Trinitians still curse me for the intervention-Royal Captain Sampath Agalawatte
“For a schoolboy, going to Bangkok was everything. The promise was given by the coaches that if we win every match and the Bradby that we’ll be granted a trip to Bangkok. We won the Bradby interfering Trinity’s golden run and they haven’t still forgiven me for that.”
Royal had been offset of Bradby for three years ranging from 1981-1983. Had it not been for the year of 1984 which was sandwiched between the rasping onslaughts of Trinity Lions from 1981-1987, Kandy would have linked seven straight years of Bradby hegemony, a record in the series.
While I sit down gingerly, mulling over the fact of my memory bank’s hollowness about this tie, the demeanour of the man in front lends me hope. I wasn’t born when this historical analogy occurred and its best, my plan anyways, to let the narrator of the story, the captain of the unstoppable Royal College side of 1984 which swept all trophies on offer including the sevens, fly half Sampath Agalawatte swim into his recollection of the yore.
“We had nine coloursmen in that year and the same number of players from Royal played for the Colombo team that year. We were a unit and we believed in the theory that the fourteen players will help the fifteenth player. We played the best side at all times. Having said that, we had competition for places. There were 10, 15 guys who could walk in to the side in case of an emergency seamlessly. Those are some of the unseen things in our success that year. We had the best third row and halves-combination and all were equally determined to grab what was put infront of us with relish.”
“Our coaches were Udaka Tennekoon and Malik Samarawickrama. Malik was a master strategist. It is a known fact in rugby circles. He used to study other teams and he came up with separates plans for different teams which was the hallmark of our success.”
Just like that he provides the prelude. Losing the Bradby for two years would have greyed the hair of many not least him and he deepens into the previous year where the millstone around the neck could have provided nutrition for the writing of a different story.
“I missed one game in 83 which was the first leg because of an operation. But within ten days I recovered and there I was, playing in the centenary match. We won the match but unfortunately the lead was too much. I executed a drop goal and we were on our way but we missed it by a whisker. Last minute our captain almost scored but was tackled on the line. And both the captain and the tackler were carried off the field. They were hospitalized.”
Those half-baked dreams and the realization of the fact that this would be the last saloon to regain the Bradby had its imprints. “The effort that goes into a Bradby Shield match is something many people don’t associate with. I played Bradby for three years and won it in my last year. You have to win a Bradby to understand that feeling. As a schoolboy, it was out of this world for me. I’m very happy that I’m associated with winning the shield back while being the captain which is a great honour. I played my heart out that day. I couldn’t even walk, I was carried.”
As I learn methodically the not-so-easy and dedication fuelled route for Bradby, the words come flowing in. Even Tobacco sales suffered. “The preparation for the Bradby Shield for any Royal ruggerite is a moment to cherish. From a discipline point of view, training, eating, drinking, we never got things like what they get today. Whatever we had was from home and we enjoyed it. Our preparation was very clear and dedicated. And I can tell that there were teammates who used to smoke. They gave up smoking.”
“Playing a Bradby is special. Trinity being a reputed institution and they have continuously maintained their high standards in rugby. Say for an example, Royal or Trinity might have had a torrid time in the league, but when the bells for Bradby are heard everybody knows what’s at stake. There was one particular area I must tell you, Royal had lost the Bradby for three consecutive years. And we had a good season. There was hope in everyone within the school. After we won the first leg 6-3, lot of people travelled to Kandy and there was a major crowd. So all that attributed.”
The first leg was won by the home side 6-3 at CR&FC grounds and Agalawatte remembers it being not the cup of tea the spectators would have preferred. “It was sort of a ding-dong battle. Maybe for the spectators it would have been a boring game. As the flyhalf my intentions always revolved around kicking deep or into the box. Gain ground, go to their side and attack. But we missed some chances; it wasn’t a high scoring game.”
While the win gave satisfaction they were not about to let the winning spirit fly high though. There was unfinished business to take care of. “After we won the first leg, as you know there’s a break. But we prepared ourselves for the Kandy leg as if we didn’t have a lead. We were clear in our goals and every teammember played all out. It was raining in Kandy, soggy conditions. I remember our opponents punting the ball in the air and chasing it. I was always after the ball. I didn’t want to give the ball away because I knew, I was playing well.”
A scoreline of 0-0 may flatter to admire, which I fell into before the interview, it goes to show bare cuddling of the stats can isolate one into false visualizations. “But in Kandy it all changed. They worked the line, they basically got ahead of us and if not for a last ditch tackle by Krishan George near the corner flag, they would have been ahead. There were anxious moments when they had kicks, since I wanted to make sure to be where the ball is, I was behind the goal post for penalties waiting for the ball. And there was this penalty kick I remember from Jayanthasiri Perera (Trinity fullback) the way it zoomed in, I thought it’s was over. For our luck, it came under the post and I was there to collect.”
“From all the matches I have played the greatest game will undoubtedly be the 2nd leg of the Bradby in 1984. Feroze Suhaib at center had a cracker of a game. And our forwards in unison, Krishan George who was on double duty as he was our basketball captain too.”
While I rundown the black and white paper-cuttings in his possession and those lovely reports of well-known writers, they give me the impression the crowd did live up to the occasion. “The grounds were packed. And there was a very emotional moment too. When we were approaching the ground one by one after getting down from the bus the whole prefects section of ours gave us a standing ovation. Simply, there were lot of expectations with the form we were in and I’m proud to say we lived up to it. I can guarantee, winning a Bradby makes a big difference.”
And the predilection of the shield yielded some unforgettable moments of which I can feel the buzz even sitting in the couch of his house. “After the match, I didn’t know, I was dead tired; someone came and carried me on to the podium. Only After receiving the shield I knew that it was my brother. After coming back to Colombo, it was not a long walk from the school to Jawatta where I lived. Kuragama, Canegaratne me all lived in the same vicinity. From College to home we walked with Bradby Shield in our hand.”
As with any sportsman the guidance of the parents is a phase that’s scripted in golden letters and I turn the conversation into that. Quickly, I’m forced to regret it for he breaks down into tears. I contemplated the thought to apologise but he returns to conscience and speaks proudly about the linear impact his family, especially mother, have had.
“My mother was very strict. I was the youngest in the family and played lot of sports during school. They were very supportive of everything I did. As I said mother was the one who took decisions and she made one thing very clear. With school everything had to stop, she was strongly against me playing rugby after leaving school. Once I went to CR&FC practises without telling her and got slapped and that was the end of that.”
“And now I know the decisions she made at that time was right. I got emotional because I was attached to my mother in a very definitive way. I lost her in 2008 and if I am anywhere today, it is all because of the strict decisions she took.”
Now the CEO of TVS Lanka, Agalawatte credits rugby for the way it molded his career into the success-driven lane. “Rugby taught me lot of things in leadership. When you approach a rugby match as a captain you are only given 60 (then) minutes to make your decisions. There are no second chances. The leadership and decision making is something that have helped me immensely in my career.”
Finally what about the Bangkok tour? It was on. The promises were kept and while on tour two matches were played too. “I can remember on a lighter note, when the boys came to the dressing room in Kandy everyone was shouting ‘Bangkok Bangkok’ their lungs out. Basically it was like ‘now we have made it. It’s your turn to tell us when we are going.’” He concludes with an unfeigned smile and an aura of a man who had conquered the mission.
Royal 1984 rugby XV-Sampath Agalawatte (Captain), Lalith Samarawickrama, Sanjaya Sigera, Mahil Kuragama, Duminda Senaratne, Chiro Nanayakkara, Ajith Weeratunga, Janaka Lenaduwa, Mahendra Navaratnam, Jehan Canagaratne, Krishan George, Kimal Ousmand, Ajith Gunasekara, Feroze Suhaib, Ahamed Cader.
The Island Link- The Unstoppable Royal Side of 1984