The late Lt. Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa was remembered by Kandy’s sports loving fraternity on his 24th death anniversary. Denzil was a colourful military officer and a fine rugby personality. He died twenty three years ago in August, whilst commanding the security forces in the north. He died as a result of the vehicle he was travelling in going over a pressure mine.
He was a gentleman on and off the rugby field. After hanging up his boots he continued his contribution to rugby as a reputed referee, coach and an able administrator.
He was one of the finest warriors ever produced by the Army in our contemporary history. He fell silent on August 8, 1992.
Denzil began his brilliant school carrier, first at Hillwood Girls’ College before crossing over to Trinity College. His rugby career started at Trinity College Kandy. At that time this school was known as the cradle of rugby in the country. He was also a top class hockey player. He won colours and the coveted Lion in rugby, along with P.A. Bultjens and E.D.K. Roles in 1959. He also won hockey colours the same year.
At Trinity, he was also a School Prefect and represented Lemuel House. He was later appointed Senior Prefect, but this appointment lasted only for a week since he opted to pursue a career with the Army.
He first played rugger for the senior team in 1957 under Ken B de Joodt and paired off as scrum half with fly half Nimal Maralande.
The other members in the team were Uvais Odayar, S.P. de Silva, P.A. Buultjens Jnr., H. Godigamuwe, Rohan H Wijanayake, Mike de Alwis, J. ‘Dias de Singhe, E.D.K. Roles, R.B. Wijekoon, A.R. Frank and N.T.E. Brohier. In the key game against Royal for the Bradby, Trinity won the first leg 8-0 and the second leg too 9-8. The following year it was Ken de Joodt who led the side. This time they lost the Bradby after a long spell.
In 1959, it was Denzil’s turn to captain. Royal were led by M.L. Anghie and had players of the calibre of G. Vangeyzel, E.L. Perera, O.G. Samaratunge, M.T. Rahim, L. Senaratne, M.L. Anghie, R. Pothuhera, D.N. Fernando, R. Sivaratnam, R. Fernando, H.S. de Silva, M.L. Loos, K. Balendra, L. de Silva, C. de Zoysa and J.V.P. Samarasekara.
Denzil’s Trinity side was made up of M. Talwatte, A.R.M. Azain, E.D.K. Roles, P.A. Buultjens, and S. Janakiram. Ken Murray, Jayantissa Ratwatte, T.P. Hermon, Jayantha Jayawardene, S.C de Silva, Gamini Fernando, T. Haroon Chunchee, R. Madena, R.W. Madugalle, R.R. Samarakoon. Royal won the first leg 5-0 at Bogambara. In the second leg played at Longden Place Trinity won 6-0.
It was in 1960 that Kobbekaduwa began his illustrious career in the Army and went for training to England at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst for two years.
After successfully completing his training he returned to the country and was a regular member of the Army rugger team, which he went on to captain later on.
He played for the Army in 1964/65 seasons along with C.S. Fernando, Dr. C. Thurairajah, Sarath Wijesinghe, Tunku Ousman, S. Ranjanayam, A.N. Peries, Ginige Edwin, Anderson Jayaratne, Piyadasa Chandrasekra, S. Wanasinghe, Neville Sheddon, D. Mendis.
In 1967 he played for Kandy Sports Club. Denzil’s finest year in rugby was in 1969, where under his leadership Kandy Sports Club rose to great heights and beat league champions Havelock SC 11-8 in the Clifford Cup quarter-finals. They went on to beat CH and FC 3-0 in the semi-finals. In the finals they went down to CR and FC 6-12.
Those who played with him in that famous team were Y.C. Chang who was the pack leader and motivator, Mohan Balasuriya, Gavin Stevens, Rohan Abeyasundara, D. Makuloluwa, Deepal de Zoysa, Jadi Dissanayake, Gamini Udugama, Jayantissa Ratwattte, Lakshman Samaravijaya, Sam Samarasekara, Chang Faa Ching, George Jayasena and Shafie Jainudeen.
Denzil, first as a player and then as a referee, coach and administrator rendered invaluable service to the sport of rugby union.
Sri Lanka’s rugby king maker, Malik Samarawickrema, who put up the new pavilion at Nittawella, named it after his good friend Lt. Gen. Denzil Kobbekkduwa.