a clean slate Kavan is somewhat saddened to note that some of the present officials holding office in key sports bodies want to promote themselves and not the sport.

The Captain of the 1st STC ML 1st XIV Rugby Team - 1955

Mr. K. S. Ananathan

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First year of Rugby Football -1955

When one is rapidly approaching the Biblical span of three score and ten years the memory tends to play a lot of tricks. Since I have been requested to jot down my thoughts about the first year of Rugger at S. Thomas’ College, I shall endeavour to do this as best as I can.

Our transformation from Soccer to Rugby was quite an event in 1955. Justice E. F. N. Gratiaen was instrumental in influencing Warden R. S. de Saram to make the change. He is reported to have told the Warden that ”Football was a working class game and no boy at STC would get into the planting sector unless he played Rugger.” Some of us were aware that Rugger was to be introduced in the second term. We took to hanging around the CR&FC grounds during the holidays hoping to pick some of the finer points of the game from the stalwarts of that year like Mahes Rodrigo, Ago Paiva, Ashroff Cader to name just a few. We did not pick up very much apart from ‘fielding’ the ball whenever it went out of play since they were too busy practising to worry about us.

Having played Soccer all our lives Rugger was quite alien to us. We were tutored in the basics by Mahes Rodrigo, an old Royalist and Johnny Walker and several others. Despite this we still had a tendency to dribble the oblong ball instead of picking it up and running as we remembered the ‘hand ball’ rule in Soccer. Forward passes seem to be the order of the day. Mr. Lassie Abeywardene who was more at home coaching cricket was appointed Master in Charge. He was as clueless as most of us. We however carried on with a grim determination. What we lacked in knowledge of the game we made up in guts and true Thomian grit.

As expected Brookie d’ Silva, the athletic coach, was totally against the introduction of Rugby on the grounds, quite rightly, that his star athletes would sustain injuries on the hard ‘Big Club’ grounds, And, as expected, our crack sprinter M. Balasubramaniam who had won the 100 Yards and 220 Yards and helped in winning the 4 x110 yard relay at the Public Schools Athletic Meet the previous year fractured his hand following a bad fall during practise. The critics were obviously proved right that the ‘Big Club’ was not a place for Rugger. But there was no where else to go so we die-hards continued practising under the watchful eyes of our coaches. Injuries were sustained with alarming frequency but this did not deter us in anyway.

Despite these setbacks and lack of knowledge we gave a very good account of ourselves against veterans of the sport like Royal, St. Peters and Trinity. It may perhaps have been our chaotic style of play and our lack of knowledge of the game that frustrated our opponents that the margins by which we lost were quite small. We played our first unofficial game under the caption Thomian Tigers against a team which called themselves Trinity Lions. It was a fast game and of course we lost 11-6. This gave us enough confidence to take on Trinity, Royal and St. Peters . We lost all these games but the margins, as mentioned, were very small.

One incident stands out in my memory; the Royalists had a front row forward who was tipping the scales at around 250 pounds. At one stage in the game the scrum collapsed and our diminutive hooker was under the hefty forward and pleading for him to get off as he could not breathe! This raised quite a laugh. There was no serious injury and I wonder if he is still around and may perhaps remember the incident.

In conclusion I would like to wish S. Thomas’ Rugby and the Old Thomas Rugby Football Union all success in the future.

Details of the 1st Rugby Captain (1955)

Surname : Kanagasabay
Other Names :Satkuna Ananathan
Profession : Retired Mercantile Executive
Contact Nos : Res. 00 64 4 232 9089
Cell 021 172 5301
Postal Address : 22 Turriff Crescent, Tawa, Wellington, New Zealand
email address :
O/L Year : 1952
A/L Year : 1954/55
Year Joined : 1946

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