Kavan Rambukwella who has died aged 68, was one of rugby footballs greatest centre three quarters of all times. The mould that made him would have been destroyed as the cradle of rugby, Trinity College, never produced another like him.
Of modest height and weight Kavan could sometimes look lethargic, but like a flicking of a switch, could inject a million volts into his play. Superbly balanced with a crouched loping stride and grace of a leopard in flight, plus hands with a gossamer touch produced sheer invention of inside three quarter play. Feints inside, a glide outside, sudden acceleration, a dummy flaunted and an upper body deceptively swaying as if to music he turned an attack into an exhilarating adventure. It was a magical blend of gifts.
All talented half and three quarter backs in rugby have individual style and talent. They differ like the faces of human beings. What Kavan lacked in defence and a reluctance to share the ball, he amply compensated with his ability to win a game on his own by some elusive thrust, the sheer brilliance of his tries made many an elegant mark upon rugby. Interestingly his rugby career began in Trinity in the last years of a golden era of Royal College rugby of 1942-1951, culminating in the 1951 defeat of Trinity by the highest score since the inception of the series in 1920 and beaten only in 1976. This was Kavans last year in Trinity and the only score to Trinity in a 19-3 defeat in the Colombo game was a hallmark try by Kavan scored from the Trinity half. A new star had waxed in the rugby firmament. Ironically, he was to join many of the Royal players he had played against when he opted to play for the CR in 1952, and play a prominent role in what was to be the glorious years of CR rugby from 1952 to 1960. Mahes Rodrigo, Summa Navaratnam, Geoff Weinman, Ashey Cader, Trevor Anghie, Devaka Rodrigo, Desmond Van Twest, S. D. Guneratne and the writer were all from Royal.
To have played first against and then with this great player for a decade revives a host of anecdotes and memories that will make an endless tale. As a flanker, to have provided both the protective and attacking cover, running in his slip stream or positioned near him in back up, for the elusive pass that seldom came as inevitably he effortlessly scored himself, are memories still cherished.
Earlier obituary tributes have referred to Kavans greatest match being the All India tournament final of 1958 played between Ceylon and Bombay Gymkhana Club of India. In this game Ceylon scored five tries of which Kavan scored three and helped make the other two. Old Un writing in the Times of Ceylon of October 7th, 1958, had this to say of one of Kavans tries "the forwards brought the ball to Rambukwella on the wing. (he had switched to the wing). He streaked off, sold a dummy to two opponents, and in an amazing burst of speed that left three or four other Bombay defenders standing, he rounded off a sixty yard run with a try at the corner nag. It was magnificent! The crowd stood up and cheered him for a full minute, as he limped back to his place panting." In the same article under a subheading GREAT PLAYER he said "This has been Kavans best rugger season ever, and it is most fitting that this feat achieved in an all-India final should be his best performance todate. I salute a great player, brilliant in action and most modest in achievement."
Sidelined in 1960 by a knee injury like many of his peers, he was initially an influential coach and rugby administrator. He was President of both the CR & FC and CRFU and served on other sporting bodies like the Duncan White Foundation.
Those of us old enough to remember him in Trinity rugby blue, gold and red stripe, CR
red and All Ceylon white and full glory feel especially bereft.
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