Michael Jayasekara was a real star on the rugby field

by Ravi Nagahawattte
former rugby star Michael Jayasekara is someone who has an enormous appetite for life. Michael believes that life is too short and people should try their best to enjoy it. The aspect of enjoying life has been visible in Michael’s life since he was a kid. The former Sri Lanka center three quarter in an interview with the Sunday edition of the ‘The Island’ revealed glimpses of his life which he termed as memorable.

Born in Dehiwala as the third member of a family of four, Michael had been one of those kids who couldn’t resist the temptation of being outside the house and play all day. He chose sports to books during his school days which he spent at two leading academic institutions, St.Peter’s and S.Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia. The sporting activities in these schools were like an assortment of chocolates laid in front of a hungry kid. Michael tried most of them. Though he bagged a gold medal in hurdles at the public schools athletics championships his favourite sport at school remained as cricket. Michael also excelled in rugby as a schoolboy, initially turning out for the St.Peter’s College First XV team at the age of 15. Luck was with Michael when at St.Peter’s as he earned a place in the ‘Big Match XI’ when one of the regulars fell sick on the day of the match. He joined S.Thomas’ College the next year and played in the ‘Battle of the Blues" cricket encounter for two years. Reminiscing the different experiences he had in both schools Michael had this to say, "At S.Thomas’ children have a little bit more freedom,". He said that he had the rare honour of having breakfast with the Warden on the day of the Royal-Thomian, a privilege only the cricketers at S.Thomas’ enjoy.

Michael dazzled with both bat and ball as a schoolboy cricketer and earned a place in the schools under 19 team which toured Jaffna. Michael had the honour of being declared Man of the Match in this fixture. Some of the well known players who Michael played along with in this under 19 Schools XI were Ranjan Madugalle, Hemantha Devapriya, Saliya Ahangama and Ishak Shahabdeen.

Michael had little or no plans as to what he wanted to do after finishing school. His father, a radio officer by profession, thought that the Navy was the ideal place to discipline Michael. However Michael ended up by taking up a course in marine engineering and had his apprenticeship at Brown and Company. During the four years he spent learning the trade he turned out for Havelocks Sports Club. He remembered how the Managing Director of Brown and Company, D.K. Mistry, became a father figure to him, especially after his father’s death.

He played his best rugby from 1977 to 1981 and was an automatic choice for the national side. "I wanted to be the best in whatever I chose. And I hated to be in a losing side. I made my debut for Sri Lanka when I was 18 years old," said Michael. The rugby sensation who emerged in the late 70’s sadly hung up his boots at the age of 22, his rugby career with the national side spanning just four short years. During his career he said that he admired players like Didacus de Almeida, Dan and Jeff Ratnam, Glen Vanlangenberg, Jagath Fernando, Mohan Sahayam, Reggie Bartholameusz for being able to create something out of nothing. "I must take this opportunity to thank my coaches Archibald Perera, Quintin Israel and Jagath Fernando for showing me the way in rugby," said Michael.

He quit rugby to start sailing which he did for 15 long years. Michael said marrying his wife Starline helped him to have a plan in life. Termed ‘wild’ at one time Michael began to change as a person after his marriage. However it had been on a ship that he realised that it was up to an individual to shape his or her destiny. "I suddenly realised this and then I decided to catch up on my missed education. I somehow managed both my studies and work when I was in England and Australia. I was the quickest in my batch to finish studying. When I finished my studies I had a Chief Engineer’s Certificate of Competency, an equivalent to a BSc," said Michael.

Michael is now involved with rugby at Havelocks Sports Club, he is also the president of the club. He is a regular at matches and has seen several changes that have been made to the rules of the game. Asked whether he would still have played the game and enjoyed it if these changes took place when he played Michael answered saying yes.

The souvenir put out by the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union for inaugural Jaguar Sevens Inter-club Tournament had this to say about Michael, " A generation was influenced to play rugby, by watching this outstanding center three quarter who was a real star on the field. He thrilled fans with his explosive running, and together with P.L.Munsasinghe, Jayasekera created some of the most outstanding three quarter play seen in this country in the last 25 years. It is safe to state that no player since, has been able to match the style, grace, speed, strength and defence he possessed as center,".