We pride ourselves in having delivered that unbeaten season for Trinity – Ravi Balasuriya
“The day before the Bradby, we used to come and stay at Royal. There was a diehard Royal supporter called ‘Kadalaya.’ Anyone from the older eras knows him. That year the Royal team refused take him in their bus. This guy came to me and asked whether we can give him a lift to the ground. Without hesitation, I asked him to get on. We took him to CR and he was so grateful that he cheered Trinity that day.”
The last creature, Trinity led by the Rugby Lion Ravi Balasuriya pictured to be on their side before their defence of the six point lead gained from the first leg at Kandy would have been, the guy they gave a lift. Such was the magnanimous gesture; even he began rooting for them.
As Ii visit his company Delmon Holdings at Colpetty where he’s the chairman, Balasuriya welcomes me in the most hospitable way. While I was expecting to sweep the dust from those memories dating more than 35 years, the head start of him assures me that it needs no dusting of any sort. It is entrenched.
“There were only three coloursman. Last year Royal thrashed us and they were gifted with nine couloursman in 1977 too. So normally we were expected to be beaten again. But although we had 12 freshers, we were a very determined side. For example at the beginning of the season, we didn’t even have a coach. They got rid of Berti Dias, and the new coach was to be overseas for the first two matches and I coached the side.”
Trinity had lost the Bradby for two consecutive years and if not for the golden year of 1977, the shield could have been unfamiliar for Kandy for Royal relinquished it again only in 1981. The sequence was too much and someone had to step up.
If Trinity had lost in 1977, that would have been a record in Royal’s history. “We were united. We never had that junior, senior boundary. Those days it was a common thing that the freshers bring a pack of chocolates. That was kind of like a practice at Trinity. In my year we changed that. After a match we used to have a get together, it could be a thosai feed, a cup of tea whatever, we were so together. So much so that when the Muslim guys in the side went to mosque on Friday, we followed them. When I was selected for the Sri Lankan pool, the practices were in Colombo. At least five members accompanied me.”
After planting the side’s motivation as the biggest factor for the success inside me, while changing the addressing from my first name to ‘putha’, he delves into the support given to the team by the principal. “Irrespective of what people would say, I was blessed to have the best principal (Lionel Fernando) any rugby captain would have wanted. When he appointed me in 1977, he was to leave school at the end of that season. At Trinity, behind the principal’s table you have a huge cupboard where all the trophies are kept and the centre is for the Bradby. During the assembly, he called me-he used to call me ‘Bala’-and said ‘Bala, I’m leaving Trinity this year. When I arrived, the Bradby Shield was behind my head. Somehow make sure it is returned when I leave.’
That was motivation. The encouragement weren’t only in expressed terms either. “Before the first leg, he put all of us in a Bungalow in College. And he said ‘breakfast, lunch, dinner in school. Have the team united.’ And for the second leg, we came to Colombo on Tuesday with couple of old boys and we trained. We knew we had to acclimatize ourselves to the heat.”
The proudness in his voice speaking about wearing the Trinity jersey is immense. Being a No8 and the place-kicker of the side, the little secret he tells me about how a kicker absorbs the pressure answers lot of pending questions inside me which I always wanted to unloose about how they withstand it. “It’s unbelievable. All the tensions are there until you start warming up. The trinity colours, the contrast in the red and yellow, it’s special. For any Trinitian, wearing that jersey is the ultimate thing. It never gets exchanged and they’ll do whatever it takes to win the shield. You may think how the players cope with the shouting, booing, hooting and stuff from the crowd, believe me Ii was the place kicker and you don’t hear a thing after you enter the field. It doesn’t even register on you. We now know the sound of hooting because now we are spectators.
“When it comes to Bradby Shield, whatever is your pre-season form, it is a totally unique situation. It’s the way you perform on that day what matters. There are such a lot of things at stake on that particular day. I’m happy to say that Bradby has always been played in the true spirit of rugby.”
Trinity won the first leg in Bogambara 12-6 in front of a full house though pre-season expectations had Royal as the favourites, Balasuriya’s side with the righteous way of positive results had eaten away those. There was one incident that was memorable in which Royal tied the scores 6-6 with a controversial try. A whistle had blown but Royal vice captain Ajith Gunawardena passed the ball to scrum half Raba Gunasekara, who sped away to post a try under the post.
“Ball was kicked by one of the Trinitians and it went out. And someone blew. So we stopped playing, And in actual fact, Gunasekara took the ball and he ran and scored.” What a difference a mock whistle from a referee in disguise in the crowd can make.
On to the second leg, and the visitors had their troubles. “On the day of the match, our regular hooker fell sick. At three o’clock we decided to replace him with another fresher-J.Allegaratnam. I spoke to my vice captain (J. Kiridena) and K. Deen asked them to talk to the guy because the irony was that it was his first XV match. He did his part admirably and we won the match 10-4.”
“As a skipper who has gone the whole season unbeaten, I want to win everything. We pride ourselves in having delivered that unbeaten season for Trinity. Richardson was only 16 years old, and Rahiman (Boxing captain) who later left Trinity and played for Royal, Ravi Ratnayake who played Test cricket for Sri Lanka was our second-row, Y. Wong, Karadena were the flankers while I played at NO8. It was funny that if you take the records that year, most of the tries were scored by the third row. Two Tissera brothers were the halves-combination. Two centres were Kemal Deen, who is a professor in Medicine now and Lain Sourjah (athletic captain). We had M. Bibile and H. Gunasekara with S. Vethanayagam (Basketball captain) on the wing and A. Saheedeen (hockey captain) played at fullback. As you can see, most of the team was filled with captains of other sports but they were all freshers.”
After the Bradby the only hurdle left for Balasuriya’s side was the Thomians who were also unbeaten up to that point. “Our final game of the season was against S.Thomas who were also unbeaten but we beat them easily. The significant thing that year was for the first time ever in the history of Sri Lanka rugby, two school teams were invited to take part in the Asian schools tournament in Bangkok. Trinity and Thomians had booked their tickets after finishing the season at the top.”
Such was the staggering feat they staged last year he was again offered the captaincy. But our story teller had his best friend in mind. “I was under-age for 78 and I was offered the captaincy whichI declined because if I did, my best friend Karadena wouldn’t have got his due of captaining the side. I played the first three matches and later I left for India for my studies. The Bradby first leg finished in a stalemate and I wanted to come back and play in the second. But the Royal principal protested against it saying I was not eligible since I left school but technically I was not.”
“We were not on the mark at start where we had scrap through Wesley. Thomians hammered Wesley and so arrogant were they, spurred by that result they brought in the Canon De Saram Trophy. My flight to India was on Sunday at 2pm in the afternoon. But I took the challenge and played the match on Saturday. I had a brilliant game and we clinched first-ever Canon R.De Saram trophy.”
Leisurely talking about the subject of the crowds, Balasuriya points out that the venues are depriving lot of spectators of their beautiful throb of watching a shield match. He says though the atmosphere could be lost to an extent, the crowd that bemoans missing out on the match should outgrow the other factors. “Look at the interest. As far as me, Royal Complex and Pallekele should not host Bradby. Every day the population who attend this game is increasing tremendously. Bogambara should be permanent venue for Kandy and either R.Premadasa or Sugathadasa stadiums should host the Colombo leg.”
His recollects that his side were the sevens champions and it has a touch of sadness in eyes since according to him it was the last year Trinity had won the abbreviated form’s title. This reminds me the last captain I visited, Sampath Agalawatte of Royal who’s side was incidentally the last of his school to grab the sevens title. Was it not a coincidence, I begin to wonder. Surely not.
Balasuriya’s scrapbook tells me that cameras weren’t privileged enough take a single capture of this warrior but thankfully there’s the group photograph. During the final moments he again reiterates me the obvious. “At Trinity, if you play Rugby that is it. With all due respect to Kumar Sangakkara and others, if you are a rugby player you are more recognized. When you bring the Bradby Shield back and hand it over to the principal the next Monday at the assembly, you feel like you are in cloud nine.”
As I leave I could see the same sense of pride in his smile as he was during the assembly that day.
Trinity 1977 Squad- R. Balasuriya (Captain), M. Richardson, I. Rahiman, K. Congreve, R.Ratnayake, C. Ellepola, J. Kiridena, Y. Wong, J. Tissera, A. Tissera, L. Sourjah, K. Deen, M. Bibile, H. Gunasekara, A. Saheedeen, S. Vethanayagam, J. Allegaratnam, K. Raghavan, S. Rodrigo, T. Omar.
The Island Link- When Ravi Bala’s Trinitians Ran Away With The Shield