Nalin-the iron man of Sri Lanka rugby by Althaf Nawaz
Sri Lanka has produced some top class sportsmen in various sporting fields, from top schools in towns. The schools in the 1970’s and 80’s played a pivotal role in producing them in rugby, players who played for the love and passion of the game. Group Captain Nalin de Silva from Isipathana College, Colombo was one of them who remained in the hearts of the rugby loving fraternity for his excemplary conduct as an officer having been formerly known as “Iron man in schools Rugby” due to his tireless performance in the school’s rugby arena.
Nalin had a sound academic career and he started playing rugby at the age of 15 years. He joined the second XV team in the 1960’s while gaining experience matured to be a regular member of the first XV team under Hafi Abdeen’s captaincy. Gradually, playing with experienced players, he ended up captaining the famous 1973 Rugby team, that revived Rugby at Isipathana, after a break in 1972.
With the resumption of rugby, the 1973 team consisted of 14 fresher’s where he undertook a big challenge in forming a team. Maurice De Abrew, an uncle, influenced Nalin in stepping into rugby. Maurice De Abrew was the father in law of Ana Saranapala who apparently was the inaugural captain of the college rugby team in 1965. Maurice de Abrew supported Isipathana rugby immensely as he was responsible for getting the Havelock Park for rugby practices while obtaining the services of Franklin Jacob, Michael Loos, Edward Bartholomuez, Maurice de Silva and Y.C. Chang to train the boys.
Former Peterite Jayantha Fernando contributed financially which gave a big boost to raise the standard of the game to greater heights, which enabled Isipathana to enter the school’s rugby arena in 1965.
. Due to his untiring efforts Nalin was appointed as the head prefect and played Hockey, Basketball, Athletics and was a member in the Senior Cadet Platoon.
They attended rugby practices under the watchful eyes of coach Frankie David with 14 freshers’ in his team. He was able to lead them from the front and lost two matches to St. Peters and Royal Colleges while winning the remaining nine matches. , Nalin was Selected to represent the Colombo schools and the National Youth Team. In 1973, Nomads Rugby team from UK toured Sri Lanka and the Colombo schools took on them There were seven Peterites, seven Royalists along with him He ultimately became the cynosure of all eyes and was able to score a try. This tour changed his fortunes as former Air Force Commander, Harry Gunathilake spotted his talent and invited him to join the Air Force. , Nalin started his career with Air Force in rugby and went on to don their jersey from 1974 to 1988 while captaining them in 1980 and 1983. He was instrumental in guiding them to the final of the Clifford cup knockout tournament when Air Force was placed eighth in the League points table. They met Police, the leaders in the table in the Semi Finals at Havelock Park and went on to win, after a toss of a coin, to enter the final with CR & FC, which they lost. In 1986 during the R,Premadasa Trophy against CH Fijian Apisai Nagata tackled Nalin where his two Ribs bones were fractured but continued to play the game until completion, which earned him the tag‘IRON MAN OF RUGBY’. He also played for the Defence Services from 1978 to 1985 and captained them in 1983.
Nalin played in the National rugby team from 1982 to 1987. In 1982, he was named as the vice-captain for the Asian Rugby Tournament in Singapore and went on to play in 1984 Asiad in Japan too. He was included in the National team tours of Wales in 1987, and was a member of the Cathay Pacific Rugby sevens team in Hong Kong from 1982 to 1986. He recalls the unforgettable moment in his rugby career, when he was a member of the “Bowl Championship”
winning team at the Cathay Pacific Rugby Sevens in Hong Kong in 1984 which is the first International Trophy to be won by Sri Lanka Rugby team in its history. After retiring from the game he engaged himself as a member of the National Rugby Selection Committee from 1994 to 1998. He occupied the honorary secretary’s post at Sri Lanka Rugby thrice from 2002 to 2004, 2008 to 2009 and 2014 to 2015. While being there he was chosen as secretary of the Amateur Athletic Association of Sri Lanka from 1996 to 1997. He also served
in several positions at the Sports Ministry from 1996 to 1998 for the betterment and development of sports in the country. He states sports made him a disciplined character while transforming him as a prominent figure in all his endeavors.
He was the Co-Chairman Rugby Development Committee Sri Lanka Rugby Football union SLRFU from the year 2010, was responsible for the development of rugby in schools in the northern province and the eastern province for the first time in the history where 20 schools in the northern province and 17 schools in the eastern province are playing rugby at present.
He is the Course Director appointed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC)and currently serving as a permanent Lecturer for the national Olympic committee (NOC) of Sri Lanka for the last 32 Years.