Sri Lanka centre Hafi Abdeen played in seven cup winning club sides-by Althaf Nawaz
Isipathana College, Colombo has contributed immensely in producing some yesteryear sportsmen especially in the field of Rugby Football, who have excelled locally and at International level. Hafi Abdeen is one of the legends who represented the school before he donned the National jersey.
Growing up with a family of champion boxers, Hafi thought one day he may turn out to be a great boxer, but instead turned to be a champion ruggerite. What began as a fairytale, leading to a long span of rugby history. He recalled his memory of kicking a rugby ball in the front yard where he was living. As youngsters he used to play touch rugby with his friends, before playing full contact rugby which was more interesting and exciting. They had a clan of friends who went to watch the big rugby games, and to cheer their favourite clubs and players. They crept through fences or climbed any tree to get a vantage point, to witness the heroes and stalwarts of rugby like Nimal Maralande, Maurice De Silva, Ago Paiva to name a few. The following day they emulated them in their mini games of rugby.
His stepping stone into rugby was at the age of a 15-year-old school boy with Havelock’s juniors, coached by the famous Maurice de Silva. Being the first appearance, he didn’t have a position in mind, but started as a prop and then as a flanker. However, with the guidance of Maurice, he groomed into an inside three quarter. He played his first game against the CR and FC junior side, coached by Summa Navaratnam, which they won comfortably to end the tournament.
Hafi started playing College rugby in 1966 representing the second string rugby as a fly half, before getting elevated to the first XV team for a few games, under the captaincy of Sunil Wickremasuriya. He continued to become a regular member of the side. He played under the captaincy of Gunasena Wijeratne and Savanghan brothers, before captaining the school side in 1970 under the watchful eyes of coach Frankie David, who became the voice of Isipathana rugby thereafter. Frankie was a champion player during his time, playing for Havelocks and then All Ceylon. He was a prominent and respected figure in the rugby fraternity.
In 1970, Hafi captained the Colombo schools side along with seven other school mates. They defeated the outstation schools led by D.R. Weerasinghe a Thomian. He then went onto lead the combined schools side which included few of his College guys. They went on to beat a star studded Combined University team for the first time, led by Sarath Seneviratne.
Some of the great players who played with him for school are Horace Perera, the late Rezano Rajap, Thajone Savanghan Sriyantha Rajakaruna and Upali Vidanage to name a few.
In 1971, he joined the CR and FC, along with two other school mates the late Faiz Ismail and Mahinda Jayawardena. There he was privileged to be in the company of some great players which he used to idolize as a youngster like Mohan Sahayam, the late Didacus de Almeida, Sari de Sylva, Hadji Omar, Doctor Tony de Sylva and a host of other great players. The team was coached by Mahesh Rodrigo who took great care of him being a youngster and groomed him to the ranks of club rugby. In the same year he was picked to represent the Presidents XV against the famous London Welsh side, led by John Dawes who also captained the all conquering British Lions side comprising some champion players like J.P.R. Williams and the late Mervyn Davies. The same year he went on to play against the Paris Universities, Nchanga RFC and the Australian Emus. In 1974, he joined Havies for a long stint first, under the captaincy of Desmond Harridge followed by some stellar years of rugby. In 1978, he retired from the game, and joined CH and FC to play squash and stay fit.
But the retirement from the game did not last long, as Rodney Patternott who was coaching the CH team saw him at the club, and persuaded him to play again, which he obliged and won the cup after a long drought in 1982, under the Captaincy of NH Karunasena, who was his junior at College. He was associated with some great players in that team including Saman Jayasinghe, Sujantha Kumar, Daya Ratnayake, and Haroon Musafer to name a few. He would like to show his sincere gratitude to Yu Cey Chang, Kishin Butani, Faiz Hamdoon, Bucky Wijegooneratne, Rizwan Moulana and Reginald Bartholomeusz who were at CH at that time.
In 1972, he was picked to play for Sri Lanka in the Asiad in Hong Kong, captained by Yu Cey Chang, which consisted of his school mates, half back Senarath Kulatileke, who played for CH and FC then. He was then chosen for the 1974 Asiad led by the dashing flanker Indrajit Coomaraswamy and played as a regular fly half in the National team after being centre three quarter most of his club rugby career. He also went on to represent Sri Lanka in the Cathay Pacific Sevens tournament in Hong Kong.
Nevertheless, he enjoyed his rugby wherever and whoever he played with, by giving the maximum support. He said he was proud to have played in seven Cup winning sides, one with CR, four with the Havelocks and two with CH and FC, where he was playing a dual role as a coach and a player in the 1980’s.
In 1986, he played against an expatriate rugby side from Australia called the ‘Melbourne Cavaliers’, put together by Mario Misso, Beverly De Kauwe and Jeremy D’ Silva and himself, was captained and coached by him. Some of the highlights and great memories in his early rugby days was playing against the tough burly Mike Davies, when he was yet a schoolboy
Playing against top players in the calibre of Glen Vanlangenberg, Jeff and Dan Ratnam brothers from Havelocks, John Burrows and Lorenz Pereira of CH and FC. He lives in Australia with his wife Jennifer and son Doctor Hashim. Life after rugby has been great, and he thanked the Lord Almighty for the opportunities. He also wishes to thank all those players who played with him and the great friendships, he developed through this great game