Saman the athlete turned ruggerite-by Althaf Nawaz
It is very rare to find a person who had engaged in several sporting disciplines during his school career later turn out to be a quality sportsman representing the country at International level. Pushpalal Saman Kothalawala was one of them who had an enthralling career at school, Club and later ended up as a National player in Rugby.
Saman better known as ‘Kottha’ in the rugby circles hails from an educated family his father late K.S.Kothalawala was a retired Inspector of Police and mother was Evegin Weeratunge.
He has four brothers and a sister His elder brother Shanthilal Sarath played Rugby for Ananda College and is a retired Manager of Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation. His elder sister Nirmali Shirani is a retired English teacher at Devi Balika Vidyalaya. His younger brother Hemal was a product of Lumbini College and now serves as a Veterinary Surgeon at VRI in Kandy.
The other two brothers are Mahen and Lakmal who studied at Royal College, Colombo. Mahen works as Consultant Microbiologist at General Hospital, Kandy while Lakmal is living in USA.
Saman started his school career with St. Aloysius College, Ratnapura until grade five. Due to his father’s employment with the Police they had to move to Colombo and joined Lumbini College from grade six for his higher studies. At the inception he took part in athletics at the 100, 200 and 400 metres and high jump events, which earned him several medals at Zonal level. While being there he was also an active member of the College Volleyball team which went on to snatch several awards at district level while being the Vice-Captain of the team. He also had a liking for basketball and represented Ratnams Sports Club at under-14 level, when they were living at Police quarters at Bambalapitiya.
While he was schooling, he used to come and play Rugby in his leisure time with likes of Hisham Abdeen, Hafeel Marso, Palitha Siriwardana, Nizam Jamaldeen at Police Ground. Later his family had to move to Narahenpita and he started playing at Shalika ground with K.D. Nanayakkara, Aruna Uduwelagedera.
He was a rugby fanatic from his younger days and used to watch all Rugby matches especially involving Police and Havelock’s, which were his favourite teams. Charles Wijewardena, Tuan Hajireen, Chandrapalan were his favourite players from Police. Finally, he was chosen to play for the Lumbini College first XV Rugby team from 1977 to 1981.
Soon after his school career he was offered a job with the Sri Lanka Navy to play rugby while working. He was posted as Class I Electrician (sailor) during his tenure of five years from 1981 to 1986. He played for the Navy ‘A’ division rugby team from 1982 to 1985.
He was associated with some fine players like H.K. Sisira, Parakrama Samaraweera, Nuwan Tennakoon, Bin Galiph, L.P. Perera, P.W. Perera, T.M.S. Sherifdeen, Nawaratne, Jeffrey Jamalon, Sunimal Weerabahu, W. M. Mangalasena, P. Balendran and many more who were coached by Bandula Dahanayake who was a key figure behind his success.
The Navy team withdrew from the Rugby tournaments due to the uncertain situation in the country as all their players were called back to their bases, where he also had to move to his ship in Kachathivu. Later he got special approval to play rugby for clubs in 1984/1985 season. Lt. Commander Suraj Munasinghe the Rugby Chairman and Lt. Commander Shanthi Bahar, Commodore Mathews had a liking for him and encouraged him to continue his career in rugby.
He was a close follower of Havies rugby especially with the two legends Angelo Wickramaratne and Michael Jayasekera, who were his favourite players.
Subsequently in 1984 he joined the Park Club and made his debut when they went to win the Presidents Cup. Next year he played in the sevens team for them which went to bag the runners-up championship. Coach Quentin Israel and Captain M.P.F. Sallay have been his source of encouragement at Havies.
Since he was in the coastal belt based in ships, Havelock’s team offered him a plan to continue his physical fitness in the ship and to join the final session of the matches. This plan was quite successful and continued his rugby career.
Then he joined the Sri Lanka Police as Sub Inspector and played for six years from 1986 to1992, where they won the League Championship on five occasions. At Police Anton Benedict, late Daya Jayasundara, Nimal Lewke gave him the unstinted encouragement along with teammates Hafees Marso, Norman Silva, Leslie de Silva, Ajantha Samarakoon, Rohan Gunaratne Palitha Siriwardena, Hector Gunatilleke, Muruga Jayaratne, Mahesh Perera, Roger Rodrigo, Nizam Jamaldeen, Hemantha Yatawara, H Premasiri, Vikum Perera, K P Subasinghe are the other players who played a pivotal role in clinching several Championships in the 80s.
He retired from Police and moved to Dubai in 1992 seeking new employment while playing a few matches for Dubai Exiles. After a month he came back to Sri Lanka and joined Kandy SC in 1992 and played up to 1998.
They won many championships under guidance of coaches Paddy Stewart, Nimal Lewke, and team mates Priyantha Ekanayake, Imthi Marikkar, Lasantha Wijesuriya, and many more played during this period. They remained as a champion side for six years.
Finally, he had the National call in 1984 and went on to play for Sri L anka until 1993. He was a member of the Hong Kong sevens ‘Bowl’ runner up teams in 1986 and 1987.
Then he participated in World Cup qualifying Rugby sevens tournaments in 1987, 1991, 1993. Also represented the Sri Lanka XV side at Rugby Asiads in 1984, 1986,1988,1990,1992, while participating in the Dubai Sevens Cup semi final team in 1988.
He captained the Sri Lanka team ai the Hong Kong Sevens in 1988 Ajith Abeyratne, Jeff Matheson, George Simpkin, Anton Benedict, late Daya Jayasundara gave him great encouragement to perform well at National level.
Ajantha Kothalawala is his wife who is a former student of St. Anthony’s Convent, Kandy. Daughter is Sewwandi Anjana Kothalawala studying at Girls High School, Kandy while his son Sahan Nirmal Kothalawala is studying at St.Anthony’s College, Kandy and is playing for the College Under-16 team this year. Saman is the Group Manager Maintenance at Penguin Sportswear since 1992 up to date.