The day the Royalists stole the Thomian Thunder: Guneratne Trophy ’92
By a Special Correspondent
At the penultimate stage of what had been an up and down season in 1992, Royalists were about to face their toughest battle when they were to take on a Thomian team unbeaten for three years, which included a record breaking 36 match winning streak. The Thomians were coached by the famous Quentin Israel, led by their omnipresent third row forward Savantha De Saramand and included the likes of seasoned and revered players in the calibre of Chirantha De Zoysa, Ajantha Cooray, Martenstyn, Chelaka Hapugoda, and Nalin Wijegunawardena.
Such was the confidence in their stride, legend has it that friends among the Royal camp were warned of an embarrassing defeat at their hands at the Sugathadasa in front of the large crowd gathered to witness another win for Mount Lavinia hoping to retain the Michael Guneratne Trophy for the fourth year in a row.
Coming off a mediocre year in 1991 where the Reid Avenue lads had lost both the Guneratne Trophy and the Bradby Shield by wide margins, not much was expected of a relatively inexperienced Royal team led by their front row forward Harindu Wijesinghe that had suffered two defeats early on in the season. As described best by his team mates he was a popular skipper, a jovial chap that stamped his authority with a “let’s live life to the fullest” kind of attitude. The team was coached by former Sri Lanka players and brilliant tacticians Dr. Maiya Gunasekara and C.P Abeygoonawardana.
Following a lacklustre performance against Isipathana the previous week resulting in another defeat and following many taunts by the younger players coming up the ranks, the seniors decided to prove a point to the coaches and the young brigade by playing to their true potential at what proved to be just the right time for Royal Rugby with the esteemed Bradby Shield game against an unbeaten Trinity team scheduled for the following week.
As the game kicked off with the Gunarathne Trophy at stake, what was to follow will forever be etched in the minds of those that were present at the stadium that evening as the gutty Royalists started to dictate terms early on playing the aggressor role while Thomians were left searching for answers to counter the ambush by the Royalists, they could not convert this early pressure on the fancied Thomians into points as their place kicker fluffed two easy penalties thus giving the opposition an early reprieve. The reputed Thomian forwards led by the skipper were never allowed to gain ground even with ball in hand and were literally stopped in their tracks by ferocious tackling by the young Royal third rowers, Shivaan Kanag-Isvaran, Sanjay Lakpthirana and Chinthaka Abeysuriya.
The Thomians were leading 3-0 after an early penalty put over by De Zoysa at the 15 minute mark and possession continued to change hands with both teams holding their own playing for territory. With five minutes to go to the break Royal made the breakthrough when Lakpathirana broke off a maul catching the Thomian third rowers off-guard only to slip a short pass to second rower Rajitha Gooneratne who barged thru a couple of defenders and went over near the posts, following the conversion Royal led 7-3. This was the first breach of the Thomian defence all season. After the “lemons” break the Thomians came in with a plan to play in the Royal half and dominated possession but were denied on countless occasions by the effervescent Royal defence spearheaded by their third row and their backs ably commanded by young fly-half Rajiv Malalasekera who made his seasoned counter-part look to then kick for territory. The Royal centers Charith Chickera and Shashika Cooray, both young freshers again exemplified the Royalists desire to knock the Thomians off their pedestal with their ferocious tackling supported by full back Shehan Perera and the wingers Barana Ranasinghe and Jaliya Wijeratne.
Thomian persistence saw the Royalists infringe thus allowing a straight-forward 30 meter penalty easily put over to making it a one point Royal lead at 7-6. The Royal back division then flung into action shortly thereafter with a brilliant move which only broke down when the ball carrier attempted to pass the ball with the try line staring at him.
The Royal forwards led by the skipper ably supported by senior players Murugadharan Baskaran, Dilan Wickramasinghe continued to apply the pressure, holding onto possession while making in-roads back into the Thomian half and were rewarded with a penalty on a Thomian infringement which was converted by Jaliya Wijeratne to make it 10-6 with just under 10 minutes to play. The Mount Lavinia lads then drew on all their strength and experience to muster tremendous pressure on the defiant Royal side that held their nerve including fighting off the Thomians from a five meter scrum in the dying minutes.
When referee Dilroy Fernando blew the long whistle, the jubilant Royalists were huddling in celebration while the Thomians wandered off the field like zombies recovering from the shock defeat at the hands of the Reid Avenue lads. As Harindu lifted the Guneratne trophy after a lapse of three years, all Royalists celebrated what was a truly famous Royal victory that set the tone for the record breaking Bradby Shield game played following week where again the Royalists turned tables on the fancied unbeaten Trinitians to hold them to a three all draw in Colombo. They then went onto hold the Trinitians to 0-0 draw in Kandy to create history as the only “tied” bradby.
These inspiring victories for a young team with eight freshers marked a remarkable turnaround in Royal’s rugby fortunes in the mid 90’s with the teams that followed in 1993 and 1994achieving great success including an unbeaten season culminating in the league championship, Guneratne Trophy and the coveted 50th Bradby Shield in 1994 for the RC First XV team led by Malalasekera that included many of the band of brothers that were part of the famous victory that day 20 years ago.