If there was one academic institute which rugby fans hoped would have bagged bigger honours this season, it was S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia. The blue-black jersey-clad rugby players did well to finish as runners-up in the league. But it was somewhat heartbreaking to see them crash out of the Milo President’s Trophy Schools Knockouts in the semi finals stage of the tournament. Rugby pundits will have their respective versions of why the team didn’t make it to the final of the knockouts. This scribe intends to underscore the fact that as much as it is important to check how sportingly you played the game, how you finish the season also holds equal importance.
There have been quite a few seasons in the past when the Thomians started on a high, but finished on a low. There was a time in the 1980s when the school by the sea struggled to compete against the top teams playing school rugby. In 1988, rugby at S. Thomas’ was revamped by that legendary coach Quintin Israel. From 1989 to 1991, the Thomians not only remained unbeaten, but also won every single trophy on offer. The vision coach Israel had for S. Thomas’ rugby was extraordinary. One of the most important aspects about his coaching was that he read the opposition well and made his chargers play to a pattern which exposed weaknesses in the opposition.
Thomian rugby afterwards shone in patches. They won the Premadasa Trophy in 1994 (Under Nalin Wijegunawardene), the league in 2000 (Under Gavin Jayasekere) and the schools’ President’s Trophy Knockout in 2009 (Under Shawin Kapuwatte). In all these years, the Thomians made some impact in the way they finished the season.
This season was going to be one of those promising years for rugby at S. Thomas’ College. With Samoan-born New Zealand coach Tulagaese Tavita in charge of the reins there were so much expectations in the Thomian camp that the boys would bag the knockouts, because they missed winning the league. This is a team which improved with every game and was one of the better disciplined sides this season.
It was heartening to see the Thomian rugby players backed by an able and committed coaching staff. Former Isipathana College player Dinesh Kumara played the role of assistant coach. The school’s coaching staff had numbers. You could see a trainer, a physiotherapist and even a masseur. They showed in no uncertain terms that the rugby at S. Thomas’ College is serious business. But what was the final result out of all that spending? What lessons are there to learn after failing at winning the league and the knockout tournaments?
Players in the likes of skipper Pandula de Silva, Wayne Mack, Sachitha Jayatilake, Danuja Wijeratne, H.K Naveen, Ashwantha Herath, Mayon Jayawardene and Senel de Silva excelled for the Thomians. The boys received all the encouragement from the school’s staff and morale support from the presence of their Warden Mark Bilimoria, an ardent rugby fan.
Everyone expected to witness blue-magic this rugby season, but that didn’t materialize. Let’s hope the Thomians develop into a force next year and finish on a high.