The Invincible 1967 Trinity ‘Lions’ began without a coach By Shamzeer Jaleel
Trinity College one of the core schools to produce some outstanding rugby players for both the Kandy school and country had some outstanding outfits. A few of them were the 56, 67, 69, 77 and 87 outfits. But in the recent past they have lost the grip which made them fall down the ladder for many reasons. The invincible 1967 outfit was led by Ajith Abeyratne where they ended unbeaten in the season.
Abeyratne represented his alma mater both in cricket and rugby scoring the fastest century between Trinity and Royal in only 62 balls at the Asgiriya Stadium in his last year. He led the Trinity College rugby teams in 1967 and 1968 and won colours in cricket and Lion in rugby as well. He was awarded the Ryde Gold Medal for the best student at Trinity in 1968. In 1967 in his first year of captaincy in rugby, Abeyratne’s side beat the star-studded St. Peter’s College led by Rodney Patternott. In that year Trinity were unbeaten rugby champions under the coaching of Gen Denzil Kobbekaduwa and the team also had players like Shafie Jainudeen, Iswan Omar, Gamini Udugama, Alex Lazarus, Stephen Paul, Anil Siriwardena, Dudley Dissanayake, Mahendra Thalwatte, M. Affif, Errol Warne, Mohan Balasuriya, Jadi Dissanayake, Gogi Tillakaratne, B. Shanthi Kumar, NTB Dassanayake, Ranjan Nadarajah, Rafi Ismail, Mark Sundaralingam and Prince Nayagam.
The team also won both legs of the Bradby 17-3 and 16-3 when a try accounted for three points at that time. In fact seven of them went on to represent the country with much pride. Ajith Abeyratne, Shafie Jainudeen, Gogi Thilakaratne, Isvan Omar, Gamini Udugama and Mohan Balasuriya won the national jersey.
Trinity went on to win the two legs of the Bradby Shield without much sweat. They won the first leg 17/3 and the second 16/3. Credit should be given as at that time a try was awarded only 3 points compared to 5 points now. This record was maintained till 1996 when under Suranga Amarasinghe they beat Royal 30/3 and 12/3. The 1967 outfit was coached by seniors till the arrival of General Denzil Kobbekaduwa for the second leg to look after the lads as their Head Coach.
Ajith Abeyratne later went on to represent CR&FC and Sri Lanka as a crack number 8. He got in to coaching with the national XVs side touring countries such as Hong Kong, Australia, Wales, Thailand, Taiwan and Singapore. He also coached St. Peter’s College in 1995 where the lads from Bambalapitiya became unbeaten League champions. He was also a national selector in rugby. Mohan Balasuriya who too played for CR&FC became the President of Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU).
“We started the season without a coach with a few of the seniors coaching. The first game we managed to beat Wesley 6/0. In the second game we beat Joes at Peradeniya 30/0 with a superb second half rally. Then we got our coach Gen Denzil Kobekaduwa. We beat S. Thomas’ 16/0, Zahira 34/0 and St. Anthony’s 49/0 and St. Peter’s in a close game with the help of a last minute try 8/6. We had only three seniors at that time,” recalled Ajith Abeyratne.
“Five represented the national team which was a huge dividend for the hard work put in by our players. Many represented leading clubs. Shafie Jainudeen was outstanding as a full back playing for Havies and leading them. He was a running full back and never kicked back but attacked with much success. Many others too went on to play for leading clubs though did not end up in the national team,” he added.