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Old 09-04-17, 12:47 PM
sriyanj sriyanj is offline
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How psychology saved the Thomians

The Tsunami disaster that hit our country and brought in its wake devastation and terrific loss of life, has necessitated the postponement of the re-commencement of schools for the first term. I feel it would therefore be in the interests of the young ruggerites, to whom I address these coaching lessons, if I put off these articles to a later date, after schools re-open and are in full session, when boys' minds will be more receptive to instruction.

In the meantime, I shall continue with my reminiscences and anecdotes of interesting games of the past, particularly of school matches, in which I have indirectly played a part.

If this particular article lacks objectivity, I request the indulgence of my readers, for it cannot be otherwise, as I have played a prominent role in this saga. I refer to the Royal-Thomian encounter played in 1976 at Havelock Park, a significant year for Royal, a team captained by Weerakumar when they set a record score against Trinity that was captained by S.V. Ranasinghe. They beat them 36-0 at Longden Place and again by 25-6 at Bogambara.

The Royal side was packed with high quality players and had a formidable third row, with Saman Jayasinghe as No. 8, who later played for CH & FC and Sri Lanka over a long period of time and in my opinion was a brilliant player in his position, both in attack and defence. The two flankers were Asoka Siriwardene and Ajith Gunawardene, both fast breaking hard tacklers who were also good supporting players.

The Trinity side that lost that year against Royal in the two Bradby games was on paper a good side. In fact, hitherto, they had beaten all schools by record scores, with the exception of S. Thomas', to whom they lost by the narrowest of margins, 4-0 (a try at that time carried only 4 points). They beat St. Peter's College by over 50 points, a team captained by that outstanding flanker Angelo Wickremaratne, who subsequently captained the champion Havelocks side and Sri Lanka, but who (unfortunately for the Peterites) had to skip this game due to injury. What happened to that Trinity side was difficult to comprehend, as they unexpectedly and against all form, folded up meekly. That score became a record, till recently.

The Thomians too had a strong team comprising players who later distinguished themselves at club level and some at national level. The team was captained by that burly prop forward, Stefan D' Silva and the rest of the team were P.L. Munasinghe, who had captained S.T.C. the previous year, Michael Jayasekera, a brilliant centre, but who then played stand-off for S.T.C, Pat Jacob, Shane Pinder, Wilhelm Bogstra, Theadore Thambipillai, D.K. Supramaniam, Avindra de Silva (who substituted for Tusitha Ranasinghe as scrum half as he was badly concussed in the Trinity game), Hafeel, Kapila Waidyaratne, who incidently scored the winning try against Trinity, J. Ponniah, Daruk Peiris (a fearless No. 8), Charitha Wickramatilleke and E.G. Ratnayake.

Both teams were unbeaten with the prize scalp of Trinity tucked in their respective belts. I must mention here, that at that time to beat Trinity at rugby was the ultimate objective of all rugby schools. They were much feared and respected, as the rugby prowess of their players and the quality of play they dished out, were legendary. I must now turn back the clock to the crucial practice on that Monday evening before the Saturday game against Royal. I had my tea in my quarters, adjoining Miller-Chapman, changed into my rugby kit and with whistle swinging at the end of a cord in my hand, I approached the big club (a name given by S.T.C. to the big grounds by the sea). I was deep in thought wondering what my game plan should be against the powerful Royalists, who had only the week before mercilessly humiliated Trinity.

When I approached them, I felt something unusual, for instead of practising certain movements on their own accord, which they normally did and not waste time, they were all glum and uncharacteristically inert, without indulging in their routine activity. As I came up to them, they stood up and looked at me as though a grave calamity had befallen them. I looked at them quizzically and asked them whether someone close to any of them had expired. They shook their heads to indicate thay it was not so, but yet remained mute. I then told them to cheer up and tell me their problem. Stefan D' Silva, a tough combatant who would even take on the devil and his legions, head on, was non committal and was jabbing the toe of his boot on the grass. Perky little Pat Jacob, the hooker and a bundle of dynamite, became the mouthpiece of the team and told me thus: "Sir, we are playing Royal this Saturday and we got only 4 points against Trinity, while Royal got 36 and also gave no points away". The 2nd leg of the Bradby had not been played at that time.

I asked them to sit on the grass. My mind raced, for here was a team that lost its confidence and I had to do something fast to restore their confidence. I had to reassure them and make them believe in themselves and their ability to beat Royal.

I must confess, that at that time my coaching experience was limited, but I knew I had a good team and that all the players were competent in their respective positions and that I had to analyse aloud our mutual strengths and weaknesses and motivate and show them how we could get the better of Royal.

What I relate may not get the approval of Tissa Guneratne, a member of the family that presented the Challenge Cup for the Royal-Thomian rugby encounter, or Jed Guneratne, a stalwart and die-hard Royalist, whose late brother C.V. (Puggy) played against me in a Bradby of years gone by. They are both friends of mine who have helped with Bradby tickets whenever the need arose and we always have fun at the expense of each other's school.

I told the players that winning or losing in rugby boils down essentially to possession. The side that has ball has the opportunities of scoring while the other side hasn't. You deprive the other side of the ball and they cannot score. They all agreed. The set-pieces to restart a game after a minor infringement is the scrum and when the ball goes into touch, it is the line-out. They all agreed.

I then asked them with regard to a scrum, whether we could win our throw-in. The pack, led by mouth piece, Pat Jacob said "No problem, Sir". I then asked them about the Royal loose-head or their throw-in. Stefan D' Silva said: "We could wheel, change direction of the shove and give them bad ball". I must mention here, that according to the present laws, deliberate wheeling is outlawed but it was not so at that time. The theory was, that when Royal throws the ball into a scrum, the Thomians adopt an 8-man shove and force a wheel, by one flank yielding, thereby serving the dual purpose of making the ball shoot out, without being properly channeled and also making their third row ineffective. Wheeling was also useful on one's own throw-in for ensuing quality possession, without opposition third-row interference. With that understood, the question of scrums, whether tight head or loose head, was reasonably solved.

The next problem was the line-out. At this moment I must mention that at that time, the line -out laws were completely different. There was no lifting in the line out and it was the individual skill and timing of the jumper and thrower, that counted. Further, there was no one-metre gap between the two lines of players and they touched one another while forming a line-out. Needless to state, a lot of the foul play, unknown to the referee, took place in a line-out.

When I asked the players about possession in the line-out, they were glum and said that Royal line-out specialist, Seyyed who was about 6 ft. 6 ins. would scornfully look down on them and effortlessly pluck the ball against them from the air. Of course, on our throw-in, we could have a short line and throw over the top, but here again, it was a fifty-fifty chance of getting theball. In any case such ball would not be quality ball, and we abandoned this option.

The entire team agreed that without line-out possession, which we may not get even on our throw-in, we had no chance of winning. We considered a short line with a throw over the top, and also a low hard-throw at No. 2, but decided all these measures were useless. The team knew that the Royal pack was formidable and also that their backs, were good. They had earlier run circles round the Trinitians. It was thus unanimously decided, that it was a futile exercise contesting possession.

It was known that Seyyed jumped at No. 2. In fact he did not have to jump, but just put his hands up and catch the ball.
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