Rugby supermen 1968 – 1982

Having had a childhood steeped in rugby lore, I have at times wondered who would constitute a Sri Lanka super team. Moving from contemplation to action, I am nominating my pick of the ‘best ever’, acknowledging I am restricted to those players I have seen in action, my possible bias to the CR&FC, and errors brought on by the frailties of human memory – mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Let me start with number 15, the fullback. We have the guts under the high ball of Marco De Silva and Michael Muller, the 100% goal kicking of Charles Wijewardene, the all round skills of S.P. De Silva, and the special abilities of Shane Pinder and Ronnie Schokman. I vaguely remember Ken Murray playing fullback in a game for Dimbulla with an injured arm, but I was not fortunate to see him play in more than a couple of games. My choice is the mercurial Shafi Jainudeen of the Havies.

The wingers evoke memories of Sriyantha Rajakaruna, Abdul Majeed, Prins, John Rudra, and Kandy Express Mahes Sabaratnam. How can you go past the jinking, swerving, side-stepping speed merchant Reggie Bartholomeusz though – go Batho, go CR! The other winger has got to be Chandrishan Perera of the CH – I have never seen anyone execute the ‘bullet’ manoeuvre more effectively, or lift his team to such a high-level with his sheer presence, unbridled confidence, and ‘reading’ of the play.

Choosing the centers and fly half gave me the most angst – what a choice of outstanding players. Jagath Fernando, Irwin Howie, Frank Hubert, P.L. Munasinghe, Rohantha Peries, Didacus De Almeida, Mohan Sahayam, Larry Schokman– they don’t make players like them anymore. However, I think it would be very difficult to go past the Havies trio of Glen Van Langenberg, Jeff Rutnam, and Michael Jayasekera.

On their day any of the following would command a spot as scrum half – Tony Sirimanne, Jupana Jayawardene, Randy Peitersz, Tikiri Marambe, Hanzil Samad, Sandy Hameed, and the versatile S.P. De Silva. There is also Denzil Kobbekaduwe who in addition was a superb leader as shown by his performance with the Kandy team. My choice is the CR&FC live wire C.P.P. Abeygunewardene.

We now come to those solid citizens whose mothers to this day read them nursery rhymes – the pack! Number 8 is Saman Jayasinghe of the CH, and the wing forwards are the Havelocks duo Hisham Abdeen and Angelo Wickremaratne. I know my choice will make fans of the CR&FC and Police splutter in their beer, as there were very good 3rd rowers from those clubs, not to mention Aubrey Patternot, Jeffrey De Jong, and Andrew Van Hoff of the Havies, and Viper Guneratne of the SLAF and CR. I wish I had seen more of Sari De Sylva of the CR&FC as he has been described as an all time great which is very high and richly deserved praise indeed. However I am sure most people who saw the players I have selected in action, would agree that one would have to go back to the 1950’s and the fearsome Up Country 3rd row who played in the Capper Cup to find a better combination.

Anton (Benna) Benedict of the Police & Havies, and Lofty Perera of the SLAF and CR take their places in the 2nd row. There were other strong candidates, especially from the barnstorming Up Country team that won the Capper Cup in 1969 – my memory fails me and I beg the indulgence of the readers and also Desmond Harridge the 1974 captain of the Havelocks.

We now come to the first row, god bless them. They say rugby union is a ruffian’s game played by gentlemen – my choice of hooker Mohan Balasuriya of the SLAF and CR&FC preferred the rugby league definition. Haji Omar of the CR is an automatic choice for Number 1 – the jersey couldn’t fit anyone better and he would surely be captain of the team as well. The second prop could have been Holdenbottle of the Havies or Nanayakkara of the CR – I am going for ‘Tanker’ Hamid of the Police.

In a selection limited to 15 and chosen by an individual, there are guaranteed to be players left out with errors of commission and omission. I would be the first person to acknowledge that my flight of fancy is exactly that. Sri Lanka is fortunate to have had many great players, and we could pick 60 players of the highest calibre over the years.

Imagine the combination of backs selected by me playing against Mahes Rodrigo, Ago Paiva, Kavan Rambukwella, Neville Leefe, Summa Navaratnam, William Molegoda, and Lionel Almeida as well as a 3rd row of David Bretherton, John Bousfield, and Chris Bean. Throw in stars such as Devaka Rodrigo, Norman Gunewardena, Tyrrel Muttiah, Jayantissa Ratwatte, S.B. Pilapitiya, Stanley Unamboowe, Owen Mottau, and Geoff Weinman and we would win the Asiad everytime - truly, rugby is a game played in heaven.

Rohan Muttiah

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