Rugby star Saman brought honour and fame to Sri Lanka-by Althaf Nawaz

Rugby star Saman brought honour and fame to Sri Lanka-by Althaf Nawaz

Saman Jayasinghe

Saman Jayasinghe captained Sri Lanka at both Hong Kong Sevens and Singapore Rugby Asiad in the same year (1982)

Royal College, Colombo has produced many academics and top class sportsmen in the 1980’s. Thejana Saman Jayasinghe is one of them who excelled at school, Club and at International level bringing fame and honour to the country.

Popularly known as ‘Saman’ in sporting circles is in his sixties and is a member of a family of seven children with five boys and a girl. From his small days he had a close bond with sports and after joining Royal College he got pumped up watching the seniors engage in sports.

When he was 14 years old he opted to play cricket which apparently became his stepping stone in sports, also turned out to be his first love. He then continued playing cricket in the under-14 and 16 teams at college. During this time, he was extended an invitation by Ajith Pasqual, a senior student and his house captain at the time, to participate in an inter-house rugby tournament. After playing in these matches monitoring his skills, Ajith Pasqual encouraged him to join under-17 rugby practices in 1972, where he first stepped into the field of rugby.

He then became a regular member in the rugby team as he went on to play in that invincible under-17 side in 1973. While playing there he was called to join the college first XV team in his pet position of number eight from 1974 and went on to play in 1975 and 1976 seasons, under the captaincies of Brumoon Akbar, Ifthikar Hassen, and Manik Weerakumar respectively. In 1976, he had his best season as a player where his invincible team broke all previous records held against Trinity College, Kandy in their traditional ‘Bradby Shield’ game (36 -0 and 25-6) as well as the records against Wesley 54-3 Vidyartha100-6 and Isipathana 40 -3.

While being a school boy he represented the CH and FC under-23 team, where they won the inter-club Sevens championship in 1975. Soon after leaving school, he continued to don the CH and FC jersey from 1976 to1988, a marathon eleven-year period while leading them in 1980. Same year they won inter -club Sevens championship and emerged the runners-up to Police in the Clifford Cup League tournament.

While playing for his club he was called for National duty in 1978 and went on to be a regular member until 1984, which he rates as the ‘Golden days of his rugby career’ including leading the Sri Lanka XV in 1982 at the Singapore Rugby Asiad. Irwin Howie was his captain of the National team when he made his debut in 1978 Due to indefatigable efforts maintaining his physique he was able to scrum down for his country at Hong Kong Sevens for five consecutive years starting from 1980 to 1984. He also led the Colombo Clubs and Low Country Rugby team to win the ‘Capper Cup’ in 1982.

According to him the highlight and unforgettable moment of his rugby career was when he represented the Sri Lanka team as a player to annex the ‘Bowl Championship’ at the Hong Kong Sevens in 1984, under the captaincy of Hisham Abdeen. Even though it’s not spoken about, this is the only trophy Sri Lanka was able to win at an international competition. In 1982, he led the Sri Lanka Sevens team and in the next year he was entrusted to play a dual role as the coach cum player for CH and FC in the Singapore Sevens, where they were the runners-up in the tournament, defeating the Royal New Zealand Armed Forces. He took part in three Rugby Asiads in 1978 (Malaysia) 1980 (Taiwan) and leading the side in 1982 (Singapore). Due to his contribution to the game he was awarded the Honorary Membership of the SLRFU in 2014.

He was very much privileged representing Sri Lanka with some great players such as Lanil Tennekoon, C.P. Abeygunawardene, Hisham Abdeen, Angelo Wickremaratne, Tikiri Marambe, Nalin De Silva, Bharatha Hegoda, H.K. Sisira, Rohan Gunaratne, and the coaches who contributed immensely to his success were Summa Navaratnam, Y. C. Chang, Jeff Ratnam, Rodney Patternott, and Tony Amit. Even though he has not mentioned each individual by name, he would like to acknowledge all his coaches, captains, and teammates of Royal College, CH and FC, and Sri Lanka.

Apart from rugby skills he became the first ever National Squash Novices Champion in 1981. He is proud of his son Gayal who also followed in his footsteps, representing college from 2013 to 2015. It is quite significant that both were members of the Royal College first XV teams which broke the ‘Bradby Shield’ records by his son in 2015 (23-22) and (49-0) while he did so in 1976. Gayal is now a student at Monash University in Australia. He represented the University’s Rugby team where he won the best player’s award in 2018, while getting an opportunity to coach the team in 2019 for a short period.

He later turned out to be a planter looking after his estate while his wife Sunethra was a pillar of strength during his ups and downs. Harini, his elder daughter has just completed her Master’s Degree and is back in the country.

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