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Down Bradby Lane...to 1958

This year's Bradby is here again. No doubt ardent votaries of both Royal and Trinity will swarm in numbers to the Royal Sports Complex on Saturday, 14 June to witness yet another rousing encounter. One may recall that it was fifty years ago, in 1958, that Royal regained the much coveted Bradby from Trinity after a lapse of seven years. After suffering a humiliating defeat at Royal’s hand in 1951 (03-19 and 05-13), Trinity managed to beat Royal six times in a row from 1952 -1957. In 1958, Royal beat Trinity 06-00 in the first game and drew the second nil all to regain the Bradby. I was then playing for the Royal under XVII team and remember very well, (and not without pride and nostalgia), Royal’s magnificent performances that year.

To be sure, signs of resurgence of Royal rugby were already visible in 1957 when Royal, under the resolute leadership of Ratna Sivaratnam, after losing the first game 00-08 at Nittawela, produced some superlative rugby only to be pipped at the post 08-09 in the return, by a determined Trinity XV led by Ken de Joedt, that elusive centre three-quarter. In 1958 Royal was captained by that strong line-out specialist Dudley (Duddo) Fernando, who played in the second-row and as no: 08. The first game was played at Longden Place. There was much expectation in the Royal camp that something positive was going to happen for Royal in that year, especially after their fine performance at the same venue in the return of the previous year.

Something did happen much to the jubilation of the Royal camp. Indeed, it was a rousing battle for supremacy. Royal scored a breath-taking try in the first half. It was an outstanding example of superior team work, when a tireless Royal pack, toiling to a man, gained possession in the Trinity 25 for scrum-half Potuhera to rapidly render the ball with a sleek pass to his fly-half Maurice Anghie, who in turn speedily fed his centres O. G. Samaratunge and Tony Rankine and then over to Lal Senaratne on the left wing. The ball had moved quite fast down the line to Lal, who was marked by his opposite number. Then suddenly he found Lorensz Pereira, Royal’s fleet-footed right winger by his side on his left to receive the ball with glee and score a memorable try, mid way between the left upright and the corner flag. The ball travelled so neatly and fast from hand to hand that the Trinity defence simply did not have an answer. The rugby ball, ever so maverick in behaviour, could never have hoped for a better and more comforting a ride. Importantly, it was quick and innovative thinking on Lorensz’s part that provided the icing, as it were. Surprise and innovativeness, essential ingredients in rugby, were written all over that try.

After all, William Webb Ellis ,the progenitor of this wonderful game, displayed both these attributes when he first took that football in hand and fled to score the Game’s first ‘try’, taking everybody by surprise! Trinity never recovered after that try, which, indeed, took them completely by surprise. By scoring that try the way he did, Lorensz only lived up to the promise he showed the previous year that he, indeed, was an intuitive rugby player! In the second half Royal scored once again between the right upright and the right corner flag at the Hockey Ground end of Longden Place.

The ball had come out of a keen forwards tussle and was for a moment lying around begging for ownership when the ever alert and brilliant Royal scrum-half Raja Potuhera pounced on it to score much to the chagrin and surprise of the Trinity players, thereby nailing the lid, as it were, on the game. Though both these tries, great as they were, went unconverted, it left Royal worthy winners of the 1st Bradby; 06-00. In that game, one will also gratefully remember, inter alia, second row forward, Harendra (HS) de Silva’s skilful line kicking. In fact, it was one of HS’s booming left-footed kicks to touch from near our own ‘twenty–five’ that initiated the pace and the platform for Royal’s first try. The ball travelled a good 40 meters off his left boot before crossing the touch line near the Old CR Pavilion around 25 meters from the Trinity goal line.

It was with much hope and expectation that Royal supporters travelled up to Nittawela for the return. Indeed, they were not disappointed. It was an intense battle where Royal did everything but score. I recall that Royal came near to scoring a couple of times, once almost on the Trinity goal line to the right of the right upright at the Pavilion end of the grounds. However, it was not to be. Try as they might, Trinity could not penetrate Royal’s resolute defence, either. I remember in both games how Trinity were prevented from doing much with the possession they had. Their play-maker, Fly-half Nimal Maralande was completely nailed by an alert pair of wing forwards (flankers), Ratna Sivaratnam and Ranjit ‘Mutte’ Fernando, both ferocious tacklers, who stalked their prey relentlessly all over the field. I also recall Chula de Zoysa, a sturdy yet nippy loose-head prop forward, breaking away from the front row as well as from in front of the lineout to harass the opposing fly-half relentlessly.

On that memorable evening when we drew the return in Kandy to retrieve the Bradby from Trinity, having won the first game, no person on the ground was happier than our revered rugby master Mr. M. T. Thambapillai (affectionately ‘Thamba’). He kept the Bradby closest to his heart when our jubilant skipper Duddo Fernando received it and handed it over to him. Royal had shattered the myth of Trinity invincibility! The Royal team had not disappointed the countless number of supporters and well wishers, who placed their faith in them: especially Thamba, who relentlessly pursued his mission of keeping the Royal rugby flame alive, especially in those lean years.

That 1958 side was a talented and determined set of rugby players coached and moulded into shape by the genial Geoff Weinman, a fantastic wing-forward in his day, who himself captained the Royal team of 1949 and was a member of the first Royal team to win the Bradby in 1948 under Ashey Cader. Geoff was also the first to win a national rugby tie as a school boy. Geoff, who was to come for the Bradby this year to commemorate with his protégés that famous victory of fifty years ago will not be here to join in the celebrations unfortunately. However, in a recent communication to skipper ‘Duddo’ he has reminisced how he spoke to each and every member of the team individually before the team ran into the field, Ratna Sivaratnam being the last he had spoken to, whose "eyes", according to Geoff, "were glazed and determined and dear and talented Nimal, who was Trinity’s chief play maker never gained the composure and control so critical for his team’s success from the time of Ratna’s first tackle."

That determination was written on the faces of every member of that Royal team, after Geoff’s individual inducement, was amply demonstrated the way they executed their plan to bring the Bradby and the glory of Royal rugby back to Royal. It was fitting, too, that wing forward Ratna Sivaratnam formed a part of this bunch of champion crusaders. For it was under his leadership in 1957 that the stage was set for things to follow in 1958.

The players who did honours for Royal in that victorious year of 1958 were.: Chula De Zoysa, Ken Balendra, Lalith de Silva, Jayantha Samarasekera, Harendra de Silva, Ratna Sivaratnam, Dudley Fernando (Capt.), Ranjith Fernando, Raja Potuhera, Maurice Anghie, Lorensz Pereira, Tony Rankine, O.G.Samaratunge, Lal Senaratne, G.T.Van Geyzel Asoka Dissanayake, Chandran Tiruchittampalam and Micheal Loos.

One cannot gainsay the fact that this team of 1958 did marvellously well in regaining the Bradby by beating a Trinity team comprising, inter alia, some schoolboy giants of the day such as Ken de Joedt, captaining his school for the second year in succession, Nimal Marlande, Denzil Kobbekaduwa, Sena de Sylva, Tony Bultjens, Jinna Dias De Singhe , Mike De Alwis, Eric Roles et al. That year not only did Royal regain the Bradby, but also remained unbeaten among the schools under the very able leadership of ’ Fernando. Moreover, Royal had the distinction of not having her line crossed that season.

In Geoff Weinman’s own words, "….Those were soul searing times and you were all a wonderful team and dear Thamba an absolute charming gentleman. All added up, it made my time spent as a coach worthwhile, rewarding and always looked back on with unmitigated pride and pleasure….." Yes, indeed, this Royal team brought us all unmitigated joy, pride and pleasure. They were the true warriors: they took pride in their performance. (ULK)

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