A few moments with a gentle giant

* Down Memory Lane with Bernie Wijesekera

It was a quiet afternoon. I made a trek to Thimbirigasyaya to meet that gentle giant Chaminda Rupasinghe who played rugby for S. Thomas’ Mt. Lavinia and later for Havelocks SC and then for Sri Lanka as a lock forward. One of the best in the trade Chaminda has served the game in many fields.

Chaminda Rupasinghe

After hanging up his boots, he served as manager of the Sri Lanka 7s team for many summers. He is also a tower of strength for the Park Club and played for ten seasons. His first love was basketball which he captained at school and the Sri Lanka schools team against foreign opposition. He was a public schools athlete and excelled in the Javelin Throw and Water Polo too and received the coveted allround Sportsman’s Award at S. Thomas in 1982. He won colours in all four disciplines. The other Thomians to my memory are Michael Jayasekera and P.L. Munasinghe who were versatile sportsman of their era.

A towering lock forward, he had the power, physical strength to tower over his opponents in the long throws. He was hard as walnut while on it but soft as a petal off the field.

He was Chairman of Thomian rugby committee from year 2004-05. In 2004, the Thomian rugby team led by Namal Rajapakse, did well to beat Trinity, St. Anthony’s Kandy, St. Joseph’s, St. Peter’s and lost to Royal.

Q: When did you start playing rugby?
A: At under-13 coached by late Lal Kumarasinghe. Continued U-15, 17 and first XVI. But I was keener for basketball. But it was the doyen of schools rugby Quentin Israel, who spotted my talent for rugby and persuaded me to concentrate in this manly sport.

Q: Any regrets?
A: No. I am thankful to Israel. I played with the likes of Kolitha Gunatilleke, Viraj Iddipilli, Yohan Wijesinghe, D. Karunaratne, Roshan Perera, Christopher John, S. Fernando, A. Ahamed etc. Quentin was a school master and a rugby brain. Had no peer at school level. During his period Thomian rugby rose to great heights.
In 1980 and 82 S. Thomas’ won the schools championship to bag the Gratiaen challenge trophy. Isipatana with all their stars like Hisham Abdeen, Aruna Uduwelagedera, A. Bowela, K.D. Nanayakkara, late M.F. Sally, couldn’t beat S. Thomas’.
Later all ended up at Havelocks SC. Some migrated. But I stood with the Park Club and captained the side in 1989. At club level there was tremendous competition. A Sri Lanka player of the calibre of late Hubert Ryan played for Havies “Bambaras”.

Q: You were a frontline forward in the Sri Lanka team. Opted from basketball to rugby. But still may have profited from the cager sport.
A: Yes, skill levels and fitness. I captained the Sri Lanka Schools cager team against Malaysia and Singapore. It’s good if rugby players indulge in basketball. Police players Hafeez Marso and Palitha Siriwardene stood out in both sports.

Q: Who were your rugby idols?
A: Late Didacus de Almeida and Jeff Rutnam. I watched them as a schoolboy and had much to learn from them. The duo were a driving force on the field. No let up. At international All Blacks 7s skipper, David, Rees inspired me and assisted the Lankan players when I went as manager of the Sri Lanka 7s tours at the Commonwealth and at Dubai 7s. Sri Lanka led by Sanjeewa Jayasinghe beat “Black Magic” Kenyans in Dubai. The Lankan win over Kenya is entrenched in their history books.

Q: In what way has rugby helped you?
A: If I am something today it is because of rugby. It is a team game where everyone has to contribute. A try is not an individual effort. It changes several hands before you touch down. I was able to meet friends from every walk of life, including pavement hawkers around the Park Club. They boosted our morale when the chips were down.

Q: Under whom did you play for Sri Lanka?
A: Tikiri Marambe, Rohan Gunaratne and Hisham Abdeen. They led by example. They inspired the team to fight hard.

Q: What was your most unforgettable moment in your career?
A: In 1986 against the Australian Cavaliers. Sri Lanka lost 42-3. Some players broke the code of ethics. Played for Kishin Butani’s XV coached by Anton Benedict against the visiting Aussie Cavaliers. Kolitha Gunatilake, Nagata, Abdeen, Dilip Adhihetty, Roger Rodrigo etc. Outplayed the Cavaliers 38-7. It was a fascinating game.

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